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Wanted: Inexperienced candidates

By Gloria Borger, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • For this election, experience is a not a prerequisite, but a detriment, says Borger
  • Poll: 48 percent of voters more likely to support a candidate running for the first time
  • Borger: Voting for inexperience may result in Congress being less open to compromise
  • She says the public really wants the new Congress to be open to compromise

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "AC360°," "John King, USA" and "State of the Union."

New York (CNN) -- Sometimes it seems as if we've seen this movie before: Voters want change, and a candidate's long résumé is not necessarily a plus.

After all, we elected Barack Obama president -- he, a newbie to the Senate club from Illinois (two years served), a former state senator and constitutional scholar. Impressive, yes, but not lengthy. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who ran on her "lifetime of experience" and made it clear we really would probably want her answering the Red Phone at 3 a.m. How did that work out for her?

So, here we go again. Except that we've taken the idea that experience is a not a prerequisite for election one step further: It's a detriment. And why not? Voters can't seem to find much of anything they like about government, so any affiliation with it -- in any way -- can be a disqualifier.

Consider this: A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll makes it clear that this anti-incumbent mood is not just aimed at Democrats, who control the levers of power in Washington, but at all of those seasoned pols who run the place.

The poll made it clear that time served in Washington is not exactly a deal-closer the voters: Forty-eight percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate running for the first time over a candidate who had been in Congress for a decade. Only 23 percent said they would support the candidate with experience.

In other words, "you guys in Washington haven't done anything for me lately except make me frustrated, so you're fired."

Which is lucky for the Republicans, since they found themselves recruiting a slew of inexperienced House candidates in 2009 because President Obama was still riding so high and more-experienced Republicans thought the odds of winning weren't so good.

What's more, they were also smart, understanding that the Tea Party was helpful to them.

"We saw every Tea Party group as a natural ally you have to develop and understand," said one top GOP House campaign committee strategist. In other words: The Tea Party is Us.

Senate GOP recruitment was full of well-known, well-respected establishment candidates: Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Charlie Crist in Florida, Bob Bennett of Utah, Jane Norton in Colorado, Sue Lowden in Nevada. Too bad they lost to the Tea Party insurgents, who are now riding the wave of inexperience -- maybe right into the Senate.

One who probably won't make it is Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, but only because she started her campaign by having to convince voters she wasn't riding a broomstick.

There is a taint associated with Washington -- and government service -- and it's understandable: People are underwater on their mortgages. They can't find jobs. They're pessimistic. They're disillusioned. And they're scared. And they know one thing for certain: Washington has not made them feel any better.

There's more: The political culture, they believe (again, with good reason), is corrupt. And voting against the folks in charge is the only way they can change it.

But there's an irony here. In voting for change (again) and for inexperience (again), there's a good chance the Congress will be populated by a group of neophyte/zealots, a dangerous combination. And so a public that is yearning for workable compromises could, in fact, end up with exactly what it does not want: a more polarized and ineffectual Washington.

If there's one constant in all the polling we see, it's that voters don't like either party. They may be willing to throw the Democrats out because they're in charge, but they're not flocking to the GOP for salvation. And, in the most recent New York Times poll, 78 percent of voters said Republicans should be ready to compromise to get something done.

Tell that to the new flock of candidates, especially the ones who believe that they were elected to do battle with government. What the public really wants them to do -- to borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton -- is to mend it, not end it.

But that's a lesson that comes with experience.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.