Senate Republican Candidates Badly Underperforming in Midterm Elections So Far

 

shutterstock_180961367Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone has a sunny take on the upcoming midterms, predicting big trouble for the Senate Democrats. The essence of the argument comes from an excellent analytical article by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. Cillizza compared the public approval of Democrat Senate candidates with President Obama’s approval in their state. In every case but one (South Dakota), the Democrat Senate candidates are outperforming the president, sometimes by a wide margin. For instance, the Democrat running for the Senate in Alaska and Arkansas is 14% more popular than Obama is in that state. And these candidates are running behind their Republican adversary. In West Virginia and Kentucky, Democratic senate candidates outperform Obama by 12%. Barone (and Cillizza) use these numbers to show how much of a gale-force headwind Democrats face in the upcoming mid-terms. In other words, 2014 is a Republican year.

While it is undoubtedly true that the GOP has been enjoying exceptionally favourable circumstances, I have a more pessimistic take: look at how poorly the Republican candidates themselves are doing. A perfect illustration is Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell. He was first elected in the Reagan wave of 1984. He is currently the Senate minority leader, the most powerful Republican in the Senate, and has held this post since 2007. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the state of Kentucky with 61% of the popular vote. Obama only got 38%. No Obama sweep there. In the two years since then, Obama’s popularity in Kentucky has plunged to 30%.

By these measures, Mitch McConnell should be cruising to victory, and his opponent, Allison Grimes, should be a non-entity. And yet, he is only barely leading her in the polls. The possibility that the GOP will retake the Senate and Mitch McConnell will lose is unlikely, but it is nevertheless real. All of these facts taken together say one thing: Mitch McConnell is performing extraordinarily badly. He is simply an awful, unappealing candidate.

Why is it so? Leaving aside the individual peculiarities of Kentucky, McConnell isn’t the only lackluster Republican senatorial hopeful. As Cillizza points out, the problem is widespread. With the political environment arrayed against the Democrats, along with the implosion and disarray of the Obama administration, why aren’t the Republicans heading for 55 or 60 seats in the Senate? The conditions seem right for a romp. And yet, they are struggling merely to achieve a bare majority in the Senate.

The missing ingredient, I think, is leadership. Speaker John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are, until a presidential candidate is selected, the de facto leaders of the Republican Party. And they are probably its worst leaders in living memory. They have been simply dreadful. The Mainstream Media and the RINOs have accused the Tea Party grassroots activists of demanding an excessive desire for ideological “purity.” In portraying the choice Republicans face as one between pragmatism and principle, they are presenting a false dilemma, perhaps intentionally so. The problem with Boehner and McConnell isn’t a lack of “purity” – Mitch McConnell’s voting record is quite respectable – the problem is that he can’t lead. In every test of wills with Obama, he caves. This, rather than lack of purity is the source of his misfortune.

The Republican establishment has been criticized for focussing more on the GOP internal power struggle between the Tea Party and the establishment than attacking the Democrats. The nasty primary in Mississippi, where Sen. Thad Cochrane used particularly underhanded tactics to win, is a perfect example. Mississippi is conservative enough that Cochrane will likely prevail in spite of the bad feelings among his core supporters, but GOP veteran Sen. Pat Roberts, in Kansas, is currently behind.

The irony in all of this is that if the establishment had concentrated their energies on putting forward a coherent, alternative message to Obama’s, an internal threat would not have emerged and conservatives would have rallied around their flag. But because Boehner and McConnell fly no flag at all, all they get is friendly fire, and rely on the mistakes made by their opponents to prevail.

Even worse, there is border protection and illegal immigration, which are topics unto themselves. Here, McConnell and Boehner have systematically sided with corporate lobbyists against their own grass roots supporters and the American people at large. While money may be important, being on the right side of the people is even more important. And not only that, being on the right side of the people can be a source of money. Lots of little donors and money bombs rather than a few big checks from fat-cat.

If Republicans want to capitalize on their good fortune, then they should nationalize the election and avoid unforced errors. In the past, whenever they present a unified platform — as they did in 1994 and 2010, and way back in 1966 — they do very well. Whenever they don’t, conservatives aren’t motivated. A national platform, like Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America, is what is needed.

If they did that, the Grand Old Party would be cruising to 55 to 60 seats in the Senate.

Image Credit: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

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  1. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    I’m considering writing a post on the peculiarities of the Alaska election where the Republicans look like they may pull off a handy victory for the Senate but will probably lose the governor’s race in a landslide to an independent ticket!

    • #1
  2. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Canadian Cincinnatus: Boehner and McConnell fly no flag at all

    Heh, +1.

    But now, CC, Karl Rove won’t like you. :(

    • #2
  3. user_88846 Member
    user_88846
    @MikeHubbard

    What unified platforms were there in 1966 or 2010?  In 1994, there was obviously the Contract with America, but in those other years, the GOP won because Democrats went off a cliff.

    • #3
  4. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Canadian Cincinnatus: Here McConnell and Boehner have systematically sided with corporate lobbyists against not only their own grass roots supporters but against the American people at large.

    Hard for me to take your argument seriously here.

    • #4
  5. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    1984
    Nominee          Mitch McConnell     Walter Huddleston
    Party                Republican                 Democratic
    Popular vote   644,990                      639,821
    Percentage      49.9%                         49.5%

    1990
    Nominee          Mitch McConnell     Harvey Sloane
    Party                Republican                Democratic
    Popular vote   478,034                     437,976
    Percentage     52.2%                          47.8%

    1996
    Nominee         Mitch McConnell     Steve Beshear
    Party                Republican               Democratic
    Popular vote   724,794                     560,012
    Percentage     55.5%                         42.9%

    2002
    Nominee        Mitch McConnell     Lois Combs Weinberg
    Party               Republican               Democratic
    Popular vote  731,679                      399,634
    Percentage     64.7%                         35.3%

    2008
    Nominee        Mitch McConnell     Bruce Lunsford
    Party               Republican                Democratic
    Popular vote  953,816                     847,005
    Percentage     53.0%                       47.0%

    The only time that McConnell didn’t get very close to 50% of the vote was in 2002. You’ll see by comparing the turnout to the previous cycle, though, that that was the result of fewer Democrats voting–McConnel got nearly the same amount of votes in 2002 as he had in 1996. In 2008 there was a surge of voter turnout because of The One.

    You can still peg this as McConnel sux, but it’s nothing new. On the other hand, maybe Kentucky voters are somewhat consistent in giving Republicans 50-55% of the vote:

    1998
    Nominee           Jim Bunning     Scotty Baesler
    Party                  Republican        Democratic
    Popular vote     569,817              563,051
    Percentage        49.8%                    49.2%

    2004
    Nominee            Jim Bunning     Daniel Mongiardo
    Party                   Republican        Democratic
    Popular vote      873,507              850,855
    Percentage         50.7%                 49.3%

    2010
    Nominee            Rand Paul         Jack Conway
    Party                   Republican       Democratic
    Popular vote      755,216              599,617
    Percentage         55.7%                 44.3%

    • #5
  6. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    As Dave Carter put it, (paraphrase) The Republicans are running a campaign that makes up in lethargy what it lacks in coherence.

    • #6
  7. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    It is an anti_incumbent year and pretty much all incumbent senators are having a hard time this year.

    • #7
  8. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    That doesn’t mean that the republican party is running a good campaign. They are not known as the stupid party for nothing.

    • #8
  9. user_50776 Inactive
    user_50776
    @AlKennedy

    Canadian Cincinnatus:…A national platform, like Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America, is what is needed.

    I agree.  I think voters are more likely to vote for something rather than against something.  If they got closer to 60, it would make the defense of the Senate in 2016 a little easier.  It would also have positioned them to make the case that the Republicans are ready to govern.  Ed Gillespie in Virginia seems to be one of the few candidates running on an agenda.

    I’m not sure I would give all the blame to Boehner and McConnell.  I think the Republican consultants recommending a “no agenda” approach share in the blame.  According to Rob Portman, Paul Ryan and others, they is basic agreement on an agenda.  I just wish they had used it to nationalize this Senate election.

    • #9
  10. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Canadian Cincinnatus: John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are, until a presidential candidate is selected, the de facto leaders of the Republican Party. And they are probably its worst leaders in living memory.

    Two words: Dennis Hastert.

    • #10
  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    They’re playing a “prevent defense.” The party is preaching to all of these candidates not to say anything stupid or present any policy that might be open to distortion. Timidity is a feature, not a bug.

    • #11
  12. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    By playing “prevent defense”, the GOP leadership has forced candidates to make their races about their individual opponents rather than about the wholesale failures of the Democratic party. So strong candidates will probably do OK, but weaker candidates (or those facing stronger opposition) have been denied their strongest potential arguments. I have to believe that Tom Cotton would be doing much better in Arkansas, and Terri Lynn Land would have been more competitive in Michigan, if they could have tapped into a national narrative of Dem failure.

    • #12
  13. liberal jim Inactive
    liberal jim
    @liberaljim

    Here in GA I know a lot of people who are voting for Nunn and a lot of people who are voting GOP as a protest against Obama, I don’t know of many people who are voting FOR Purdue.    Purdue is getting Romnied and will probably not get 50% and will face a run off.  I voted Libertarian, haven’t decided what I will do come run off time, but there is a good chance I will just stay home.  Both parries think government is the answer, one is truthful about it and one lies.  If the voters were given the chance of voting for none of the above, none of the above would win with more than 55%.   I think the Dems are a disaster for the country, but I am sick of the alternative.

    • #13
  14. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    I believe this weak message is a product of the steady evolution of the GOP into a House-led party. A strong speaker might have been able to wrangle the House into a concise and coherent platform. However, I don’t believe the relatively small GOP majority doesn’t want strong speaker.

    My main interest in a GOP Senate is misery mitigation: the fewer bad judges and justices, the better.

    • #14
  15. Gary The Ex-Donk Member
    Gary The Ex-Donk
    @

    Republicans will win the Senate this time around but it’s not because the electorate has suddenly fallen in love with them.  In their minds (as of now) they represent the least offensive choice.  Dems in a lot of these states seem to have worn out their welcome.  It’s simply 2006 in reverse.

    • #15
  16. Jolly Roger Inactive
    Jolly Roger
    @JollyRoger

    Partly it is a failure to have a 50 state strategy. The Democrats won’t win in KY. But it bleeds effort and resources. Sometimes in places like KS, it can result in picking off a seat. Why don’t Republicans have a strategy for turning up the thermometer in deep blue states? For example, Booker in NJ has been polling poorly in this election and the prior special– yet Republicans have run tea party types that would never play in NJ. Current candidate is some fringe guy. Why not recruit candidates that would at least make this contest competitive, force resources into that state? And on occasion they might get lucky and win an unexpected contest. Plus, in many states, a vibrant Senate campaign could galvanize House elections.

    Democrats have been adept at running candidates in red states that are more in tune with voters. Michelle Nunn for example looks like a moderate and is the sort of candidate that can win in suburban Atlanta, same with Kay Hagan. They did not recruit Howard Dean or Al Sharpton to run in these states.

    There should be no such thing in some sense as a safe seat– there should be 435 competitive House races, and every Senate seat should be thought out. And that is why conservatives must take note of Scott Brown. He won in MA, and he may defy incredible odds to win in NH. He may not be much more than a centrist, but I’d take more Scott Browns over more Elizabeth Warrens any day.

    • #16
  17. mackeycold Member
    mackeycold
    @

    EJHill:They’re playing a “prevent defense.” The party is preaching to all of these candidates not to say anything stupid or present any policy that might be open to distortion. Timidity is a feature, not a bug.

    I don’t think that the campaign has gone as badly as the OP is making out, but we do need more of an agenda. There aren’t any awful candidates who are pulling down the GOP on a national level, e.g. Akin, O’Donnell and a number of very good candidates who will be great senators or are running overachieving campaigns, e.g. Cotton, Gardner, Ed Gillespie (who might be making a race of it against Warner). We’ll need to do much better in 16, there’s no question about it.

    • #17
  18. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    And who undid the ONE good thing from Hastert’s tenure?

    • #18
  19. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Ball Diamond Ball:And who undid the ONE good thing from Hastert’s tenure?

    Being what? Genuine question; no snark intended.

    • #19
  20. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    As Liberal Jim noted in 13 above, the Georgia Republican Perdue is merely competitive with the liberal Nunn.  Perdue hasn’t enunciated a reason for running other than trying to keep Barry’s agenda from further success, and Nunn is painting Perdue as an enemy of women and of American jobs.  They are about a point apart, in a conservative state.

    The fact that the Republicans don’t have a message other than a desire to own the House and the Senate doesn’t mean anything.  If all that owning the Senate does is mean that Barry won’t be golfing as often, I am not at all sure that having Barry in the Office is a good idea.

    The professionals need to enunciate a purpose which will galvanize all sorts of Republicans, and they are not doing it.  The angry will vote, but will that be enough?

    • #20
  21. Flossy Inactive
    Flossy
    @Flossy

    Just for the future historical algorithm perusing this archived site:

    In a political and geopolitical climate when Republicans should be wiping out the Obamacrats by the dozen… the GOP leadership are barely able to make a ripple in their localized kiddie pool senate races… even with the help of conservative water wings.

    What a contrast… this being the 20th Anniversary of the Newtonian Revolution & Conservative Realignment in the wake of the Cold War… which hand-delivered a GOP majority for the first time since before FDR beat Hooveromney (1928).

    The Old Republican Party will most likely pull off taking the Senate… but this victory was not the result their brilliant electoral strateegery, by any means. The GOP incumbocrats will win because they’re arguably ‘less bad’ than their Liberal opponents.

    But I’m not so sure about that these days.

    It could be credibly argued that a GOP loss would be the long overdue swan song for the JV establishment… as their last shred of electoral credibility floats into the dustbin.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the establishment completely crumble as the conservatives drive the narrative moving into 2016. It’ll be easier to nominate a conservative candidate if the JV lose what could’ve been a wave election, had they nationalized it.

    Besides, Hillary would love running against an all-male Republican Incumbo-Congress… and it looks like the GOP incombs have already chosen our ‘most electable’ Rominee to get clobbered by her.

    Mark Steyn is right… these midterms are just more of the same until we change the culture in Washington. So if it doesn’t matter who wins in November… I ask, what’s the better outcome for citizens living in the turbo-turbulent twilight of the West?

    • #21
  22. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Flossy: #21 “I wouldn’t mind seeing the establishment completely crumble as the conservatives drive the narrative moving into 2016. It’ll be easier to nominate a conservative candidate if the JV lose what could’ve been a wave election, had they nationalized it.”

    I agree and I disagree.  If they lose, they will lose but then the fault will be open and it will involve socially liberal/fiscally moderate or fiscally conservative Republicans, down the line conservatives (who are not necessarily Republicans but really don’t have anywhere else to vote), libertarians, and Tea Party types.

    There won’t be a party, but there may be three or four parties who cannot win unless they pull together.  If they are rid of the professional fools, maybe they can agree, then amalgamate and do what is needed to win.  But everyone will have to make some kind of sacrifice to a commonly recognized good and I don’t believe that socially liberal will cut it.

    • #22
  23. Ralphie Member
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    I’m not as hard on McConnell. This president and press has also put Republicans in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t position. McConnell stated during one of the showdowns (I think a budget battle?) that Obama was not a president anyone could work with, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything until he was gone.

    I’m for term limits, myself. Why do we have to have the same people over and over? I agree with Isabel Paterson who wrote something to the effect that you can tell how corrupt a government is when politicians enter office poor and leave rich. Better a rich man become poorer by service than vice versa, at least he knows he didn’t take anything from the citizens.

    • #23
  24. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    liberal jim:Here in GA I know a lot of people who are voting for Nunn and a lot of people who are voting GOP as a protest against Obama, I don’t know of many people who are voting FOR Purdue. Purdue is getting Romnied and will probably not get 50% and will face a run off. I voted Libertarian, haven’t decided what I will do come run off time, but there is a good chance I will just stay home. Both parries think government is the answer, one is truthful about it and one lies. If the voters were given the chance of voting for none of the above, none of the above would win with more than 55%. I think the Dems are a disaster for the country, but I am sick of the alternative.

    “Which is why I’m going to help the Democrat get elected!”

    • #24
  25. Flossy Inactive
    Flossy
    @Flossy

    @Donald 

    You’re probably right that the fault for a GOP loss will be laid at the feet of disgruntled conservatives… at least the leadership and the media will push this line.

    But the reality is that all of the GOP incumbents were able to insulate their seats in the primaries… some going to extreme lengths like in Mississippi. And since the GOP leadership have failed to lay the groundwork for a strong turnout and their strategy was to localize these races instead of nationalizing them… then the fault lies solely on the establishment Republicans if they can’t win in this climate when conditions are favorable.

    What would give the electorate any reassurance that they could even compete against a formidable candidate like Hillary in 2016, given their profoundly subpar performance since 2006.

    • #25
  26. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Flossy: #25 “What would give the electorate any reassurance that they could even compete against a formidable candidate like Hillary in 2016, given their profoundly subpar performance since 2006.”

    I am going to assume that I am in the minority here but I don’t believe that the old girl can win the Democrat nomination.  The trend among the Democrats is for physical attractiveness, whether it is the patrician looks of a Kerry, or the Breck girl former Senator from North Carolina, or Obama.  Someone who doesn’t look like the world has worn her out will be the Dem nominee.

    Hilary looks like a road map facially and in her history.  Her husband ran her down so many times that he is now the war on women and she is his chief of staff.  Coining the phrases “bimbo eruption” and “stalker” to protect a man credibly accused of rape and known to have lied under oath about Monica won’t work in her favor.

    Having been given a few jobs, she has no usable resume.  Noting the czars responsible for different parts of the world meant that she had little to no authority in dealing with those areas under the czars.  Her failure in Benghazi will appear repeatedly.

    I have heard that the governor of Maryland is a possibility and that the socialist senator lady from New England is also pursuing the position.  Whatever Hilary is, she is not attractive to a lot of liberals.  Too bad.  She’d be such a polarizing figure that we’d get people out who never voted before to vote against her.

    • #26
  27. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Sorry for the late hit. The Hastert Rule.

    • #27

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