(Steve Sebelius) – It’s almost not surprising that the percentage of new voters signing up as Democrats has fallen below 40 percent for the first time since Las Vegas consulting firm Applied Analysis began tracking the figures in 2003.
While Democrats are still ahead of Republicans (who signed up 26 percent of the new voters), it’s “non-partisan,” and third party candidates who are gaining political market share, says the firm’s Jeremy Aguero.
“It’s not the year of the incumbent,” Aguero said.
And there’s plenty of evidence to prove he’s right. A new Associated Press/GfK poll says a person’s longevity in office, and their concomitant ability to bring pork projects home, isn’t swaying voters to punch the button for incumbents. Surely Utah’s Bob Bennett — defeated for re-election in a party convention May 8 — knows about that. As this is written, party-switching U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R/D-Penn., has lost to a Democratic primary challenger.
Another AP/GfK poll shows just 36 percent of people want their own member of Congress to be re-elected. Usually, people disdain the institution (and, to be sure, just 37 percent of those polled approve of congressional Democrats, 31 of congressional Republicans) but love their representatives.
It makes sense: The Tea Party movement has gained the popular imagination not as a primarily right-wing phenomenon but as a reaction against a bad economy and excesses — deficits and debts — in Washington, D.C. And while the Tea Partiers seem to primarily be members of the GOP, they were as hard on George W. Bush for running up the government’s credit card as they are of Barack Obama for the seas of red ink.
It’s not the year of the incumbent, indeed.
Some of the most compelling arguments for re-electing Harry Reid, however, spring from his incumbency. Reid killed Yucca Mountain. Reid got health-care reform, which will benefit thousands of Nevada residents and small businesses. Reid got funds to widen Interstate 15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, paving the way for more tourists to visit Las Vegas casinos. He’s secured money for renewable energy projects in Nevada, which means jobs.
Why, Reid supporters often ask, would you take the No. 1 senator in the country and replace him with No. 100, a freshman of the minority party?
But if the AP poll is to be believed, that’s not going to matter come Election Day. People want change, and while Harry Reid can be many things to many people, a government outsider isn’t one of them.
Combine that with a natural antipathy for Nevada’s senior senator — “Anyone Butt Reid” is a common bumper sticker or yard sign — and that spells trouble for the man who’s been in office longer than many Nevadans have lived in the Silver State.
Now, a great deal depends on how far Republicans are willing to go for change; a recent Review-Journal poll shows maverick conservative Sharron Angle gaining fast on establishment Republican Sue Lowden. An Angle versus Reid race could be a very different contest than one that pits Lowden against Reid. Angle’s style of conservatism just might be a bit too much, even for Nevada.
“They [Democrats] need to make sure their message resonates with independent voters,” Aguero advises. In an age when the Democrats are trying to stop the excesses of Wall Street, BP and health insurance companies, and Republicans oppose those efforts, Reid may yet have a chance to beat the trends.