Incumbency More Important than the Senate Majority


imageUnless the polls are systematically biased, Republicans will hold the Senate with a healthy cushion once all the runoffs are through. For the first time in his career, Barack Obama will be forced to use his veto pen to protect his interests. Republicans can vote down his judicial nominees, forcing him into stealth candidates. I have hope that Republicans will force devastating votes and joyous capitulations with regularity over the next two years.

This is good news, but it is less important than people make it out to be. There is still the filibuster to contend with. Republicans will be an easier target for Obama to demonize. They run the risk of damaging the Republican brand before the vastly important 2016 election. But the most important part of this — and I argue any — election is the power of incumbency.

Incumbency — or, more specifically, the ability to gain it with a candidate who’s more than a flash in a pan — matters because it predicts one’s ability to outperform in future races. Nate Silver quantifies it as such:

More important is the coefficient on the incumbency variable, which is roughly +7. This indicates that incumbents are performing a net of about seven points better than non-incumbents, controlling for state partisanship. So incumbency is still an advantage on average.

But this is just an average, which is why it’s important to fill these opportunities with the most talented candidates, calibrated to the conditions of their individual races.

One must look no further than the most likely candidates for Republican pick-ups this cycle to see how this plays out. Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia are states that have only sustained Democratic officeholders because of incumbency. The only reason these states are now gimmes on Tuesday is the retirement of legacy Democrats. Alternatively, it has taken the terrible condition of the President and his party to finally dislodge Democrats from deeply red Arkansas and Louisiana.

These states are finally coming home, but they are not the most important races. Instead, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, and New Hampshire are where the Right really stands to gain. The first two are important pickups, but will be the first to go wobbly when the political zephyr blows from the Left. Kansas is an unpredictable political risk, and one that should never have happened in the first place. The independent challenger, Greg Orman, has the youth — and may have the talent — to use incumbency in his favor. North Carolina is unfortunately trending blue thanks to the Research Triangle and hospitality economy. Those moving in will, of course, kill that goose slowly, but being an emerging blue territory makes a Republican win more likely to pay dividends over the long run. It is also one of the most unlikely flips.

Strangely, our biggest incumbency bang for the buck may be in New Hampshire, where a pickup may actually be more likely than in North Carolina. This may be the most important race this cycle. Scott Brown is a perfect fit for the state and will likely be able to continue there as Senator for as long as he wishes.

One of the most devastating mistakes of the Newt Gingrich era was the term limits many Senators imposed on themselves. It made sure, just when Democrats were on the rise, that the Left had maximum impact in expanding their territory, ultimately leading to Obamacare. Incumbency should be of paramount focus. That includes avoiding taking it for granted, Mr. Roberts!

I realize many conservatives are skeptical of incumbency, but we must live in the world we reside in rather than the one we wish we had. Incumbency is a far greater prize than just the additional seat it represents.

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There are 2 comments.

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  1. CandE Inactive

    Good insights.  Thanks, Mike.


    • #1
  2. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart

    Incumbents whine “we can’t get it done because we’re in the minority.”

    Incumbents turn into beltway barnacles like Orin Hatch, John McCain, Pat Roberts, Thad Cochran, Richard Lugar, Arlen Specter (to name just a few on the Republican side, of course there’s Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, etc. on the Left) more interested in representing their donor class than their constituents.

    Gaining the majority is much more important than long-term incumbency.

    • #2
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