Roll Call looks at three Senators whose weak poll numbers usually spell big-time trouble for incumbents—Jim Bunning (R-KY), Chris Dodd (D-CT), and Richard Burr (R-NC).
The Bunning situation is clearly sui generis, so I’ll leave it one side. I think a flaw in the article is that it treats the Burr and Dodd situations as basically similar when they’re actually extremely different. Dodd is basically a case of a politician coming under a cloud of unpopularity for idiosyncratic reasons. It seems that if Dodd were to bow out of the race and be replaced by Richard Blumenthal or any other reasonable Democrat, that the Democrat would be very strongly favored. Consequently, Dodd’s strategy is to play up the idea of Chris Dodd Generic Democrat. Legislatively, he’s aiming to be an ally of the popular president Barack Obama and emphasize his likely opponent’s support for the failed and unpopular agenda of George W. Bush.
The Burr situation is rather different. He seems to be a more unusual case of a politician who was elected at a time when being an orthodox conservative was a great political strategy in his state, now running for re-election at a time when it’s not clear that that’s true anymore. Suddenly it seems that North Carolina has a Democratic governor, one Democratic US Senator, and was carried by a Democrat in the presidential election, and its incumbent conservative Republican Senator Richard Burr is polling poorly. It’s potentially a state that’s just transforming its demographics and political culture under Burr’s feet. And he doesn’t seem to be trying to adapt. He’s not trying to position himself as a moderate by selectively supporting some element of the Obama agenda. He’s just charging ahead on the assumption that North Carolina will swiftly return to its conservative roots.
And maybe it will. But it seems like a risk.