So much for the power of incumbency

Gov. Jon Corzine (D) failed to win reelection in New Jersey . . .
Gov. Jon Corzine (D) failed to win reelection in New Jersey . . . (Mel Evans/associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 16, 2009

Amid the spin spewing from the parties over what this month's elections in New Jersey, Virginia and New York meant, there is one indisputable lesson learned: Voters don't like incumbents these days.

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) was thrown out by voters, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) was nearly defeated despite outspending his opponent by 20 to 1.

Although the candidacy of Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman fell short in the special election in Upstate New York's 23rd Congressional District, his rapid rise was based mainly on anti-Washington, throw-the-bums-out messaging.

Virginia's governor's race did not include an incumbent, but voters roundly rejected the party of President Obama and outgoing officeholder Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

In Pew Research Center's polling, just over half of Americans said they would like to see their members of Congress reelected next fall. Only 34 percent said they want most incumbents to be reelected in the midterms.

Pew describes those numbers as among the most negative in two decades of collecting data. They approach levels found in the run-ups to the 1994 and 2006 midterms -- elections in which there were significant seat changes in the House and Senate. In October 2006, 55 percent said they wanted to see their lawmakers reelected and 37 percent favored the reelection of most members of Congress; in October 1994, 49 percent favored the reelection of their own lawmakers and 29 percent backed reelection of Capitol Hill incumbents in general.

Even more troubling for incumbents is that independent voters are more down on their elected officials than partisans of either stripe. Only a quarter of independents want to see congressional incumbents reelected next year, while 42 percent support their own lawmakers in the midterms.

What's clear from this and other national polling as well as a variety of state data is that there is a widespread belief that politicians are not acting in the best interests of those they represent. This sentiment isn't terribly new, but the depth of these anti-incumbent feelings -- particularly among political independents -- makes it newsworthy.

While it's likely that any sustained sentiment of this sort will hurt Democrats more than Republicans, this sort of political environment is decidedly unpredictable and could lead to surprising defeats for presumed safe incumbents -- of both parties -- next November.

D for defeat?

Two Quinnipiac University polls released late last week in Ohio and Connecticut provided sobering news for Senate Democrats.

In Connecticut, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D), whose numbers experienced a resurgence over the summer, trailed former congressman Rob Simmons (R) by double digits.

Even against such virtual unknowns as former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive Linda McMahon, state Sen. Sam Caliguri and former ambassador Tom Foley, Dodd is in a statistical dead heat.

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