LONG before the odor of bad checks began to permeate Washington, both parties knew 1992 would be a volatile election year for the United States House of Representatives.
Redistricting always shakes things up. But the check-kiting fiasco, in which almost 300 past and present representatives wrote bad checks on the House bank, has combined with an already-growing anti-incumbent mood to throw a scare into the hearts of all congressmen.
Last week's Illinois primary, in which a senator and four members of the House lost, captured national attention.
Democratic Rep. Charles Hayes lost his race right after being fingered as one of the worst check-kiters.
For Democratic Sen. Alan Dixon, who had nothing to do with the House bank, the check scandal contributed to the overall anti-incumbent feeling that helped sweep him out.
Analysts also point to the unusually low margins of victory for two powerful Illinois congressmen - Democrat Dan Rostenkowski and Republican Philip Crane - who got under 60 percent in their primaries.
"The Illinois primary obviously indicated that apathy turned to anger and that anybody who thinks they're safe in this environment is fooling themselves," says Republican analyst Ed Rollins.
Members are now trying to distance themselves any way they can from the House bank affair. Many are blaming the House's Democratic leaders; many have issued early mea culpas in hopes of recovering by November. They know they have a tough customer to please: the voter.