Crist's GOP Exit: Open Season on Incumbents?

Thursday, 29 Apr 2010 03:01 PM

By David A. Patten

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The remarkable decision by Charlie Crist, a sitting GOP governor, to abandon the party that put him into office lends further credence to polls showing voter antipathy running so high against Washington that political insiders from both parties may be an endangered species.

Crist's decision to bolt the GOP, rather than face a likely drubbing at the hands of tea-party favorite Marco Rubio, is just the latest indication that established party figures are in serious trouble this November. Crist had received the early backing of the GOP establishment.

In Utah, Sen. Bob Bennett, a staunch social conservative, is struggling to gain traction in his bid for re-election. Grass-roots conservatives say they have "taken over" Utah's GOP delegation. Some observers believe they are strong enough to replace Bennett with tea party favorite Mike Lee, a Utah attorney who once clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Grass-roots conservatives are angry with Bennett in part because he supported President Bush's TARP bailouts: Bennett, a sitting U.S. senator running for re-election, may not be conservative enough to win his own party's nomination.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry was able to link popular GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to TARP as well. She lost her primary battle against Perry by 22 points.

Another case in point may be simmering in Kentucky. There, the candidate of the GOP establishment, Trey Grayson, appears to be in trouble against Rand Paul. Rand Paul is the son of libertarian-leaning Republican Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. A SurveyUSA poll released April 12 showed Paul leading Grayson by 15 points, 45 to 30.

One exception to the GOP's anti-incumbent purge may be in Arizona, where longtime GOP Sen. John McCain is battling an insurgency candidacy from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

According to a statewide poll of 666 voters conducted by Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, McCain is more than holding his own. He leads Hayworth by 54 percent to 28 percent, with another 18 percent still undecided, among voters who indicated they plan to take part in the Aug. 24 Republican primary.

McCain may prove the exception, however. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a conservative and a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Politico: "This is a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of business as usual and a repudiation of politicians who ignore their own party."

As that suggests, the key for candidates of both parties in the November midterms may be their ability to position themselves as anti-Washington politicians.

"The key is really seizing the outsider image," former GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia tells Politico.

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