Two key Republican leaders can’t agree on whether they have good or bad candidates running for Senate this November.
Two weeks after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a swipe at the “candidate quality” of this year’s Republican nominees, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the head of the organization in charge of winning back the Senate majority, made the opposing case in the Washington Examiner, a conservative news outlet. In an op-ed, Scott argued that Republican candidates were strong because they were chosen by Republican voters. In short, insulting the nominees for Senate is tantamount to declaring that, as Scott put it, “you have contempt for the voters who chose them.”
This belief that primaries produce strong candidates is part of Scott’s larger philosophy, rooted in his own frustration with establishment figures who overwhelming backed his opponent in Florida, then-Attorney General Bill McCollum, in the 2010 primary for Florida governor. But it’s also rooted in his theory that “all our candidates are great” simply because they’re running against Democrats.
In short, Scott and McConnell are sparring over an age-old question in politics: How much do candidates matter when it comes to high-stakes elections?
That question came into even starker focus this week, when Mary Peltola, a former state legislator, officially won a ranked-choice special election in Alaska, becoming the first Democrat to hold that House seat in 50 years. Her victory would be unlikely if not for the weaknesses of her opponent, former Republican governor Sarah Palin, whose reputation in Alaska took a hit after she left the governorship to run for vice president.
For the vast majority of congressional elections, the name of the candidate — let alone actual policy positions — is secondary to partisan affiliation. The composition of an electorate usually just does not have enough swing voters to tip the outcome in a different direction. Alaska’s special election was an exception to that rule.
When the stakes are especially high and clear, every now and then candidate quality marks the difference between a Democratic or Republican congressional majority. And that might be the biggest obstacle Republicans face in the midterms.
💠 Read more about how candidate quality may shape the elections ahead.