Yes, several incumbents could lose this week. No, it doesn’t tell us anything about the national environment.


From left, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Rep. Mazie Hirono, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and now-Rep. Tulsi Gabbard celebrate Democratic victories at the Japanese Cultural Center after the 2012 election. (Marco Garcia/AP)

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans disapprove of their own member of Congress. Congratulations, Congress!

As it happens, two or more incumbents could lose their primaries this week. And we could conceivably even see three or four lose, which would basically be unprecedented.

The confluence of these things could/will undoubtedly cause some folks to blow the dust off the old "anti-incumbent" narrative. Watch out incumbents, they will say.

Don't listen to them. While there are plenty of incumbents fighting for their jobs this week, very few of their races say much of anything about the bigger picture for members of Congress.

Case in point: Reps. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) and Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.). Among all the incumbents this week, these two are probably the most likely to lose their primaries. But to call them unusual cases would be a disservice to the word "unusual."

DesJarlais is running in his first primary since it was revealed in October 2012 that he engaged in sexual relationships with patients and co-workers at his medical practice. He urged one of them to have an abortion and also encouraged his ex-wife to have two abortions prior to their marriage. DesJarlais, of course, has run on an antiabortion rights platform.

Bentivolio is the accidental congressman, if there ever was one. When Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) shockingly failed to qualify for the ballot in 2012, Bentivolio -- who can actually be described as a reindeer farmer and Santa Claus-for-hire, no joke -- was left as the only Republican on the ballot.

Bentivolio has been badly outspent by lawyer David Trott, who led by 22 points in a recent poll. DesJarlais, though, isn't being counted out in his race against state Sen. Jim Tracy on Thursday.

Indeed, if someone like DesJarlais were able to survive, it would be a near-perfect tribute to the powers of incumbency -- much more so than a loss by him would indicate any kind of looming anti-incumbent judgment day.

A look at the other incumbents who could lose this week (list here) shows how little their losses would reflect the larger picture either:

1) Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)

Schatz is probably the most vulnerable Senate incumbent this week, as he faces a primary Saturday with Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. But Schatz is an appointee, and it's hardly unusual for appointees to have electoral problems or even lose. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) barely won his 2010 primary, and Sen. Sheila Frahm (R-Kan.) lost her primary in 1996. This is also Hawaii, where the Democratic primary is basically the whole ballgame, so tough races aren't unusual.

2) Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D)

This is a little different because it's a governor's race, and Abercrombie looks to be in serious danger. But again, Hawaii has a long history of hard-fought Democratic primaries, and Abercrombie is very unpopular. You could make an argument that his being a former congressman doesn't help, but we don't think that's really his problem.

3) Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)

Amash is one of the biggest Ron Paul allies in the House and has found his reelection bid opposed by some of the GOP establishment, including the Chamber of Commerce. If he lost, it would be notable that a tea party incumbent was actually defeated by more moderate/establishment Republicans -- something that hasn't really happened in recent years -- but it wouldn't say much about other member of Congress, given Amash is pretty one of a kind.

4) Two Kansas Republicans

Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) are both being targeted from the middle. But much as with the Hawaii Democratic Party, the Kansas Republican Party has been fighting an internal battle for a long time. And sometimes, incumbents have lost. Pompeo's race is also unusual because he faces the man he succeeded, former congressman Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.).

If Huelskamp lost, that would probably say something about anti-incumbency -- especially given his opponent is little funded. But again, this is Kansas.

Beyond all of those listed above, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) also face contested primaries this week. But as the New York Times's Jonathan Martin writes today, neither of their top opponents have gotten much traction. Also in Tennessee, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) could be in some trouble after taking 39 percent of the vote in a crowded 2012 primary.

Those races aside, if several of the aforementioned incumbents do lose, there will probably be a few voters who pulled the lever for the challenger because they are fed up with Washington. In most of these cases, though, that's not really what's going on.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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