July 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Let’s Poke Holes in the ‘Anti-Incumbent’ Hype

Among the handful of “establishment” candidates who lost are Republican former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan in Pennsylvania, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, former Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden and Idaho Congressional hopeful Vaughn Ward — none of whom was an incumbent in any sense of the word.

Buchanan’s campaign was inept, Lowden and Ward said absurd things during their campaigns that discredited themselves, and Grayson was uninspiring. They could have lost during any cycle.

Cillizza describes the “anti-incumbent storyline” as “overblown,” and he is exactly right.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) was renominated in May with more than 79 percent of the vote while Ward, the favorite for the GOP nomination in Idaho’s 1st district, was losing his primary.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was re-nominated with almost 90 percent of the vote in his May primary. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was re-elected with 83 percent, while Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) drew 84 percent in his primary. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) drew 80 percent to win renomination in California.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) and South Dakota Sen. John Thune (R) were unopposed for renomination.

If this is such an “anti-incumbent” or “anti-establishment” year, then why do some — most — incumbents and establishment-backed candidates win easily? So far this year, 98 percent of Congressional incumbents seeking re-election have been renominated.

I don’t doubt that the public’s mood has fueled some outsider candidates, and that some lesser candidates have done better in this environment and this cycle than they would have done had they run in 2000, 2002 or 2004.

And as I have already noted, incumbency, support from Washington, D.C., or being a Member of Congress aren’t the assets this cycle that they have been in previous cycles. That is clear. But fitting every result into an exaggerated narrative doesn’t help anyone understand what is happening.

Conservatives certainly are angrier and more mobilized than I’ve seen them in years, and in many races they are lining up behind conservative candidates who criticize incumbent Republicans for not being conservative or confrontational enough.

And in a few Democratic primaries, more liberal voters and activists have taken on incumbents not identified with the party’s left (Specter and Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, for example).

But come November, we will have a rather traditional midterm election. Angry voters will turn out to vote against the party in charge. And that’s why, ultimately, 2010 will be remembered as a Republican wave election, not an anti-incumbent year.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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