One of the clearest measures of anti-Washington feeling this election year is the attack on a little-remembered, century-old amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Republican candidates in more than a half-dozen states have called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which was ratified in 1913 and which provides for the direct election of U.S. senators. Prior to the amendment, senators were designated by state legislatures.

"People would be better off if senators, when they deliver their messages to Washington, remember the sovereignty of the states," Mike Lee, who supports repeal, told reporters recently. Mr. Lee is a Republican running for the U.S. Senate from Utah.

Proponents of repeal say the amendment wrecked the founding fathers' balance between national and state governments, removing one of the last checks to unbridled power in Washington. Opponents counter that direct election of senators, long a goal of the Progressive movement of that era, expanded democracy.

The idea of repealing the 17th Amendment has bounced around conservative and libertarian circles for years, but is enjoying a resurgence this year thanks to the rise of tea-party candidates, who often embrace a strict view of the Constitution. It coincides with a broader attack on Progressive-era changes, notably the 16th Amendment, which created the income tax, and taps into the belief that big government began in the administration of President Woodrow Wilson.

The Idaho Republican Party has adopted the cause. Tea party-backed Senate candidates in Alaska and Utah advocate repeal, as do many candidates running for the House, as well as some sitting politicians.

In Florida, Democratic campaigns have attacked Republican rivals for considering the idea. In Colorado, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee paid for ads criticizing Ken Buck, the Republican Senate candidate, over the issue. Mr. Buck later reversed his support for repeal. Christine O'Donnell, the Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, supports a strict reading of the Constitution, but says she doesn't support repeal of the 17th Amendment.

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