House of Representatives
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Both houses of congress are organized on a hierarchical system. Within the House of Representatives, the House leadership consists of the following:
- Speaker of the House - the official leader of the Congressional chamber
- The Majority and Minority Leaders - who represent the two largest political parties,
- The Majority and Minority Whips - who assist the Majority and Minority Leaders, respectively.
- The Committee Chairmen - Individuals who serve leadership roles, directing the activities of the committees that report (or pass-on) legislation for a vote of the full House.
Members of Congress are traditionally elected to these leadership roles on the basis of both seniority and membership in the majority political party. In other words, with each additional term served, the incumbent increases his chances of being elected to a leadership role. Having a Representative in a leadership role bestows clear advantages on the Representative's constituents, as the House leaders have the ability to direct legislation towards their constituents' interest. As a result, incumbents can present voters with a persuasive reason to vote for re-election.
Under the U.S. electoral system, in most states, representatives are elected to represent small districts within the state. As a result, rather than facing the high levels of publicity to be found in state-wide and national campaigns, campaigns for the House of Representatives are generally quieter, more low key affairs. As a result, candidates who challenge incumbents may have a difficult time garnering sufficient attention to win.
As a result of both the U.S. electoral system and the institutional structure of the U.S. House of Representatives, incumbent candidates are exceedingly difficult to defeat. The local nature of the elections makes the generation of sufficient publicity to win difficult for a challenger. Even were a challenger to generate sufficient publicity, the hierarchical nature of the House provides incumbents with a highly persuasive selling point in their campaigns for re-election.