Bennett Defeat Spells Doom For Incumbents

Nobody's safe

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Incumbents beware! The loss of Republican Senator Bob Bennett in his party's own nominating convention on Saturday sent shockwaves through both Democratic and Republican circles. While Democrats were presumed to face significant anti-incumbent anger because of the economy and health-care reform, Bennett's defeat--coupled with the ongoing problems facing former Republican presidential contender John McCain--show that even Republican incumbents are at risk from voter anger. With an eye towards the midterm elections, political journalists say the political climate for incumbents of all parties is deteriorating.

  • TARP Funds Will Sink Incumbents At National Journal, Charlie Cook traces Bennett's downfall to four letters that could afflict incumbents of all parties: TARP. "More than anything else, Bennett became the first major victim of the Troubled Asset Relief Program," argues Cook. "While it may have prevented us from falling into a second, much more complicated Great Depression, it did enrage many Americans who saw it as a dangerous governmental overreach and helped launch the Tea Party movement. By any rational standard, Bennett is a true conservative, just not enough of one in the minds of the delegates to the Utah Republican convention for him to make the ballot. All of Bennett's other problems, though, pale in comparison with TARP." While Republicans are "very lucky that they don't have more House or Senate incumbents who supported TARP facing competitive primaries this year," Cook can already see the stigma of the stimulus package severely damaging the chances of other Republicans, including those as heavily entrenched as John McCain. "Against this backdrop, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, is fighting for his political life, facing an aggressive challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth," writes Cook. "Given the hostile, anti-Washington environment and particularly the rebellion over TARP, it's a wonder that McCain is hanging on at all."
  • Polls Predict Trouble  MSNBC's First Read team sees the harbingers of incumbent defeat in this week's primaries: "Republican Bob Bennett’s defeat on Saturday might have been only the start of what’s to come. Today and next Tuesday, there will be primaries where we could see additional incumbents lose -- this time on the Democratic side. ... What happens in these three contests could very well establish a clear theme for this midterm cycle: anti-incumbency (er, anti-WASHINGTON) -- on both sides."
  • Incumbency Trumps All  Politico's Alex Isenstadt compiled a list of incumbents "who should be looking over their shoulders." The vulnerable made Isenstadt's list for a variety of reasons: Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) for "ethics concerns and lingering resentment over the Democratic push for climate change legislation in coal-dependent West Virginia"; Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) for "rank[ling] activists with his opposition to the health care reform bill"; Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) for being "wobbly" on conservative issues; and appointed Sen. Michael Bennett, who "suddenly finds himself in an awkward position thanks to Colorado's byzantine Democratic Party nominating process." While the majority of the at-risk incumbents are Democrats, Isenstadt asserts that incumbents "are about to be seriously tested by challengers from within their own parties."
  • It's The Economy, Stupid Mike Lux at OpenLeft, analyzing the defeat of Bob Bennett and potential electoral pitfalls of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, concludes that partisan ire will only reinforce the economic worries at the root of anti-incumbent anger :
Incumbents in both parties are in trouble for one simple reason: the jobs aren't coming back and the perception among voters is that the incumbents aren't doing anything about it. While there are some encouraging signs on the economy, the official unemployment rate went up to 9.9% last week... Most working families in this country are still hurting, and are still scared there are more economic problems yet to come. They don't think either party cares about them or is fighting for them. As long as that is the case, incumbents of both parties are going to keep getting into political trouble.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.