Open season on incumbents

The message of the May 18 primaries is that it is open season on incumbents.

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter (D) lost decisively to Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in his primary contest, while Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) limped into a runoff in the Democratic primary by 44-42 over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

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There can be little doubt that Lincoln will lose the runoff, having scored under 50 percent of the vote. The fact is that 56 percent of the Democrats in Arkansas decided to vote against Lincoln.

Both Specter and Lincoln are now reaping the harvest of their votes for healthcare, a fate soon to be shared by Sens. Harry ReidHarry ReidTop Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor GOP in uncharted territory rolling back rules through resolutions MORE (D-Nev.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerFour more lawmakers say they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues in Congress California Hispanics are the vanguard for a new political paradigm Trump riles Dems with pick for powerful EPA job MORE (D-Calif.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBipartisan lawmakers can rebuild trust by passing infusion therapy bill GAO to investigate Trump's voter fraud commission 2 election integrity commission members protest lack of transparency MORE (D-Colo.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayA bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Overnight Health Care: ObamaCare sign-ups surge in early days Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (D-Wash.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAfter Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Senators push mandatory sexual harassment training for members, staff CNN to air sexual harassment Town Hall featuring Gretchen Carlson, Anita Hill MORE (D-N.Y.). And the liability of incumbency was also vividly on display a week ago when longtime Democratic incumbent Congressman Alan Mollohan (W.Va.) was upended in his primary contest.

Lest the Democrats take comfort in their new standard-bearers in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, it is obvious that Sestak and Halter will be easier to defeat than their far-better-known incumbent rivals would have been. The new senator from Pennsylvania will be Republican nominee Pat Toomey, and from Arkansas it will be Rep. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanLobbying World The Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal GOP senator undergoing follow-up surgery next week MORE (R).

With the defeat of Specter, the likely demise of Lincoln and the recent loss of Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), the Senate class of 2011 will have at least 14 new members ... with more to come.

Democrats are taking satisfaction from their victory in Pennsylvania-12, where they held onto the seat of deceased Rep. John Murtha. But the obvious reason for their success is that Democratic turnout was boosted by a ferocious statewide Senate primary that drew out 1.05 million voters while the Republican contest — never seriously contested — brought a paltry 800,000 to the polls. With no statewide reason to vote, local PA-12 Republicans stayed home while their Democratic neighbors flocked to the polls to vote against Specter (a joy not to be missed).

The Democratic victory in PA-12 also underscores a more fundamental point, which is that incumbency is a huge liability in 2010. It is simply better to come from nowhere to run this year than to seek to keep a seat in this totally discredited Congress.

Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senator asks to be taken off Moore fundraising appeals Red state lawmakers find blue state piggy bank Prosecutors tell Paul to expect federal charges against attacker: report MORE’s success in Kentucky in toppling establishment Senate candidate Trey Grayson in the Republican primary — along with the Bennett defeat in Utah — shows that this anti-politician sentiment cuts across party lines.

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The harsh verdict on incumbents stems not so much from party preferences as from revulsion at the legislative process itself. The byproduct of violating Bismarck’s maxim that the public should never see sausage being made or a law being passed is that those who do the latter in full public view are doomed to end their legislative careers in defeat. The unseemly bargaining, machinations and overt buying and selling of votes that characterized the healthcare debate of 2009-10 have left so sour a taste in voters’ mouths that they understandably dismiss those incumbents from office whenever they can.

The fact that President Obama let the Congress write the 2,000-page bill in public and that Reid and Pelosi negotiated for votes in front of the media has amplified voter anger at Congress. Watching the deals being hatched and votes switching provides too much for the electorate to stomach. Now it is expressing its discontent with the legislative shenanigans it has had to watch. This year is not just an anti-Democrat year. It is an anti-incumbent year.

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill ClintonBill ClintonTop Oversight Dem pushes back on Uranium One probe Bill Clinton hits Trump, tax reform plan in Georgetown speech The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced and Catastrophe. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, 2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan, go to dickmorris.com. In August, Morris became a strategist for the League of American Voters, which is running ads opposing the president’s healthcare reforms.