In Kerrey and Allen, Parties Go With Insiders in Outsiders' Year
George Allen at the 63rd annual Shad Planking ini Wakefield Virginia on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.
Public opinion about Congress has reached an all-time low, leading many challengers in congressional races to run as outsiders crusading against Washington. But in a couple of key Senate races, Democrats' and Republicans' best hopes lie in the hands of former members trying to make a Washington comeback.
Bob Kerrey's about face this week makes him the second candidate this cycle trying to wage a comeback bid for the upper chamber. Former Sen. George Allen, R-Va., is also trying to do it in Virginia. Both are running in open seat races against candidates who have not held federal office.
Both are competitive (in Allen's case, he's running in a true tossup race). One reason for their standing is high name ID. Like Allen, Kerrey also served as governor, so voters already pretty familiar with each of them. Look to the last year's worth of live caller polling in Virginia, and you'll find that most voters already have an opinion of Allen.
Allen was in office much more recently than Kerrey. He lost a reelection bid in 2006; Kerrey left office over a decade ago in 2001.
And Republicans are wagering that they can define Kerrey based on his activities in the time since he left office. He spent a decade living in New York City, where he was president of the New School, and already Republicans are seizing on comments he made as a private citizen about health care and cap and trade, comments which the GOP is casting as too far to the left of Nebraska.
Kerrey's residency, meanwhile, has already come up. In once release, the National Republican Senatorial Committee cast him as a "changed" candidate since living "in Greenwich Village for so many years."
It's similar to the charge Democrats tried to level against Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., who made a successful comeback bid in 2010. Democrats relentlessly pointed out that Coats had been registered to vote in Virginia, not Indiana. The attacks ultimately feel short as Coats cruised to victory in the wave year.
In addition to Coats, there are two other senators currently serving who waged successful comeback bids.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., retired in 2000, only to jump back into the mix in 2002 when he made a bid to replace then-Democratic Senator Robert Torcelli, who was embroiled in a campaign finance scandal. Republican nominee Douglas Forrester tried to capitalize on Lautenberg's late entrance into the general election, and attacked the Senator for his 1991 vote against the Gulf War resolution.
He also lampooned Lautenberg's age -- 78 at the time -- questioning whether the New Jersey Democrat was too old to run for the seat. Still, with the national Democrats and state party behind him, Lautenberg easily won back a seat.
The other member of the Senate serving non-consecutive terms is Sen. Kent Conrad, D-Neb. Conrad, who was preparing to retire in 1992, but ended up running in a special election for North Dakota's other Senate seat following the death of Republican Sen. Quentin Burdick. For a few hours, Conrad technically held both North Dakota Senate seats.
--Sean Sullivan contributed