Don’t Count Out the ‘Bad’ GOP Senate Candidates
All year long we’ve talked about the “red wave” that’s coming. Buoyed by the Biden administration’s combination of incompetence and arrogance, Republican voters have been enthusiastic, and independents and some Democrats may move to the right as well.
The talk has centered around big gains for the GOP in the House and the Republicans even capturing the Senate. Polling has shown enthusiasm for much of the year, but something has happened as the summer marched on: Democrats have gained some momentum.
We’ve seen plenty of poormouthing in the past couple of weeks, even in conservative media, especially when it comes to some Senate candidates who have been portrayed as “bad” candidates. But we shouldn’t count them out.
For starters, we need to remember that polling in the summertime favors the Democrats. It’s easy to blame their polling bump on the Dobbs decision, the Inflation Reduction Act (haha), or the student loan bailout, and those things may have given them a bit more support. But the reality is that, during the summer, Republican voters don’t tend to answer pollsters because they’re on vacation or getting their kids ready for the start of school. Heck, Republicans tend to be less likely to answer poll questions in general.
The summer Democratic surge is affecting some Senate races where the conventional wisdom holds that the GOP candidates are “bad.” In my home state of Georgia, football legend Herschel Walker is fighting a tough campaign against Sen. Raphael Warnock. Walker has had his share of baggage: mental health struggles, a troubled marriage, and children from extramarital affairs.
The Heisman Trophy winner has been honest about most of those issues, and he has walked a fine line between having the enthusiastic support of Donald Trump and the accusation that he’s just Trump’s puppet. He wants to prove that he’s his own man, and that began with a campaign shakeup earlier this summer. Walker wasn’t happy with his campaign, and he has replaced some key members of his team with new blood that is helping him run a stronger campaign.
Related: Red Tsunami Watch: Cook Political Report Shifts 10 Races Toward the GOP
On his radio show on Thursday, Erick Erickson explained how Walker is turning his fortunes around:
So I’m looking at Herschel Walker’s campaign. He’s retooled his campaign; he’s brought in people I know are highly competent people who have a great win-loss record in politics. He’s brought them in in the last month, he’s retooled his campaign, he’s getting on the campaign trail. His events are growing. The number of people showing up at his events are growing. His fundraising is increasing. His TV ads are coming online. He’s got a great message and a climate that’s hostile to the Democrats where Joe Biden’s polling is below 40% in Georgia, and the national media is still fixated on a narrative from two months ago. It suggests the national media isn’t up to speed on what’s happening, and to the extent they are, they’re trying to package it as something to help Raphael Warnock.
Something similar is happening with Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, where he’s facing Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. It’s easy to argue that Oz is a terrible candidate, and his “crudité” video is a prime example of the TV doctor’s shortcomings.
But Salena Zito writes at the Washington Examiner that Fetterman is concentrating on a social media strategy for his fight against Oz:
Fetterman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate has been an endless stream of snarky memes mocking Oz. He has rented planes to troll him along the New Jersey shore. He devotes endless messaging to vegetable trays and the amount of homes Oz owns. He’s even employed the antics of rocker Steven Van Zandt to taunt him on Twitter. He also likes to cuss a lot and use the poop emoji.
It is a sandbox Oz can never compete in, nor should he. It’s Fetterman’s playground, and there is no upside in getting down in the dirt with him, said David Urban, a D.C.-based Republican strategist and Beaver County native.
“You can’t out-meme Fetterman, because he is [a] human meme,” said Urban, who has worked as an adviser on several statewide races in the state. “It’s all he does.”
Oz is taking a different tack, going to county fairs, shaking hands, and speaking to voters directly. He’s building a word-of-mouth campaign that can benefit him much better than a grocery-shopping video ever could.
Other candidates like J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona have their own uphill battles that aren’t insurmountable.
Related: Red Wave Watch: CNN Says the GOP Is in Its Best Position Since 1938
At the same time, we can’t take for granted that Democrats have slam-dunk races. Last week, Henry Olsen wrote a column at the Washington Post reminding readers that, given President Biden’s approval numbers, the Democrats don’t have a lock on keeping the Senate.
Olsen cites data from 2014 to 2020 showing that the president’s approval rating is an important factor in the performance of Senate candidates from his party. This oversimplifies Olson’s methodology a bit, but he notes that “The results should make Democrats temper their expectations.”
The conclusion is that “the fate of this year’s Democratic Senate nominees, like those in years past, is tied to the president’s job approval.”
Olsen also reminds his readers that Democrats were bullish on tight Senate races in 2014 and lost the races they were most enthusiastic about based on summer polling. And, since “nearly all of the undecided voters are independents who don’t approve of Biden,” 2022 could be a repeat of 2014.
So don’t believe the poormouthing. The GOP may have a tough road to capturing the Senate, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.