That offers an important lesson to congressional campaign officials looking to recruit candidates into a poisonous political environment. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already landed a handful of compelling political outsiders like retired Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, running in a swing Orlando district, and Illinois congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, who lost both of her legs and an arm while serving in Iraq.
One of the House Republicans’ star recruits early on is Ricky Gill, a 24-year-old law-school wunderkind challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and making waves. Tom Cotton, an Iraq war veteran, is the GOP favorite to succeed retiring Arkansas Democrat Mike Ross. Mia Love, the first African-American mayor in Utah, is exploring a run against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
It also offers a cautionary tale for Senate recruiters, who are used to looking at members of Congress as the most logical candidates for a promotion—even though Washington insiders have never been viewed more unfavorably. Democrats have been bullish about the prospects for Reps. Shelley Berkley and Tammy Baldwin in the open-seat Nevada and Wisconsin Senate races, but they carry baggage from their time spent in Washington. In New Mexico, Rep. Martin Heinrich was the early Democratic favorite, but he’s facing a surprisingly stiff challenge from state Auditor Hector Balderas, who’s been emphasizing his New Mexico roots.
On the GOP side, Republicans are optimistic about former Rep. Pete Hoekstra’s campaign against Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, but his time in Washington could be as much a liability as a strength—especially in a GOP primary. Keep a close eye on his primary opponent Clark Durant, a charter-school advocate. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., is struggling to get much enthusiasm for his campaign against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Consider this: Of the 87 Republican freshmen elected to the House in last year’s wave, 34 of them had no elected experience before deciding to run for office. The current Senate Republican freshman class includes Kentucky's Rand Paul, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, and Utah's Mike Lee—all senators who made their political debuts in 2010.
As my colleague Charlie Cook wrote this month, “In this political and economic climate, volatility will be the name of the game.” Indeed, anyone with political experience -- incumbents and challengers alike -- will find such a background to be an occupational hazard in next year's elections.