The anti-incumbency factor could loosen the Democrats' grip over the Congress and make it tougher for President Obama to get legislation passed.
It has happened. The American election juggernaut has begun to creak into action six months ahead of its slated, official start.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, three states — Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Arkansas — faced primaries: intra-party elections in which candidates for the United States Congress from each party get nominated.
As one would expected in this feisty democracy — which could even compete with India in its degree of rambunctiousness — political pundits shifted into top gear as the results began to trickle in. Since then predictions have been flying fast and furious with all eyes on one variable — what does this mean for November?
While the answer is far from clear, one strong trend has become immediately evident: a powerful anti-Washington mood has gripped voters across the country.
In Kentucky, the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement scored a major victory — arguably its first in mainstream politics — when its candidate Rand Paul defeated Republican stalwart Trey Grayson, garnering close to 59 per cent of the vote.
Mr. Paul, the son of the former Congressman and Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, was swept to the forefront after months of wooing the conservative Republicans with a promise to attack the soaring budget deficit, eliminate congressional earmarks and institute term limits.
Tea Party gains
His success marks a key inflection point for the Tea Party movement, and will likely galvanise their grassroots efforts in primaries in other states. Or so some pundits argued.
Others, including Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine, described Mr. Paul as an “extreme candidate” who “used a small part of the electorate to win over Grayson”.
For many Democrats then, Mr. Paul's victory would appear to improve their prospects in Kentucky.
In Pennsylvania, the sub-plot to the primary reflected the strong anti-incumbency mood more than anywhere else; heightening the risk that the November Congressional elections may be swept out of the hands of the Democrats.
In this state, it was a long-time Washington insider who lost his job. Senator Arlen Specter who, in a controversial volte face shifted allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic Party in 2009, was trounced by Representative Joe Sestak despite endorsements from the White House and leading Democrats.
Mr. Sestak, who took out TV advertisements criticising Mr. Specter's changing party allegiances, was quoted as saying: “This is what democracy looks like… A win for the people, over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington, DC.”
Arkansas also saw support for a Washington insider, Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, wobble dangerously. She came away with a sliver of a lead over state Lieutenant-Governor Bill Halter. Too narrow a margin for her to avoid a run-off decider vote next month.
Observers cited a range of reasons why Mr. Halter did better than expected. While he had a reasonably solid support base — including labour unions, liberal groups and conservative voters in rural counties — it was too variegated to warrant any sweeping conclusions about his state-wide popularity. That conclusion, in turn, lends credence to the theory that the Arkansas result was principally shaped by a general air of mistrust surrounding Washington politics.
While Washington Democrats have held sway over Congress since 2008, they are in serious danger of losing at least a part of their control in November if this week's primaries are anything to go by. If it is not the far-right Tea Party, it may well be anti-establishment, local champions who oust them.
This would mean President Barack Obama would have a much harder time getting legislation passed.
Yet it is not all doom and gloom — Democrats and the White House have several powerful trends that may counteract the anti-incumbency mood, including improving jobs figures month-on-month, and possibly better healthcare outcomes in the aftermath of the hard-fought battle against insurance companies.
But these are hardly forces that Mr. Obama can rely on for success in November. If he wishes to save his Democratic colleagues from looming electoral defeat, he will need to continue reaching out to the American people to explain why their country is not as badly off as they think it is — and what he and Congress have done to help.