Last Night’s Anti-Incumbent Turbulence

by John Fund

Approval ratings for Congress hover just over the double-digit mark, so it’s no surprise that some incumbent GOP House members had to struggle to win in primaries last night in Alabama and Mississippi. Representative Spencer Bachus, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, had to contend with last month’s news that he was under federal investigation over allegations that he engaged in insider trading in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.

Bachus poured $1.6 million out of his campaign coffers to overwhelm his chief rival, state senator Scott Beason, who was outspent 45–1. He won 59 percent of the vote, securing the majority of the vote he needed to avoid a runoff.

Representative Jo Bonner, a member of the Appropriations Committee (the House’s favor factory), similarly had to outspend his rivals to secure the nomination. Bonner, who came under attack for excessive federal spending from Tea Party activist Dean Young, nonetheless won only 56 percent of the vote.

In neighboring Mississippi, freshman congressman Alan Nunnelee won 57 percent of the vote over Henry Ross, a mild-mannered former attorney for the Justice Department, who criticized the incumbent’s failure to restrain the federal debt.

The assumption in some Washington quarters will be that because the three incumbents won over underfunded challengers that there is no news. But their performances were far below what is normally expected of incumbents, and combined with the surprise defeat last week of Representative Jean Schmidt in Ohio’s GOP primary, they are a sign of further anti-incumbent turbulence in this election year.

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