Midterm elections are golden opportunities for opposition parties to gain seats. The Republicans have their sights on winning several senate seats from the Democrats, as well as retain some competitive states where long-standing Senators are standing down.
So why do so many of their candidates suck?
Take Pennsylvania for example. Pat Toomey has been the Republican Senator since 2010, after previously being a Congressman for 6 years. Now he is standing down, and the top candidates to replace him are the former Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and Dr Oz (a celebrity doctor/Trump supporter). The Former Ambassador to Denmark is running a distant third.
It’s one thing to struggle to persuade Chris Sununu to stand down as Governor of New Hampshire to challenge a sitting Democrat (as previously discussed). But Pennsylvania is a seat the party already holds.
And it’s hardly a one-off.
In Ohio, where Rob Portman (who ran for Senate after 12 years in the House) is retiring, the primary fight for this pretty safe Senate seat is between an investment banker, the former State Treasurer, and the author of the book Hillbilly Elegy. No disrespect to any of those achievements and jobs but people used to have much more political (and campaigning) experience before running for such a major elected office.
In Georgia, a state the Democrats barely won in a good year for them, the presumptive GOP nominee is a former NFL star with zero political experience and who Fox News, FOX NEWS, describes by saying ‘where he stands on key issues is up for debate‘! That’s before we even get to the multiple allegations of domestic violence.
I could go on, but I won’t. My point is that Republican politicians for some reason don’t seem very excited by the idea of running for Senate this year – despite the big prizes on offer.
Back in the Tea Party years, in the 2012 elections, a couple of senate seats were clearly thrown by weak candidates. In Missouri the Republican candidate threw away a poll lead by using the phrase ‘legitimate rape’ in a stupendously poor answer to a debate question – he lost by 15% on election day. A similar gaffe by their Indiana candidate the same year cost them a second senate seat.
In these hyper-partisan times a less experienced candidate most likely won’t be the difference between whether Republicans take the Senate or not this year, but it’s not inconceivable. And with the national environment against them, Democrats need any lifeline that Republicans will throw their way.
November is a key chance for the GOP to take a sizeable Senate majority, and there is a big difference between having a couple of Senators spare or not (just ask Democrats right now how fun it is to constantly be held hostage by your least reliable colleague).
I’m not changing my bets on Republicans taking the Senate, though I do wonder if the long odds on Democrats in some states might represent value or even just a trading bet if a first-time Republican candidate makes a major campaign blunder.
In any case, it is remarkable how stark the disparity is between parties in enthusiasm to fight these big seats. Returning to Pennsylvania, the Democratic primary for that Senate seat is between the current Lieutenant Governor of the state (like the VP to the Governor) and a former Congressman who won a deep red House seat in a by-election during the Trump years. They’ve also convinced the Lieutenant Governor to run in Wisconsin, a state Biden won but with a Republican Senator, giving them the best shot possible in one of their only plausible gains this year.
It makes me wonder: Are the advantages to being a Governor over a Senator somewhat party-specific? Both the Democrat and Republican bases have plenty of people you wouldn’t want to be dealing with on a daily basis – but the Republican base is a particularly toxic place at the moment with plenty of QAnon mixed in (including some in Congress). Perhaps that’s taking its toll on Republican politicians, they’re human beings too at the end of the day*.
*(Although I’m sure there are some QAnon members who think they are actually aliens or lizards.)
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on the Republicans winning the Senate at roughly 3/5, but on the Democrats gaining Wisconsin at 5/2 and North Carolina at 4/1. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts