The reality of anti-incumbentism

Many of the analysts have been trying paint this week’s elections with a very broad brush as general examples of popular unrest with Washington, D.C.  While true in part, this overlooks an important fact: each race that happened this week happened in a unique set of circumstances.

Pennsylvania Democrats did not repudiate the concept of incumbency when they cast their vote for a sitting Member of Congress; they did repudiate Arlen Specter.  Specter was not a Democrat, as Joe Sestak so successfully pointed out:

Similarly, the idea that Sen. Blanche Lincoln is “too conservative” for Arkansas Democrats doesn’t hold water, either.  The state has a long-standing strong history of dumping incumbent Senators in primaries.  And Lt. Governor Bill Halter’s national appeal to liberal special interests helped his campaign infrastructure, but it didn’t necessarily win him votes:

The darling of national liberals and labor unions got powered into a Democratic U.S. Senate runoff in Arkansas on Tuesday by the support of good ol’ boys in South Arkansas who either didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t care, both entirely plausible… Halter waltzed into a runoff using liberal money and a conservative backlash.

There is a strong undercurrent of unrest with national elected officials, but that alone doesn’t win an election.  That spirit may have manifested itself in similar way in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, with incumbent Senators underperforming, but it came about for different reasons.

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