WASHINGTON - Discontent with incumbents and anger at Washington are adding up to a potentially record-breaking crowd of congressional challengers this election year.
More than 2,300 people are running for 471 House and Senate seats in the midterms. It's the highest number of candidates in at least 35 years, according to data provided by the Federal Election Commission, which began tracking candidates in 1975.
Frustration, particularly on the right, with President Obama and his Democratic agenda appears to have contributed to the surge. The field is heavily Republican, with almost twice as many GOP candidates as Democrats, and several hundred independent and third-party challengers.
The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll showed near-record lows in favorable ratings for the parties - 36 percent for Republicans in May, 43 percent for Democrats.
The mood has created a rush on elective office.
Some candidates are seasoned politicians looking to make the jump from local or state government to Congress; others are little-known, underfunded novices driven by the tea party movement.
With several veteran lawmakers already tossed out in primaries - three-term Sen. Robert Bennett (R., Utah) and five-term Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) among them - incumbents are keeping an eye on all the challengers.
"I had to sell my four-wheeler to pay [the filing fee], and I did. It's worth it," said Bruce Ray Riggs, a tea party sympathizer and first-time candidate who spent $6,960 to get on the ballot in Florida's Senate race, which is crowded with two dozen names.
Riggs, 43, whose campaign slogan is "No suit, no tie, no political lies," said he wanted to abolish most federal functions and give more power to the states.
Riggs is among the 2,341 people who have filed statements of candidacy with the FEC for the 2010 House and Senate elections, compared with 1,717 in 2008 and 1,588 in 2006.
The tally is still climbing, with more than a dozen states still allowing candidates to file, and the true number of candidates is probably higher, since some ignore requirements to file with the FEC.
Close to 40 states still haven't held their primaries, including nine with primaries in September. The general election is Nov. 2.
The field is significantly larger than in 1976, two years after the Watergate scandal took down President Richard Nixon, and 1994, the year the GOP took control of Congress after four decades.
The next-largest field - 2,159 candidates - was in 1992, when Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot battled for the White House.
"I guess it's a mild form of civil unrest," said Tom Parrott, 59, an accountant who is making his first run for office as one of nine candidates in central Georgia's Seventh Congressional District race.
"Do I think I'm going to win?" he asked. "Maybe not. But do I get a pulpit? Yes."
Parrott, who is running as a Republican and identifies with the tea party, said he had a strong libertarian bent. Obama's health-care law was the "straw that broke the camel's back" in his decision to run, he said.
Democrat Scott Withers, another rookie candidate, sees things differently.
Running in Michigan's Fifth Congressional District around Flint, with staggering unemployment from the decline of the automotive industry, Withers said government could be part of the answer. He's trying to unseat a 34-year incumbent from his own party, Rep. Dale Kildee.
"When we just keep rubber-stamping the same person, we're not getting any new ideas or new perspectives for our problems," said Withers, 37, who has worked in journalism and public relations but is unemployed after being laid off from a website start-up.
Antiestablishment fervor claimed yet another primary-election victim as Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith was voted out
by Republicans in the Fifth District in favor of Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks.
Griffith had switched from Democrat to Republican in December, hoping to boost his chances of winning reelection. He had been endorsed by the national GOP establishment.
With tea party support and the backing of local GOP leaders still bitter about losing to Griffith
in 2008, Brooks won Tuesday's primary with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-candidate field.
- Associated Press