US Senator Joe Lieberman and recently resigned Massachusetts state Senator Dianne Wilkerson seem to agree: Incumbency should trump the will of the voters in Democratic Party primaries.
Norm Sheiber flags this nugget from a New York Times story on Lieberman's attempt to keep a committee chairmanship in the Democratic Senate, despite having campaigned for Republican presidential nominee John McCain and having been elected as an independent after losing a Democratic primary in 2006:
Democrats voted 42 to 13 to let Mr. Lieberman stay at the helm of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs while removing him from the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he led a subcommittee...
Lawmakers who attended the session said that Mr. Lieberman openly discussed the political and personal hurt he had experienced when many of his colleagues campaigned against him after he lost a Democratic Senate primary in 2006 before winning re-election as an independent.
Lieberman's pique is similar to that expressed by now-disgraced state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who lost the Democratic primary this September despite the support of such heavyweights as Governor Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, and Senate President Therese Murray. Refusing to accept the loss, Wilkerson ran a write-in campaign in the general election (abandoned only after the revelation of bribery charges against her) and put her establishment supporters in a very awkward position. A low point in the post-primary campaign came when a few diehard Wilkerson supporters suggested that it was racist for Democratic officials to endorse the official nominee of the Democratic Party.
It's a tradition for elected officials to back incumbents in party primaries, but there doesn't seem to be much point in holding primaries at all if party leaders are expected to continue backing incumbents even after they've been rejected for renomination. Wilkerson sealed her own fate, but will Lieberman's successful refusal to accept the results of his primary be a precedent? Can we expect more incumbents, who almost never lose primaries anyway, to attempt a do-over in November?
If this becomes a trend, one solution is for states to adopt Louisiana's election system, in which the top two vote-getters on primary day advance to the general election, even if both of those candidates are from the same party. In a one-party state like Massachusetts, that might lead to more contested races in the fall, as most legislative districts would be more competitive with two Democrats on the ballot (rather than a Democrat and a Republican sacrificial lamb).
More likely, I think, is a state legislature passing a law that automatically places incumbents on the ballot in general elections, allowing them to simply skip primaries if they fear losing them.
Seth Gitell has a good post on the vote to allow Lieberman to keep his chairmanship. I don't necessarily disagree that this makes political sense now. Lieberman expecting his Democratic colleagues to campaign against a Democratic nominee is a different matter.