Do incumbents really have an advantage? Yes, they do

Hank Hayes • Apr 7, 2018 at 9:00 PM

There isn’t a level playing field in politics, but you knew that.

Incumbents really do have the upper hand, but you knew that, too.

Every time I heard the expression “We need term limits,” I used to think: “Well, we do have term limits. It’s called an election.”

But I’m going to point out the overwhelming advantages that an incumbent has.

First of all, the incumbent can do what I call “non-campaign campaign events.”

Consider the situation U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., is in. He’s running for a sixth term in a solid red district.

He gets to do a number of things his campaign never has to pay for.

Roe does regular conference calls with reporters to talk about legislative stuff. In my case, that content often makes the front page of the newspaper. He also does “telephone town hall” meetings with constituents.

Congress recently has been on a two-week recess, and that has allowed Roe to do a nonstop road show throughout the First Congressional District. There have been events and multiple meetings with media outlets that resulted in stories.

Unless the opponent has a lot of money and can fund his or her campaign, the incumbent always seems to have the upper hand in fundraising.

So the incumbent generally has the advantage in money, name identification and knowledge of the issues important to the campaign.

In the absence of a monumental screwup, the incumbent almost always wins unless the political entity at hand is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Or unless the voter base really wants change.

So maybe we really do need term limits put in the law, although I don’t see how that gets done legislatively.

Hank Hayes covers business and politics for the Times News. You can reach him at: hhayes@timesnews.net.