In earlier times, such voices, on the right and the left, would have been relegated to the heckler’s gallery. But Twitter, Facebook and Google empower them to raise money, attract followers, grab attention and influence the course of political events. Unlike parties, which often recruit candidates who would appeal to the average voter in a general election, these activists care only about nominating the person who accurately represents their own views and frustrations.
That’s not all: true outsider candidates can use those same technologies and strategies to keep their coffers full, become known to voters and generate their own opportunities (and good luck). Not getting the nod from party power brokers can become the foundation on which to build an entire campaign. In turn, political parties, with their promises of millions of dollars and high-priced consulting support from Alexandria, Va., come off as imperious, cautious and out of touch.
Democrats, too, have had their share of bickering. Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter — galvanized by the state’s labor unions — challenged Senator Blanche Lincoln; she barely won the June runoff. In Colorado, when Senator Michael Bennet was not responsive enough to party liberals, the state’s former House speaker Andrew Romanoff decided to challenge him. Mr. Romanoff sold his house to pay for his campaign and might have won the Aug. 10 vote were it not for strategic mistakes he made late in the campaign.
In May in Pennsylvania, Representative Joe Sestak would not let the Democratic establishment coronate Senator Arlen Specter — who had just been persuaded to switch parties by the White House after conservatives made it impossible for him to win the Republican primary. These anti-party forces are not likely to wane.
In the same paper, Carl Hulse likens today's outsiders to the Senate GOP class of 1980:
Swept into office by the landslide victory of Ronald Reagan were a number of conservatives, including Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. of Alabama, Mack Mattingly of Georgia, Paula Hawkins of Florida, Steve Symms of Idaho and several others whose notion of the role of government and Congress was markedly different from those they succeeded.
They were labeled the “accidental senators,” candidates who won only by virtue of an extraordinary political environment. The culture of the Senate — and party control — changed overnight.
“It was a very weird time,” recalled Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who narrowly won a second term that year. “A lot of those people had no idea what they were doing.”
While party strategists and analysts say Republicans still face a steep climb to gain the 10 seats needed to flip control of the Senate, polls and circumstances in contests around the country suggest it is not inconceivable that Republicans could seize the majority if crucial races uniformly break their way on Nov. 2.
If they do, it is a certainty that the new membership of the Senate would include sharply conservative Republicans with a deep skepticism of government and a determination to change Washington.