WASHINGTON— Years in office, high-profile endorsements and pork-barrel clout may not count for much this election year.
Angry voters so far have shown little love for establishment candidates, raising questions about the value of traditional tools like political machines and delivering pet projects.
Primary elections next week in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky may signal whether a full-blown trend is under way. If it is, future campaigns might become more bottom-up in nature, catering to voters who won't be guided by political elites.
The anti-establishment tide that ended Republican Bob Bennett's three-term Senate career in Utah has clearly spread beyond the tea party. On Tuesday, it helped topple 28-year Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia.
In Pennsylvania, many Democratic voters seem unmoved by President Barack Obama's pleas to embrace former Republican Arlen Specter in next week's Senate primary.
Bennett, Mollohan and Specter have one thing in common: They are veteran appropriators who take pride in delivering federally financed projects to their states.
But voters' alarm over deficit spending is turning that tactic into a liability, said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a darling of the hard-right tea party movement.
"Voters don't buy this idea that, 'Hey, we've got unsustainable debt and I need $1 million for my museum,'" DeMint said in an interview Wednesday.
Anger and frustration with Washington is even more intense this year as unemployment hovers around 10 percent and home foreclosures hit record highs. The party controlling the White House typically loses seats in a president's first midterm elections, but polls show public approval of Obama and the Democrats sliding, threatening the party's control of Congress.
Specter's nomination for a sixth six-year term seemed virtually assured last year when the entire Democratic establishment, including Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell, backed him in exchange for his switch from the GOP.