By Russell Berman - 05/12/10 11:37 PM EDT
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) lost his primary because “he did not appreciate the magnitude of his reelection challenge,” according to Democrats.
Mollohan, a 14-term lawmaker, was soundly defeated Tuesday night, becoming the second incumbent in a week to lose his party’s nomination. Mollohan was the first House member. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) was denied the GOP nomination at a weekend convention.
Democrats said privately that Mollohan was not prepared for his primary fight.
“He did not appreciate the magnitude of his reelection challenge until a month ago, a bit too late to do much,” a Democratic aide said. The party said ethics charges had played a big role in his defeat, allowing challenger Mike Oliverio to define Mollohan “as unethical and out of touch.”
It’s part of their argument that 2010 is shaping up to be an anti-incumbent year instead of an anti-Democratic year.
Democratic strategists point out that the Republican Bennett lost in Utah and note that in the Connecticut Senate race, where Attorney General Richard Blumenthal became the Democratic nominee after Sen. Chris
Dodd (D-Conn.) opted not to run for reelection, Blumenthal is doing much better in the polls than Dodd did.
In West Virginia, too, Democrats now say that Oliverio, a state senator, is a stronger general-election candidate than Mollohan would have been.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Mollohan’s home-state colleague, survived a primary challenge on Tuesday but faces a tough reelection battle this fall.
The 17-term lawmaker said that he, for one, had heard the message loud and clear.
“I’m prepared to fight like hell for my job,” Rahall told The Hill.
He noted that he had already challenged his Republican opponent to a debate. “I don’t take any election for granted,” he said.
Rahall recalled a favorite word of advice from his state’s senior senator, Robert Byrd (D): “There are only two ways to run for reelection: unopposed or scared.”
He said other members were paying attention too.
“I’m not sure we needed it, but it’ll be a spur” for a lot of lawmakers, he said.
Two more veteran lawmakers, Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), could lose their seats in tough primary elections next week.