The days of the institutional politician may well be over. Generally speaking in the days of yore, if you were an incumbent running for re-election, no matter your party affiliation, you had a leg up on all challengers. Not so anymore.
The American people are angry and frustrated at politicians who see themselves as "untouchable" and "sure things" for re-election. Citizens feel that lawmakers are not listening to the people and are taking them for granted. Voters today believe that elected office should be an opportunity and NOT a career. Americans today believe you should serve and get out.
Some politicians have seen the handwriting on the wall and have decided not to stand for re-election this fall. The rejection of incumbents is not necessarily limited to one party over the other. A question soon to be answered is how will the electorate treat incumbent legislators who give up
one position only to run for another. Will they still be treated as "incumbents?" Lets look at who has thrown in the towel so far, voluntarily or otherwise:
Democrats: 5 Retirements:
Republicans: 6 Retirements:
Bennett (UT) He was defeated in a party nomination process.
Democrats: 11 Retirements:
Barry (1st Dist. AR)
Snyder (2nd Dist. AR)
Watson (33rd Dist. CA)
Moore (3rd Dist. KA)
Delahunt (10th Dist. MA)
Stupak (1st Dist. MI)
Kennedy (1st Dist. RI)
Gordon (6th Dist. TN)
Tanner (8th Dist. TN)
Baird (3rd Dist. WA)
Obey (7th Dist. WI)
Retiring Democrats running for other offices (6) :
Davis (7th Dist. AL) running for Gov. AL
Meek (17th Dist. FL) running for U.S. Senate
Ellsworth (8th Dist. IN) running for U.S. Senate
Melancon (3rd Dist. LA) running for U.S. Senate
Hodes (2nd Dist. NH) running for U.S. Senate
Sestak (7th Dist. PA) running for U.S. Senate
Republicans: 8 Retirements:
Shadegg (3rd Dist. AZ)
Radanovich (19th Dist. CA)
Brown-White (5th Dist. FL)
Diaz-Balart (Lincoln) (21st Dist. FL)
Linder (7th Dist. GA)
Buyer (4th Dist. IN)
Ehlers (3rd Dist. MI)
Brown (1st Dist. SC)
Retiring Republicans running for other offices (12):
Boozman (3rd Dist. AR) running for U.S. Senate
Castle (at large Dist. DE) running for U.S. Senate
Putman (12 Dist. FL) running for Fl. State Commissioner of Agriculture
Diaz-Balart (Mario) (25th Dist FL) Running for 21st Dist. FL
Kirk (10th Dist. IL) running for U.S. Senate
Moran (1st Dist KS) running for U.S. Senate
Tiahrt (4th Dist. KS) running for U.S. Senate
Hoekstra (2nd Dist. MI) running for Governor
Blunt (7th Dist. MO) running for U.S. Senate
Fallin (5th Dist. OK) running for Governor
Barrett (3rd Dist. SC) running for Governnor
Wamp (3rd Dist. TN) running for Governor
Back in 1994 when Democrats took a beating at the polls and lost control of Congress few forecasted that devastating storm. Today, there is no doubt among political insiders and armchair pundits that 2010 will not be the year of the "incumbent" and since most incumbents are Democrats, it will not be the year of the "Democrat."
What will make the perfect storm for Republicans to make a comeback? Here is what political scholar Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia says:
"What ultimately happens in 2010 could depend on how closely the electoral backdrop next year resembles 1994. At this point, there are some strong similarities. Like Bill Clinton a decade and a half ago, Obama is an ambitious young Democratic president who has seen his poll numbers drop sharply in the opening months of his administration. And like Clinton, Obama has invested a good bit of his political capital into a massive effort to overhaul the nation's health care system. As in 1994, it is so complex an undertaking that foes are finding it much easier to pillory the project as 'big government' than supporters are able to defend it as needed reform."
An obvious target for the GOP in fashioning a comeback would be a seat that they recently heldnamely, those lost in the Democratic surges of 2006 and 2008. In the last two election cycles, Democrats scored a net gain of 55 House seatsconsolidating their grip in the Northeast, while expanding their beachheads in the nation's heartland. Most of their gains were made in three distinct parts of the countrythe Republican-leaning South, the increasingly competitive Mountain West, and the battleground states of the industrial Midwest.
As a result, these newly minted Democratic seats are in large part in competitive, even difficult, terrain. Roughly three-fourths of the districts (42) voted Republican for president in at least one of the last two elections. Twenty-one districts voted for the GOP presidential candidate in both 2004 and 2008.
Polling today more than suggests that members of Congress face the most anti-incumbent electorate since 1994. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, less than one-third of all voters say they are inclined to support their current representatives this November.
I believe that what has many Americans so upset, is the fact that the Democrats -- who control all branches of government with high majorities -- have not concentrated on what most Americans care about most, i.e., the economy, jobs and the rising debt. Since taking power in 2009, Democrats have focused almost entirely on health care reform and increased government spending and deficits. Americans kept asking themselves, "What good is affordable health care, if I do not have a job to pay for it?"
The American people will send a message this November. It will say to politicians, listen to the people and be responsive to our needs. The American people will send a strong and clear message that elected officials are sent to serve the people not the other way around.
Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.
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Former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush