After a string of primary elections last month, media commentators robotically ran stories reporting the vulnerability of incumbent politicians. Blanche Lincoln's failure to capture 50% of the votes in a strong 3-way contest and Arlen Specter's failure to win his first shot as a Democrat provided the most often cited evidence of incumbent jeopardy. But aside from these two contests, there was very little evidence of incumbent vulnerability.
Now that Lincoln has won the run-off election, there is still very little tangible evidence of voter anger towards incumbents. Even if polls show discontent, this might not translate into election losses for incumbents. Furthermore, these losses might result from other factors, such as ideology.
So far, only a few incumbents have lost their bids to retain an existing office. It is unclear, however, whether these losses resulted from anti-incumbent rage. Specter's loss, as I have analyzed elsewhere, likely resulted because he could not convince faithful Democrats (the folks who vote in congressional primaries) to support him following his lifetime in politics as a Republican.
Furthermore, during last month's Arkansas primary, Lincoln simply failed to capture a majority of the votes in a strong 3-way contest. In addition, labor and other liberal groups provided ample cash for Bill Halter -- Lincoln's strongest challenger. Ultimately, however, Lincoln pulled off the victory.
Two Republicans lost reelection bids in Utah (Sen. Robert Bennett) and in Nevada (Gov. Jim Gibbons). Their defeats, however, probably result from ideology or political scandal.
In Nevada, Gov. Gibbons had to deal with a nasty divorce and allegations of adultery and sexual assault. Also, among Republicans, more conservative factions in the party have threatened or ousted establishment candidates who, after getting elected, represented an entire state and not merely the partisans who vote in primary elections. Rand Paul's effort to retool his image following his controversial statements about civil rights demonstrates that Tea Party politics might not have mainstream appeal.
It is difficult to predict what will happen electorally in November. Thus far, however, the media's anti-incumbent spin is greatly exaggerated.