Last night, a media narrative got a little dent. In a tight primary runoff election between Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter and incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln, the incumbent won. It was pretty close, but Lincoln managed to pull it out with just enough to avoid a recount -- 52.33% Lincoln to 47.67% Halter. If you're a mischievous type, here's a fun project; go around to rightwing blogs' and columnists' comment threads and point out that what they're calling a "narrow win" in the Arkansas Democratic primary is pretty much equal to the mandate-giving decisive vote they claimed for Bush in 2004 -- in fact, Lincoln's win is probably slightly wider. If you were a Halter backer, making wingnut heads explode might take a little bit of the edge of your loss. Go ahead and thank me later.
But if Blanche's win puts a dent in the "bad year for incumbents" story, it by no means kills it. Turns out this whole thing is a rule, not a law. And the exception doesn't disprove the rule. So we'll probably hear a lot of chatter about why it's an exception, but I don't expect the common wisdom's going to change much here. And it probably shouldn't. But here's an interesting question; if this "anti-incumbent year" story pans out in the primaries, wouldn't that have some effect on the general? What's the impact of an anti-incumbent trend on elections where the incumbent has already fallen victim to it? Watch for possible answers to those questions as Lincoln faces general election. As an incumbent who's bucked the trend in a primary, she's just become the control group in this little experiment.
Also, we have to assume who the incumbent was primaried out by matters. In the primaries held so far, teabaggers have enjoyed some success. But I've been saying for a while that crazy enough for Republican primaries may prove to be too crazy for the general election. In Kentucky, GOP Senate hopeful and Tea Party hero Rand Paul has already gone from "shoe-in" to "moving toward coin toss." And teabaggers' first victory in choosing their own candidate turned a district that had been red since the civil war to blue. It may be that this anti-incumbent thing blows all its powder in the primaries.
In Nevada, after the GOP establishment choice Sue Lowden's campaign suffered a chicken-fueled implosion, the new face of the GOP in that general election is the Tea Party's Sharron Angle, who columnist David Corn tells us has "called for abolishing the EPA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, and other agencies, and... privatizing Social Security." In that race, incumbent dem Harry Reid has gone from snowball's chance in hell to political survivor. If Lowden's "chickens for healthcare" plan didn't fly with Nevada voters, it's hard to see how Angle's insanity will do any better. This is more of a case of Reid's and Angle's luck than anything, but Harry is the incumbent, so it's worth noting against the background of "anti-incumbency fever."
It's too early to start making any solid predictions, but we can safely say that things are starting to move now. And already, polls showing a "throw the bums out!" mentality within the electorate aren't necessarily translating into good news for Republicans. "The bums" seem to be getting thrown out a little too soon, when they're thrown out at all.
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