Analysts are pointing toward last night’s primary results (the defeat of Arlen Specter, Trey Grayson, and the run-off for Blanche Lincoln) as – when combined with Bob Bennett and Alan Mollohan’s defeats – proof of anti-incumbency and anti-Washington establishment. The top story in the New York Times today is titled “Specter Defeat Signals a Wave Against Incumbents.”
And an anti-incumbent mood definitely exists. Voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Congress, and say all incumbents should be turned out.
However, with the exception of Mollohan, the nomination defeats (or major troubles at this point for Lincoln), are politicians who were punished for their votes and efforts that strayed from the party line. My polling for Republican incumbents who face challengers show that most are in strong shape to win renomination because they are generally perceived as fighting the Obama-Pelosi efforts to increase the size and scope of government, and to spend money in a way that makes previous administrations seem Scrooge-like.
Senator Specter’s loss was actually a double defeat. Because he voted for the stimulus package, he baited Pat Toomey into switching from the Governor’s race to the Senate race. Specter’s poll numbers in a GOP primary were far too weak to win a primary – he choose to switch parties rather than retire. However, his previous support for George W. Bush and other Republicans (and GOP policies) meant Democratic voters couldn’t trust him. Specter’s once legendary ability to both annoy and please conservatives, moderates, and liberals caught up to him in this time of hyper polarization.
Lincoln is facing the same traumas from the left – she is perceived by many unions and liberals as not supportive enough of their agenda, and thus not worthy of renomination.
An incumbent all but in name, Charlie Crist should be in that same body count of politicians who “lost” their party’s nomination for not being orthodox enough. His support for the stimulus package made him persona non grata among a GOP primary electorate looking for someone to fight against the framework of bigger government spending more money.
Not every incumbent is endangered for renomination. However, those who face anger from the grassroots, coupled with a challenger candidate with the resources to get their message out, have challenges.
This post is not to bemoan the choice of BOTH parties’ primary electorate to choose confrontation over compromise. It’s simply analyzing the results from a different angle. It’s not just anti-incumbency coursing through the veins of the primary electorates, but it is supercharged by a distrust of the other side. Like unicorns and rainbows, bipartisanship is going to be rarely spotted over the next few years.