Can Some Democratic Challengers Win On An Anti-Washington Message?

The big question for the 2010 election is: Will it be an anti-Democratic election or an anti-Washington/anti-incumbent election? If it is an anti-Democratic year, there is not much Democratic challengers can do expect run hard and smart against a strong headwind. If it is an anti-Washington/anti-incumbent year, several Democratic Senate candidates have potential to run on the message.

Illinois, Missouri, Delaware, North Carolina

In the open Senate seats for Illinois, Missouri, and Delware, the likely Democratic nominees are local elected officials--Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, and New Castle County Council President Chris Coons--while their likely Republican opponents are all current members of the House of Representatives--Mark Kirk (IL), Roy Blunt (MO), and Mark Castle (DE). If the mood in the country is anti-Congress, these three Democrats are in good shape to use that to attack their Republican opponents.

In North Carolina, the Democrats have a contested primary, but none of the likely winners have served in Congress. Whichever Democrat wins the primary will face Republican incumbent Richard Burr. Burr has poor approval numbers and is currently part of the obstructionist Senate Republican caucus. The North Caroline Senate race is potentially the best place for Democrats to run hard against a broken Washington.

Ohio, Indiana

While running an anti-Washington campaign might not be as easy in the race for the open Ohio seat, it is still possible. The two Democratic candidates, Lee Fisher and Jennifer Brunner, are both statewide officeholders. The Republican, Rob Portman, served in the Bush Administration, and could potentially be depicted as a creature of Washington.

Dan Coats is the likely Republican candidate in Indiana. Having worked as a lobbyist, Coats could easily be attack as a creature of Washington. If Democrats choose a current member of Congress, like Baron Hill or Brad Ellsworth, running against Washington would be basically impossible. On the other hand, if the state party chooses a local businessman, state government officeholder, or popular mayor, they potentially score with a strong anti-Washington and anti-lobbyist campaign.

These six Senate races will be an important barometer of the nation's mode. If the American people have turned against just the Democratic Party, Democrats will perform as poorly in these races as the roughly half-dozen incumbent Democrats facing potentially tough re-election races. If the mode is more anti-Washington/anti-incumbent than just anti-Democratic, these races should outperform the incumbent Democratic senators.

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