WASHINGTON (AP) - A surly electorate that holds Congress in even lower regard than unpopular President Barack Obama is willing to "keep the bums in," with at least 365 incumbents in the 435-member House and 18 of 28 senators on a glide path to another term when ballots are counted Nov. 4.
With less than 10 weeks to the elections, Republicans and Democrats who assess this fall's midterm contests say the power of incumbency - the decennial process of reconfiguring congressional maps and hefty fundraising - trumps the sour public mood and antipathy toward gridlocked Washington.
"Despite the incredibly low polling, favorable ratings for Congress, it's still an incumbent's world," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that tracks political money.
This Feb. 21, 2014, file photo shows the U.S. Capitol and the Peace Monument in Washington.
That leaves many voters angry, not only with the political reality but their inability to change it.
"I can't get over where they say people are going to be able to keep their seats when they're not doing their jobs. I just don't understand it," said retired teacher Pauline Legendre after voting in Minnesota's Democratic primary last month.
The voter disgust is palpable, evident in blistering comments at summertime town halls and middling percentages for incumbents in primaries. Yet no sitting senator has lost and only three congressmen got the primary boot.
Come Election Day, only a fraction of the electorate will be motivated enough to vote - if history is any guide.
Congressional hopefuls are whipsawed by the two dynamics.
"It's going to be a challenge for any candidate running for Congress to suggest that they have all the answers or that somehow there's something about them that's so inspiring" that voters are going to forget "how disenchanted or disaffected they are with government at the federal level," said Ryan Costello, a Republican seeking an open House seat in southeast Pennsylvania where just 12 percent of GOP voters turned out in the May primary.
Still, the candidates press ahead, with Republicans laser-focused on gaining the six seats necessary to grab the Senate majority and control Congress for the remainder of Obama's presidency. Five Democratic retirements give the GOP a clear shot to capture control. So do races in conservative-leaning states such as Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas, where white Southern Democrats are nearly extinct.
The GOP figures it's half-way to its goal, with a solid advantage in open contests in South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana.
Republicans are optimistic about the open seat in Iowa, less so about Michigan, and energized by their prospects in Colorado and Alaska. If a GOP wave materializes, it could be in the Senate.
In the House, Republicans are expected to pad their majority - currently 233-199 with three vacancies - with the goal of matching or surpassing the 246 seats the GOP held from 1947-49.
Fueling the battle is what's expected to be a record-breaking flow of campaign cash.
The parties' campaign committees and their allied outside groups are spending at a rate certain to exceed the $3.6 billion price tag of the 2010 midterm elections.