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Incumbents Beware

How real is the taint of incumbency this year? The New York Times points out today that even Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), among the most conservative lawmakers in the upper chamber, won’t have an easy ride on his bid for reelection in November. The reason?

The dissatisfaction with Washington sweeping through politics is not only threatening the Democratic majority in Congress, it is also roiling Republican primaries. The Tea Party movement and advocacy groups on the right are demanding that candidates hew strictly to their ideological standards, and are moving aggressively to cast out those they deem to have strayed, even if only by participating in the compromises of legislating.

Bennett — whose conservative credentials include efforts to scale back Social Security benefits, weed out illegals aliens in the census and halt gay marriage in Washington – is third in recent polls behind “Anybody-but-Bennett and Undecided,” the Times notes, citing Bennett’s internal polls. “His fate is being watched,” the Times adds, “not only by grass-roots conservatives testing their ability to shape the party, but also by many elected Republicans in Washington who are wondering, If Bob Bennett is not conservative enough, who is?”

This trend, of course, isn’t exactly good news for the Democratic majority. Fueled by an underemployment rate approaching 20 percent, the wave of voter dissatisfaction has crested on the message that the federal government — with its Wall Street bailout, its stimulus bill, its health care reforms, etc. — is spending too much without offsetting the costs. So Republican incumbents in a number of districts are finding themselves more threatened by primary opponents than Democratic challengers, as Bennett’s case exemplifies.

It’s worth noting that many of the heroes of these small-government, anti-spending advocates, including Ronald Reagan, also ran up the largest debts.

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