A lot of big stories percolating out there. The oil spill continues to be an unmitigated disaster. Elena Kagan is Obama's Supreme Court nominee, and the Republicans are upset that she is against slavery (you gotta love these guys' historical consistency, not to mention their political bravery. I mean, who else has the guts these days to be pro-slavery). The financial reform bill goes into its second week of debate, with tons of interesting amendment fights yet to come. No one can figure out if the Greek/Euro crisis is really beginning to be solved or whether the contagion will start spreading. The war in Afghanistan is back in the news with big talks scheduled for the next couple of days.
With all this going on, no one is noticing the political goings-on in the quiet little state of Utah over the weekend. Trust me, though: it's big news. Robert Bennett won't be on the Republican primary ballot. And Jim Matheson will be having a primary. Incumbents of all parties, all political persuasions, all regions and states are in trouble.
Even a lot of people who follow politics closely haven't heard of these two incumbent elected officials from Utah. Neither one of them is especially visible outside of their small, out-of-the-way state. Neither of them is in a major leadership role in Congress, or has played a central role on the biggest issues in recent years. Neither has been on the national political radar screen for being in a competitive re-election race in recent years.
One of them is a conservative Republican Senator, one is a moderate Democratic House member. They both got very unpleasant news via their parties' respective weekend conventions. Bennett, after voting as a loyal conservative Republican Senator for 18 years, got summarily dumped from the primary ballot. He not only wasn't popular enough among Republican activists to get first place in the voting, he wasn't popular enough to get second place, either, so he's out. Keep in mind when pondering this that Bennett is as solidly and loyally conservative a Senator as there is. He didn't hug Barack Obama, or support him- or even flirt with supporting him- on the stimulus bill, the health care bill, or anything else. Bennett is a 98%, true to the bone conservative. But that wasn't enough to protect him from the insurgent uprising in his party.
Matheson is more of a moderate. He has taken more votes to upset the liberal base, but in Utah that base isn't so huge, and he has never had anyone threaten a primary before. To the entire party establishment's great surprise, he failed to get 60% of his convention vote and now finds himself in a primary fight.
One of them is a conservative Republican who has done nothing serious to tick off his base. One of them is a moderate Democrat in a state where there aren't that many progressive base Democrats to tick off. But they both find themselves in trouble. Just like Gov. Crist starting his campaign for Senate as the overwhelming favorite and now is bounced out of the Republican primary, just as Arlen Specter- who has been Senator for a very long time and whose party switching act won him the fervent support of Obama, Biden, Gov. Rendell, and every other establishment politician- is suddenly trailing insurgent challenger Joe Sestak in the polls. Just as Chuck Grassley in Iowa has had a 75% approval rating for the last 30 years, and is now in the 40s
Incumbents in both parties are in trouble for one simple reason: the jobs aren't coming back and the perception among voters is that the incumbents aren't doing anything about it. While there are some encouraging signs on the economy, the official unemployment rate went up to 9.9% last week, and if you add in everything that you should (including farm and self-employed workers, those too discouraged to look for jobs, those who are part-time by necessity not choice) the real unemployment rate is 18.9% and went up by .2% last month. As long as the jobs picture is that weak, the economy overall is very weak too. Very few people are feeling the effects of the GDP growth that has elites proclaiming an improving economy. Check out this new ad by a coalition of unemployed workers organized by the Machinists Union: it isn't supporting or opposing any particular politician or party, it just makes clear that those without jobs are pissed.
Most working families in this country are still hurting, and are still scared there are more economic problems yet to come. They don't think either party cares about them or is fighting for them. As long as that is the case, incumbents of both parties are going to keep getting into political trouble.