Why the Poor Senate Showing?

It’s hard to argue the GOP didn’t fall down a bit in the Senate races. In the races the GOP did win, the margins were closer than many of the House races, and in the ones they lost they lost pretty substantially. Jim Geraghty argues that it might have to do with the quality of candidates, a sentiment echoed by Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner. I tend to think this is a correct analysis, largely driven by the fact that the structure of the Tea Party movement. When it comes to Congressional Districts, most seem to have only one or two Tea Party groups, who presumably don’t find it too difficult to coordinate on local races, like a House race. The Tea Party movement at the local level have some defined structure, and look more like traditional political civic groups. But take that out to a statewide race and the Tea Party starts to look more like a mob than an organization. As our Founding Fathers were aware, mobs seldom make prudent choices.

Choices like Angle and O’Donnell, are examples of this, though there are many more. None of these candidates to me looked like winners. The big unknown question was how far could Tea Party enthusiasm take lackluster candidates in state wide races. The answer would appear to be not very far. This isn’t surprising considering Tea Party supporters only make up about 30% of the population. It doesn’t change the fundamental dynamic that you still have to build a coalition to win.

Choosing the right candidate is difficult when you’re an organic movement, made up of people who normally don’t participate in the political process. Organic movements are going to gravitate towards candidates based on ideological compatibility, rather than their ability to actually run a statewide campaign and win. When assessing the viability of a candidate’s political potential for federal office, I’m only looking at a couple of factors in order of importance:

  1. His or her ability to raise money.
  2. His or her ability to manage a campaign, or hire the right people to do it (see above)
  3. His or her ability to connect with ordinary Americans who are not ideological in their political preferences.
  4. His or her values in comparison to the voters they will be going before.

For a state level or local race, fundraising can drop in importance, depending on the district. A candidate that’s willing to go knock on thousands of doors, and has a way with people, can overcome a fundraising deficit in a local race. There are plenty of politicians in state and local offices who are dogged campaigners, but can’t raise money worth a damn when they try to move to a higher level office. That’s one reason, as much as I love Sam Rohrer, I didn’t think his candidacy had a chance. Look at any race, and how or why they lose comes down to one or more of these issues. When I’m looking at a candidate in a primary race, I’m only looking for someone who’s ideology roughly matches up with my own. I’m more interested in someone that can win in the district they are running in. Depending on the district, this is either going to mean high ideological compatibility, or having to pick a few issues of importance and compromising on the rest. In Delaware, Nevada, and many other places, Tea Party backers needed more of the latter and less of the former. I think the organic nature of the Tea Party movement is going to mean they get it wrong in state wide races just about as often as they get it right. How one could improve candidate selection, without destroying the grassroots nature of the movement,  is an interesting question.

9 thoughts on “Why the Poor Senate Showing?”

  1. The Tea Party is in a very formative state.

    It’s not a bad thing to see the more marginal candidates not win. Especially, when a mere year ago the Tea Party was being described as a non-issue in politics.

    Now, it has shown two things.

    1) An ability to tear up a primary.

    2) A moderate ability to win actual elections.

    The Tea Party has two paths. One, a short lived conservative movement that eventually merges with the GOP. Or a deciding factor that eventually becomes a tertiary party with a much stronger libertarian bent. The latter is what I am rooting for…

    But it will take time to see…

  2. Angle, O’Donnell, and Miller were sandbagged by the GOP; they were beat up and left in the street to bleed. The republicans in the Senate felt they owed Reid, Murkowski et al more than they owed to their party. It’s amazing that Rubio won in Florida, given how much money the GOP spent for his rival. We lost West Virginia to a guy who ran far to the right of the GOP.

    In 2012, another third of the senate, Democrats and Republicans, will be ripe for replacement.

  3. Miller wasn’t sandbagged.

    It’s one thing to give your opponents ammunition to use against you, it’s another to load the gun, hand it to them and point out your most vulnerable areas to shoot at.

    His campaign manager bears much of the blame:

    His (CM’s) wife going off drunkenly in public (and getting recorded) at the College Republicans in a bar

    His choice to hire wanna-be tough guy knuckleheads working for an unlicensed company with ties (however minor) to a nutcase militia guy as “security” who then performed a totally unnecessary citizen’s arrest on a blogger… in a school.

    His inability to have Joe explain his more libertarian positions in a non-threatening way. They let their opponents label him extreme and scary and did nothing to correct it until late in the campaign.

    Deciding to “not comment” on Joe’s misuse of work equipment and then backtracking on that decision. He looked evasive -and- indecisive.

    Their inability to explain that although Joe used government programs, both state and Federal, that doesn’t make him a hypocrite.

    Of course, Joe’s an Army officer, he knows (or should know) that you own every action by your subordinates so all this really falls on him and poorly reflects on his judgment of capability and character.

    Saying he was “sandbagged” ignores the fact that he screwed the pooch multiple times of his own volition in a race he could have won.

  4. Poor Senate showing? Surely you jest.

    In the races decided by this morning, there were 17 GOP seats up for election. The GOP held all of them.

    There were 18 Dem seats up for election. The GOP took 6 of them.

    Holding all your own and peeling off 1/3 of the opposition seats is outstanding performance.

    In 2012, 21 Dem held seats are up, but only 10 Repub seats.

  5. That race was definitely Miller’s to lose. The biased media attention didn’t help, of course.

  6. Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio are monster Tea Party successes. Johnson was a successful businessman who went to a Tea Party and decided he should get involved. A year and a half later he takes down a powerful 3-term liberal Senator.

    Rubio demolished his Democrat opponent AND the sitting Govenor of Florida with a conservative message. Wow!

  7. Yes, we could have done better than O’Donnell. Angle had taken a number of positions that would have been winners at a Libertarian Party convention, or John Birch Society meeting–not in a statewide race.

    Sad to say, if you want to win elections, you need to be careful to say nothing that is outside the middle 70% of the electorate’s opinions.

  8. I had wondered about how effective “Tea Party” candidates would be. I never thought O’Donnell would win, but Angle’s weak showing was a surprise. I didn’t think she’d win, but I thought she’d at least show up.

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