Election 2010: Incumbents Beware!

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Democrats, Republicans, Voting

A lot happened last night. So if you weren’t keeping score…here are the highlights…

  • Moderate Arlen Specter lost to liberal Joe Sestak in PA…
  • Conservative/Libertarian Rand Paul captured the Republican nomination in Kentucky from the establishment’s candidate…
  • Dem Blanche Lincoln didn’t get enough votes to prevent a runoff in Arkansas…
  • However, in the special election to replace the late John Murtha in PA’s moderate 12th District…which went for McCain in 2008…Dems easily won the seat…

And, before that…

  • Bob Bennett lost the Republican primary in Utah…
  • Charlie Crist switched to Independent because Marco Rubio was leading in Republican primary polling…

So what do all of these things signal?

Basically…don’t accept the “conventional” wisdom that we’ll see a wave election with Republicans sweeping into power. The signs just don’t point towards that, especially since the only thing that people don’t like more than Congressional Democrats are Congressional Republicans.

So, to all of you weak incumbents…watch out.

Steve Benen provides some additional perspective…

For those keeping score, there have been seven special elections for U.S. House seats since the president’s inauguration 16 months ago: NY20, IL5, CA32, CA10, NY23, FL19, and PA12. Democrats have won all seven.

Scott Brown aside…there really haven’t been many surprises for Dems. In fact, Republicans have had a lot more to be concerned with since many of their incumbents are being challenged, ousted, etc.

More as it develops…

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 and is filed under Democrats, Republicans, Voting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Election 2010: Incumbents Beware!”

  1. Simon Says:

    However, in the special election to replace the late John Murtha in PA’s moderate 12th District…Dems easily won the seat…

    No: generic “Dems” didn’t win it, a particular Dem won the seat, and he did it (as even Politco confesses) in a particular way: by running away from the generic Dem agenda.

  2. Nick Benjamin Says:

    That’s bad new for Cap and Trade, but not bad news for the party as a whole. If there was a place where tieing a Dem to Pelosi and Obama would work it’s PA-12. It failed. This is the strategy you guys have been crowing about for months. And it just doesn’t work. You can still use it in areas where a Democrat supported most of Obama’s agenda, and is running for re-election, but most of those districts like Obama’s agenda.

    If you want proof look at the Senate math. Rand Paul is anti-moderate. He’s running against a popular Attorney General. IMO after PA-12 Rand Paul cannot be the favorite to win in KY. Similarly Pat Toomey, extremely Conservative and proud of it, is running against a moderate Democrat, in a state Obama carried by 10 points.

  3. Simon Says:


    That’s bad new for Cap and Trade, but not bad news for the party as a whole. If there was a place where tieing a Dem to Pelosi and Obama would work it’s PA-12. It failed.

    It failed in part because the Dem candidate explicitly ran away from the Pelosi-Obama agenda. Another reason the seat stayed Dem is because the electorate’s mood seems to be anti-incumbent and anti-establishment, not specifically anti-democrat. In the PA special election, neither factor worked for Burns. There was no incumbent and Critz’s aforementioned heterodoxy protected him from being seen as establishmentarian. To the extent voters are mad at Obama’s agenda, again, Critz’s rejection of it knocked that out as an issue. Accordingly, in that race, the two or three factors motivating a variance from normal voting patters didn’t apply and the district followed its default voting preference. Nate Silver has a characteristically level-headed assessment.

    All the polls that I have seen put Toomey more-or-less neck and neck with Sestak. I will say, though, that it isn’t really safe to use the “Obama carried this state by X points” argument in relation to races where Obama isn’t on the ticket. That argument posits the presidential candidate as a rough proxy for the generic party vote. Obama, however, was really a sui generis candidate, and as such, a poor proxy for generic Democratic support. He had coattails on election day, but they evaporated when the polls closed, a point that became immediately apparent in the Georgia do-over election a few weeks later, and which has subsequently been rammed home in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Accordingly, while Toomey may or may not have an uphill climb, I don’t think it’s safe to measure the incline by Obama’s 2008 margin.

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