U.S. House members who are trying to make the step up to the Senate this year are finding themselves on the defensive about Washington experience that traditionally has been a big asset.
Even those not under direct attack for being part of Congress are finessing the way they talk about their work in the nation’s capital – evidence that the strong anti-incumbent sentiment among voters in 2010 is still there two years later.
“Washington experience or experience in elected office in Washington is not necessarily the ticket to the U.S. Senate it has been in the past,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist. “Clearly people are looking for something different.”
Campaigns clearly see that. Just look at Republican primaries in three key states: Missouri, Connecticut and Arizona.
In Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin has had to defend his time in Washington as his two primary opponents criticize votes he has taken and position themselves as outsiders. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon, running again after being soundly beaten in her 2010 Senate race, is getting traction with party activists as an outsider opposite former Rep. Chris Shays. And in Arizona, Rep. Jeff Flake, largely viewed as a conservative outsider in the House, is being slapped with the insider label by his tea party-inspired opponent.
Some House Democrats looking to make the leap are dealing with the same stigma.
Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono, trying to succeed retiring Daniel Akaka in what has been a sure seat for Democrats, faces Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who’s made her status as a Washington outsider a key part of her appeal. In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley has come under fire for her work in the House by her opponent, GOP Sen. Dean Heller – himself a former member of the House.
Bashing members of the House makes sense. Polls show voters’ disdain for Congress at near historic levels.
A mid-April CBS/New York Times poll put Congress’ approval rating at 13 percent, with 77 percent disapproving of how members
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