The power of incumbency? Not anymore

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In politics, incumbency usually provides a significant advantage to a candidate.

Usually special interests and large-dollar donors flow to those who are currently in power and have control over government purse strings.

Incumbents also carry the distinct advantage of staying in the public eye simply in the course of their duties and at the public expense, making campaigning considerably easier.

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So, election after elections, odds are you get to keep your seat.

No more, however. Today, there is an electoral tide turning against this once-impenetrable head-start. Today, it seems that being an incumbent now works against you.

There has been a string of incumbent losses in primaries, most recently Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah. Shockingly, Bennett finished third in delegate votes, getting only 26 percent of the total, and Mollohan, a 14-term incumbent, lost in the polls by 12 percent.

Looking to the future, Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., both incumbent senators, were looking rather nervous in the face of serious challenges for their primaries May 18.

We’ve already seen other political forces toppled, such as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s public defeat and then defection from the Republican Party.

This trend seems to be holding true on all levels, with even local incumbents being ousted from school boards and county seats in elections across the country.

And of course this impact is felt at the highest levels, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid desperately fighting to keep his Nevada Senate seat. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, will also be facing a primary challenge.

Not surprisingly, polls show that the American people are notably and consistently disenchanted with Congress. Last week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on Congressional job performance gave Congress a mere 21 percent approval rating, with a full 72 percent outright disapproving.

“What is this all about?” you ask.

I believe the answer is simple: accountability. Conservative, moderate and even some progressive-minded Americans are tired of hearing the perpetual campaign rhetoric concerning cutting wasteful spending and lessening the burden on American taxpayers.

It all started when the TARP legislation was passed and has only become amplified when additional so-called stimulus bills were rammed through and hit a fever pitch with the passage of the unaffordable health care legislation.

Republicans are not blameless in this mess. When in power, Republicans lost their way — spending at historic rates. Our talk of fiscal conservatism was washed away by our actions when we were at the helm, and some of our own leaders are paying a political price this year.

What our representatives in Washington need to understand is that if each of us must to learn to do more with less during tough times, the government should be no different.

Spending money that the nation does not have used to be easier to do, but those days are gone. Americans are watching closely — and when their incumbent representatives act imprudently, they are willing to fire them.

The days of free-spending and massive national debts are no longer acceptable to voters — incumbents beware.

Mike Reagan is the elder son of the late President Ronald Reagan. E-mail comments to