May 14, 2010

Harmon: 2010 turning out to be a very unusual political year

Could 'business as usual' in Washington and elsewhere finally have offended most voters?

By M.D. Harmon
Editorial Writer

"Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volley'd and thunder'd; Storm'd at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred." - Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Substitute "the tea party" for the 600 charging cavalrymen of the Light Brigade, and you have the most interesting (and to some on both left and right, disturbing) political phenomenon in decades.

The Light Brigade reached its objective, but was torn to shreds in the process. It remains to be seen whether the tea party movement will fare better, but considering the successes they've had recently, they deserve a closer look -- and one less willing to open fire on them than has been evident on these pages recently.

The tea party movement may not yet count a majority of Americans among its members, but there are plenty of people – Republicans, Democrats and independents – who, while never considering themselves members, understand fully the movement's deep concerns about the size and scope of federal deficit spending on our children's future.

And they also see many of our nation's political leaders, on both sides of the aisle, as either indifferent to those concerns or actively hostile to them.

While tea partiers have been castigated from the left as being an arm of the GOP, that was rather significantly disproved Saturday in a party convention in Utah, a state where conventioneers, not voters in a primary, get the first shot at narrowing down the list of approved candidates. Only the top two go on to the primary, and No. 3 ended up being Sen. Bob Bennett, an 18-year Senate veteran seeking a fourth term.

Bennett is no liberal, but he reportedly was viewed by attendees as a sellout, having voted for deficit spending via TARP and having promoted his own health-care plan that included mandatory coverage.

Plus, he had already broken a pledge to serve only two terms and had piled up his share of earmarks. It is worth noting that one delegate commented after Bennett's defeat, "Term limits started on May 8."

Bennett's downfall has resonated nationwide, even though its circumstances may have been unique. The issues of big deficits and limited government are not confined to Utah, however, and that's what has many people paying attention.

A 14-term incumbent Democrat lost his House seat in a West Virginia primary this week, too. Rep. Allan Mollohan was involved in ethical issues that may have influenced party voters, but corruption in Washington is also a tea party issue.

With other critical primaries and special elections coming up soon – including ones Tuesday in Pennsylvania and Arkansas in which two Democratic senators, Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln, face strong intraparty challengers – the anti-incumbent trend could be significantly reinforced.

Both parties are worried about polls of the national mood, but it looks like Democrats should be the most concerned. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week showed voters across the spectrum shifting to the GOP.

As the Journal reported, "Overall, the survey found that voters were split over which party they preferred to control Congress after November, with 44 percent favoring each party. But that finding masked the overwhelming Republican advantage among the voters most likely to cast ballots on Election Day.

"The voters who said they were most interested in the November elections favor Republican control of Congress by a 20-point margin, with 56 percent backing the GOP and 36 percent backing Democrats – the highest gap all year on that question."

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