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Candidate Quality Mattered

2 of America's worst candidates, an Ohio MAGAt & a California Blue Dog, both lost friendly seats

The political parties and their operatives seem to believe— or act as though they believe— that elections are all about the parties and not about the candidates… as long as the candidates are plausible. This cycle tested that premise, at least it did if you can consider the extreme MAGAts that Trump injected into the GOP “plausible.”

The media narrative has, understandably, been very favorable to the Democrats, making the point that crackpot GOP candidates-- from House candidates like JR Majewski (OH), Joe Kent (WA) and John Gibbs (MI) and Senate candidates like Blake Masters (AZ), Don Bolduc (NH) and Dr. Oz (PA) to gubernatorial candidates like Tudor Dixon (MI), Kari Lake (AZ), and Doug Mastriano (PA)-- were unelectable. That doesn’t explain why Raphael Warnock is locked in a runoff with one of the most bizarre and implausible candidates in contemporary history, Herschel Walker (GA). Nor does it explain Senator-elect J.D. Vance, Governor-elect Joe Lombardo (NV) nor Congresswoman-elect Ann Paulina Luna and Congressman-elect Derrick Van Orden (WI), not to mention the Republican overall victory in House races, where their share of the popular vote was 50.8% (54,132,476) compared to the Democrats’ 47.7% (50,765,881).

And it doesn’t even address the worst quality Democratic candidates, losers from the state legislature like Rudy Salas, Adam Gray and Christy Smith as well as Governor Kathy Hochul and Senator Maggie Hassan, who actually voted with the Republicans against raising the minimum wage.

This morning, Hannah Fingerhut and Jeff Amy, reporting for the Associated Press, wrote that it was doubts about the implausible Republican candidates that prevented the red wave, with Georgia ticket splitters, for example, voting for a “plausible” candidate like Brian Kemp while rejecting implausible candidate like Walker. Kemp received 2,111,572 votes while Walker took an astounding 203,130 fewer— just 1,908,442 votes. Even Brad Raffensperger, who was reelected Secretary of State, despite a 2 year long stream of invective against him by Trump, with 173,799 more votes than Walker. “Voter,” wrote Fingerhut and Amy, “deciding to split their tickets or buck their party altogether may have helped Democrats mount a stronger-than-expected performance in the midterm elections. AP VoteCast, an extensive survey of this year’s electorate, underscores how voters were selective in their choices in spite of today’s starkly polarized political climate, often rewarding candidates seen as mainstream while rejecting those viewed as too extreme… While 7 in 10 Georgia voters for Kemp said they enthusiastically backed him, only about half of fellow Republican Walker’s voters said that, according to VoteCast. Among Walker supporters, about 4 in 10 said they backed him with reservations and about 1 in 10 said they were simply opposing the other candidates. The dynamics were even clearer elsewhere.”

In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro won the governor’s race by a larger margin than John Fetterman in the Senate race, earning nearly 280,000 more votes. Fetterman, who experienced a stroke in May, battled concerns about his health in a tight race with Republican celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz.
VoteCast showed 8% of voters in Pennsylvania split their tickets. Among voters identifying as Republicans, a notable 9% went for Democrat Fetterman, and even more— 18%— went for Shapiro.
Ticket splitting in this election was especially notable given that it has been less evident in recent cycles “as voters have become more polarized and more partisan,” said G. Terry Madonna, senior fellow in residence for political affairs at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
VoteCast shows voters for Oz and Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, were less enthusiastic than voters for Fetterman and Shapiro.
Shapiro’s voters outpaced fellow Democrat Fetterman’s in enthusiasm. Still, despite many voters lacking confidence in Fetterman’s health, VoteCast shows Pennsylvania voters were somewhat more concerned about Oz’s familiarity with the state.
About 4 in 10 voters for Republican Mastriano said they supported him with reservations, and about 1 in 10 supported him in order to oppose other candidates. Overall, about two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s voters were concerned that Mastriano, who commissioned buses for people to attend the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, had views that are “too extreme.” Only about 4 in 10 said that of Shapiro.
Mastriano “had a base among Trump’s most loyal supporters, that’s why he got the nomination, but he could not expand that base,” Millersville University’s Madonna said. “Establishment Republicans also moved away from him.” Madonna suggested many were content to do so given some of Shapiro’s more moderate issue positions, including on fracking.
In Wisconsin and Michigan, incumbent Democratic governors overcame Republican challengers who were endorsed by Trump and repeated his denial of 2020’s outcome.
Sixty-three percent of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ voters but only 47% of Republican Tim Michels’ supporters said they backed their candidate enthusiastically. About as many Michels voters said they supported him with reservations. By contrast, in the race for U.S. Senate, 54% of voters for victorious Republican incumbent Ron Johnson were enthusiastic about him.
Michels was a weaker candidate— “he had some liabilities,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll in Wisconsin. And in the Senate race, though Johnson won reelection over Democrat Mandela Barnes, the margin was narrower than his 2016 or 2010 victories.
“I think there’s a strong case here that the Democratic advantage in turnout boosted the governor’s race a little over two points from where it was four years ago, and also in the process tightened the Senate race to just that one point margin for Johnson,” Franklin said.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was more enthusiastically supported than her Republican competitor Tudor Dixon. More were concerned that Dixon was “too extreme” in her political views than said that of Whitmer, 62% vs. 46%. About 1 in 10 Republican voters backed the Democrat.

If we just look at the 17 House seats that Democrats lost in districts that Biden won in 2020, we see some seriously flawed Democratic candidates (bolded) in 8 of them-- mostly candidates who should have never have been nominated in the first place, particularly 3 losers in California, Adam Gray, Rudy Salas and Christy Smith. Three of the 17, marked with asterisks, were incumbents:

  • AZ-01 (Biden +1.5)- Jevin Hodge- 49.6%

  • AZ-06 (Biden +0.1)- Kirsten Engel- 49.3%

  • CA-13 (Biden +10.9)- Adam Gray- 49.8%

  • CA-22 (Biden +12.9)- Rudy Salas- 48.3%

  • CA-27 (Biden +12.4)- Christy Smith- 46.7%

  • CA-40 (Biden +1.9)- Asif Mahmood- 43.1%

  • CA-45 (Biden +6.2)- Jay Chen- 47.6%

  • NE-02 (Biden +6.3)- Tony Vargas- 48.5%

  • NJ-07 (Biden +3.9)- Tom Malinowski*- 48.5%

  • NY-01 (Biden +0.2)- Bridget Fleming- 44.1%

  • NY-03 (Biden +8.2)- Robert Zimmerman- 45.9%

  • NY-04 (Biden +14.5)- Laura Gillen- 48.1%

  • NY-17 (Biden +10.1)- Sean Patrick Maloney*- 49.6%

  • NY-19 (Biden +4.6)- Josh Riley- 48.9%

  • NY-22 (Biden +7.5)- Francis Conole- 49.5%

  • OR-05 (Biden +8.9)- Jamie McLeod-Skinner- 48.9%

  • PA-01 (Biden +4.6)- Ashley Ehasz- 45.1%

  • VA-02 (Biden +1.9)- Elaine Luria*- 48.3%



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