Washington Ah, the cruelty. Veteran lawmakers who toiled for years in Congress waiting for a chance at political promotion have discovered an inconvenient truth: This election year, Washington experience is a career-ender.
Four House members who abandoned their seats to run for governor have failed to survive their party primaries, and the list could grow in the coming weeks. Tennessee Rep. Zach Wamp was the latest to stumble in Thursday’s Republican primary.
Add these losses to the six incumbents who have been defeated in their re-election bids and it signals an electorate sour on Washington.
“People hate Congress,” said nine-term Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, who was pounded by rivals’ ads about Wall Street bailouts, money for district projects and rising debt in his losing bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. “It was a hurdle that had to be overcome, or it was some baggage that you had to carry.”
Recent surveys have shown Americans hold lawmakers in particularly low esteem: Just one in four people said they approved of Congress’ job performance in the most recent Associated Press-GfK poll. Job losses and spiraling debt have left a significant number of Americans certain the country is on the wrong track. The fierce partisanship in Washington has convinced many that a broken government can do little to solve the country’s woes.
The disfavor is evident this election, and both parties have suffered from the anti-establishment sentiment. Four House incumbents and two senators have lost primaries to keep their jobs. Another five have lost bids for governor, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who unlike her House counterparts didn’t give up her day job.
Two former congressmen — Republican Nathan Deal of Georgia and Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii — are battling to win party nods for governor. Deal faces Karen Handel in Tuesday’s runoff.
In Tennessee, the eight-term Wamp lost badly to Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who constantly reminded voters that Wamp was a Washington insider.
Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, Rep. Gresham Barrett of South Carolina and Hutchison all fared poorly in their gubernatorial bids, unable to shed the Washington label.
There have been a few exceptions to the trend.
Two-term Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas cruised to victory in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary over a little-known novice, and Republican Rep. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma defeated a tea party-backed state senator to win her primary.