Incumbents, beware: And that means Republicans, too

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 18:  Sen. Arlen Specter (D-...

Image by Getty Images North America via Daylife

Ever since Scott Brown and his pick-up truck staged an upset victory in Massachusetts’ special election for the U.S. Senate, Republicans have been boasting about their plans to roust Democrats and take over both houses of Congress come November.

Plenty of experts agree with them. But, as I’ve been saying for awhile, don’t be too quick to count Democrats out.  While they’ll likely lose some seats, I don’t see a 1994 Republican revolution. Sure, Americans are pissed off at Washington politicians. But their anger doesn’t wear a party label.

Yesterday’s special election in Pennsylvania appears to bear this out.  OK. So in Kentucky’s Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate seat, Tea Party heart throb Rand Paul thumped Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Grayson, you’ll recall, was the establishment’s pick, and had the strong support, among others, of the state’s other senator, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and former Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Score one for the righteous and grass roots right (as opposed to the cynical, establishment variety).

But look elsewhere and this election was anything but a Tea Party love fest. Take Pennsylvania, where the grass roots left (not right) helped one-term Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak defeat five-term, 80-year-old Sen. Arlen Specter, in part by effectively suggesting that Specter switched parties last year after a career as a lifelong Republican simply to save his own hide.  Take  Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces a treacherous June 8 run-off against Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who ran to her left in a closely fought primary.

And take Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, where voters elected Democrat Mark Critz in a special election to replace the late John Murtha, who represented the district for decades. Critz’ win came despite the fact that the conservative Democratic district had supported John McCain in 2008 after voting for John Kerry in 2004.

All-in-all, these votes did not seem to indicate a resounding shift to the right or to Republicans.  In fact, exit polls in Critz’ 12 Congressional District, found that voters — though tepid about the Obama presidency — disliked  far more the Republican Party performance during the  Bush presidency, reports. Only 28 percent told pollsters for Public Policy Polling that they approved of the Republicans during the Bush presidency, and they clearly were not anxious to return the party to power.

If this news isn’t unsettling enough for Republicans, evidence continues to mount that the Tea Party may split the right’s vote in some places come November.  In Florida, Gov. Charlie Christ already is running as an independent candidate after he fell far behind the Tea Party’s choice, Marco Rubio, in the Republican primary.

Now, reports, three-term Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett may consider a write-in campaign after losing the Republican primary in that state earlier this month to an even more conservative candidate.

With unemployment still hovering near 10 percent, foreclosures in some areas still rising and Congress grinding along at its usual glacial pace, Democrats have nothing to be smug about. But Republican incumbents had better watch their backs, too. They may ride the wave of discontent in some places; there simply are more incumbent Democrats on the November ballot.

But as the party of no, Republicans have nothing but fear and division to run on. And a lot of Americans tired of that tune awhile ago.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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