I’m not going to go into great detail, since we’ve talked about it before, but you know my feelings on incumbency. If you’re a layabout that likes to talk about himself all the time, then politics is the game for you. If you can convince enough people in your district or state that you actually give a shit about them, you’re golden. That’s because the retention rate in congress is about 94.2%.
The advantages to incumbency are obvious. Name and face recognition. People voted for you the first time, and your job gives you the chance to say and do things that make voters feel like you’re working hard for them. You already have an up and functioning campaign structure and donor base. And if you’re an incumbent, you also have a nice little Rolodex full of special interest contributors. Little wonder it’s so hard to lose.
But there are also a couple of risks in being an incumbent, and interestingly enough, they can be the same thing that constitutes a strength. To become an incumbent, the candidate crafts an image he feels will appeal to voters. And then he crafts his record and personality to match that image, in order to get reelected. Which means that his name and record recognition in the district or state is near universal. If an incumbent suddenly falls out of favor, there is little he can do to change or restore his image.
That’s what is killing GOP Senate incumbents in 2020. They spent years carefully crafting their images and records, to remain comfortable with their voters. And then in 2016, along came Donald Trump, the one man wrecking crew. Out of their terror of alienating Trump’s vengeful base, these incumbents prostituted their names, their records, and their images in steadfastly refusing to stand up to Trump. And in doing so, they became Trump to their voters.
Here’s a perfect example. A week or so ago, MJ Hegar won the Democratic primary in Texas to oppose John Cornyn for his Senate seat. A poll just afterwards showed Cornyn with an 8 point lead over Hegar, which greatly heartened the campaign, as well it should.
Here’s why. A recent popularity poll showed Cornyn well under water with voters in Texas. This is the worst place to be, simply because he is so well knows, and voters opinions of him are so baked in. In the same poll, more than 50% said that they didn’t know enough about Hegar to make an informed opinion. In politics, this is known as room for growth. It may be next to impossible for Cornyn to change minds, but Hegar has every opportunity, with well crafted messaging and effective campaigning, to swing that 50%+ over to her side.
This same effect is being felt up and down the lineup for the GOP. With Perdue in Georgia, Graham in south Carolina, Tillis in North Carolina, Collins in Maine, and even Ernst in Iowa. In each case, the incumbent is badly under water in popularity, and the fresh faced challengers have tons of room to grow, because they can make up minds instead of having to try to change them.
There are actually two states where this really doesn’t play in, but likely won’t matter. In Colorado, Corey Gardner has been a dead man walking since before the primaries. John Hickenlooper was still running for President, and hadn’t even declared a run for the Senate, and a head-to-head poll had Hickenlooper clobbering Gardner by something like 18 points. And in Arizona, Martha McSally is in the hurt locker. Her opponent, shuttle commander and husband of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly, has nearly universal name recognition. But even there he has the advantage as again, a majority of Arizonans say that they don’t know enough about Kelly’s policies and positions, so he still has room to grow.
In all of these races, as normal, the key is going to be funding. All of these incumbents have deep pockets, and deep pocket donors, and will go to the mattresses to negatively brand their opponents. The challengers will need enough funding to fight the good fight. But no matter what, it means that the GOP is going to have to spend a boat load of cash defending seats that should have been safe, taking resources that could have been spent on other, more desperate races.
There you have it. Normally, incumbency is damn near a guarantee of a lifetime of cushy employment. But that requires a sense of normalcy in order to rest on your record and laurels. And when a one man wrecking ball like Trump comes along and obliterates normalcy, then everything goes out the window, and all bets are off. 100 days to go.
To know the future, look to the past.before the insanity of the 2020 election, relive the insanity of the 2016 GOP primary campaign, and the general election, to see how we got to where we are. Copies of President Evil, and the sequel, President Evil II, A Clodwork Orange are available as e-books on Amazon, at the links above. Catch up before the upcoming release of the third book in the trilogy, President Evil III: All The Presidents Fen
Follow me on Twitter at @RealMurfster35
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