The most talked about number in congressional arithmetic these days is 11 -- the net gain Democrats must pull off to recapture control of the House this year. With the gap between the two parties at its narrowest since 1955, just about everyone around Capitol Hill has an opinion on whether Republicans can hang onto their current 228-207 seat advantage (which counts the district of the late Rep. Steven Schiff, R-N.M., in the GOP column and independent Bernard Sanders as a Democrat).

Despite the narrow margin, the arguments against a House turnover are pretty compelling. On the "macro" political side, 1998 looks to be one of the best years ever for incumbents. Congressional job approval and the country's "right direction" numbers generally have been higher for the past year than in a decade, although both have declined a bit in the last two months. With the House incumbent re-election rate averaging 95 percent in modern times, the rate this year is likely to be between 97 percent and 99 percent. An unusually high re-election rate greatly limits the potential volatility

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