Often overlooked in politics is how determinative macro-indicators can be to the general direction of an election. Factors such as the state of the economy, unemployment, favorability of the party and the popularity of the president are obvious influencers to the outcomes of elections, but while good candidates, clever messaging, and strong campaigns can’t reverse a national wave, they can make important differences around the edges. This year, the likely loss by Republicans of several important races due to deeply flawed nominees is a great reminder that even in a wave election, the candidates are still important.
Terrible Republican nominees will likely cost the GOP several thought-to-be-easy pick-ups in House, Senate and Governor races.
In the House, Walt Minnick (ID-01) represents a district with a PVI of R+18 and was seen by everyone as a sure loser even before the political climate really soured for Democrats. Yet, thanks to the GOP primary victory of Raul Labrador, Minnick might be one of the only freshmen in a swing district to not lose this year. In OH-13, Republicans had an outside chance at winning the seat in this very friendly environment, but with their nominee, Tom Ganley, accused of sexual assault, any hope of that is now likely dead.
The Colorado gubernatorial race is probably the single greatest example of total meltdown caused by bad GOP recruiting. This was a race Republicans should have won. They even thought they had recruited a top-tier candidate in Scott McInnis. That was until a discovery of plagiarism at just the right moment made him unelectable, allowing the truly bizarre Dan “bike paths are an UN takeover plot” Maes to win the GOP primary. Now a race that the GOP lead in early polling has their candidate polling in the low teens, and could potentially cost them their major party status in the Colorado.
In the Senate, the best example of a candidate’s negative influence is in Delaware, where the total implosion of Christine O’Donnell, after defeating Mike Castle in the GOP primary, turned a likely Republican pick-up into an all-but-assured Democratic victory for Chris Coons. But Delaware is not the only major Senate recruiting failure for the GOP. In Nevada, the repeated missteps of their top choice, Sue “chickens for checkups” Lowden, allowed Sharron Angle to take the nomination. Now a race that Republicans should be winning by double digits is still a toss-up because the people of Nevada really dislike Angle. In Illinois, Mark Kirk, who on paper looked like a great recruit, is struggling after it was proven that he repeatedly lied about his military record. The race is only still even because Democrats also have flawed candidate, Alexi Giannoulias.
While great Democratic candidates, strong campaigns, and blind luck are not going to turn what macro-indicators project should be a 10-Senate-seat loss for the party into a four-seat gain, several awful candidates can make the difference between the Republicans winning 10 seats this November and only winning seven. If Democrats narrowly hold on to the Senate, it is almost assured to be the result of a handful of bad candidates that cost Republicans seats they could have won. Doing a race-by-race analysis of the House also shows there is the remote possibility Democrats might narrowly hold on to the chamber for basically the same reason.
National Democrats want to make this election about the past, but elections are almost always a referendum on the present, that is unless the candidates on hand have gone out of their way to make themselves truly unacceptable. This election is a vivid reminder that who the candidates are still matters, at least when they are as clearly flawed as some of the Republicans running this year.