Anti-Incumbent Sentiment Strikes Again?


The Catholic Church isn’t the only group with cardinal troubles. 

On Tuesday, House Democrats could lose a cardinal. “Cardinals” are lawmakers who chair powerful appropriations subcommittees which control how much the federal government spends on given programs. The honorary title is a nod to the Vatican because of the divine eminence these lawmakers hold over federal spending.

West Virginia voters Tuesday cast ballots in a Democratic primary between Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., and challenger state Sen. Mike Oliverio.

Mollohan chairs the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee. He’s served 14 terms in the House, including winning an uncontested 2008 election. Mollohan hasn’t faced a primary challenger since 1992. But he now finds himself in the race of his life as West Virginia Democrats have soured on the veteran lawmaker.

Mollohan was among a group of pro-life Democrats who voted for the massive health care overhaul bill passed in March after securing an executive order from President Obama affirming pro-life principles. Pro-life groups are now running ads targeting Mollohan. The anti-abortion group West Virginians for Life recently dropped its endorsement of Mollohan and switched to Oliverio due to the health care vote. 

The FBI briefly probed Mollohan several years ago after he failed to disclose real estate holdings and other assets on his Congressional financial disclosure forms. That led Democratic leaders to oust Mollohan as the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) listed Mollohan as one of the 15 most-corrupt members of Congress.

Mollohan has refused to release his income tax returns. That’s drawn the ire of the local press which notes that the congressman’s net worth has increased significantly since joining Congress. The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register recently awarded its endorsement to Oliverio.

“(Mollohan) has failed to represent us well -- and has drawn attention to our state for all the wrong reasons,” the paper said.

Political handicappers are closely watching Tuesday’s primary for potential signs of voter restlessness. Over the weekend, delegates to the Utah Republican convention ousted Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, from serving a fourth term in the Senate. Bennett became the first sitting lawmaker to be sidelined by upstart voters this election cycle. A loss by Mollohan on the heels of Bennett’s dismissal could signal a trend.

If Mollohan loses, he’d be the second “cardinal” House Democrats have lost in three months. In February, Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., died unexpectedly. He chaired the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the panel that doles out money to the Pentagon.