“There is a pretty big advantage to being an incumbent and it’s pretty hard to beat an incumbent,” says Bruce Mallard, a political science professor at Savannah State University.
We’re talking about Tuesday’s primary and the fact we noticed two things. First, all the incumbents won and second, most ran unopposed.
We found local, statewide and the 1st district congressional races where incumbents faced no challenger. For example, Chatham County Commissioner Pat Farrell and Commissioner Helen Stone won outright without competition. It was the same in seven local state races. Local senators Ben Watson and Lester Jackson ran unopposed. And in five out of eight Georgia House races, incumbents had no challengers. It was the same for local judges.
Mallard says in addition to taking on the name recognition of an incumbent, a challenger has other things to consider. “The second thing is raising money,” he said. “You’re going to always have to raise money and that’s a constant requirement. Also, I think it’s not suited for everybody, the campaigning.
Mallard says in today’s political climate, campaigns are certainly more negative. “I do think it’s gotten worse but always been a problem,” he said. “Thomas Jefferson complained that when you accept a public trust you become public property.”
He says taking on an incumbent even at the local level can be an uphill battle and the bigger the office, the harder the battle. “They will ask the Congressman to come out and dedicate a new building but they don’t ask someone who’s thinking about running for Congress,” he said.
Mallard says policy making “often originates at the local level and goes up” meaning unopposed incumbents at the local level create policy that goes up the line especially if those in higher office are running without competition.
Mallard says the more voters get used to the idea that there is only one person running for office, the more normal it may be seem, even in national offices. “This is not to say all elected officials aren’t good but the fact is once they get elected, their number one job is to keep getting elected,” he said.