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 ReidThe Memo: Trump pulls off a stone-cold stunner The Memo: Ending DACA a risky move for Trump Manchin pressed from both sides in reelection fight MORE (D-Nev.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTrump riles Dems with pick for powerful EPA job Pelosi's chief of staff stepping down Time is now to address infrastructure needs MORE (D-Calif.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetGOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts NFL star claims he was victim of 'abusive conduct' by Las Vegas police Gardner throws support behind DREAM Act MORE (D-Colo.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayWeek ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets Policymaking commission offers a glimmer of hope in hyper-partisan Washington Dems call on DeVos to work with CFPB to protect student borrowers MORE (D-Wash.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Senate passes 0B defense bill 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 BoozmanGOP senator undergoing follow-up surgery next week An unlikely home in DC Lobbying World 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 PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program 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 ClintonGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Lawmakers, pick up the ball on health care and reform Medicaid The art of the small deal 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.