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Midterms Lesson: Weak Candidates Don’t Win Elections


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For Republicans, it was all joy before the polls closed on Tuesday, November 8. Expectations were very high and not for nothing. Joe Biden came into the midterms as the most unpopular president in decades, dragged down by record inflation, rising crime, and worrisome illegal immigration. Against this backdrop, what could go wrong for the GOP?

With a historic election of Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio in Florida, one of the fastest states to deliver results, all forecasts predicted a huge “red wave.” However, as the hours went by, this natural phenomenon, half political and half meteorological, lost strength and finally reached the coast of the United States as a sprinkle.

Within the Republican Party, one person, in particular, got all the attention: Donald Trump. While the former president’s charisma has great electoral appeal, his Senate candidates were defeated in essential (and winnable) races, such as Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Georgia is going to an uphill runoff.

Moral of the midterms: weak candidates do not win elections.
Doug Mastriano, candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, lost to Josh Shapiro by more than 14%. (Source: EFE)

In other words, as Mitch McConnell and Ben Shapiro, among others, had anticipated, the quality of the candidates is very important. Some assumed that the red wave would be so powerful that it would push these candidates over the finish line. However, this was not the case and the Republicans let key races slip away.

With more attractive options in the primary, Trump opted to endorse a number of controversial candidates in purple states and the results were not as expected, including Blake Masters, Don Bolduc, Mehmet Oz, Kari Lake, Doug Mastriano, Tim Michels, and Herschel Walker.

Some lost absolutely winnable elections, such as Oz, Bolduc, Masters, Michels, and Mastriano. Others, like Vance, performed below expectations.

Moral of the midterms: weak candidates do not win elections.
Donald Trump-backed candidates in key Senate races were defeated and prevented the “red wave” from reaching Congress (Source: EFE).

Far from nationalizing important elections and making them a referendum on Biden’s policies, these candidates unnecessarily alienated independents and took a (not so) surprising defeat.

Surprise? Strong candidates win elections

On this point, there is no clearer example than Brian Kemp. Governor of Georgia, he faced a strong candidate like Stacey Abrams and defeated her by more than 6%. A similar case is that of Mike Dewine. While Vance defeated Tim Ryan by 6%, the Ohio governor beat his Democratic challenger by 26%. The same thing happened in Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott easily defeated Robert O’Rourke.

Both ran on their record, stayed far away from contentious topics such as the 2020 election, and did not have much of a problem on Election Day. They secured another four years in office thanks to their policies in local government and did not get into unnecessary battles, like Tim Michels in Wisconsin. In a purple state, the gubernatorial candidate made abortion one of his main campaign issues. Mastriano made everything about the 2020 election and claimed he would accuse women who abort of homicide. He lost by double digits.

Moral of the midterms: weak candidates do not win elections.
(Source: EFE)

Of course, it is impossible not to mention Ron DeSantis, who won his first election by 0,4% in 2018, and widened that margin to almost 20%, winning the Hispanic vote in his state.

On the strength of candidates, Ben Shapiro made an interesting analogy using a delicious dessert:

“Think of politics like a cake and the cake has a couple of elements. Got the cake, it’s got the icing. Republicans are very attracted by the icing, we love the icing. The icing is the social culture war kind of stuff where you’re fighting against the wild equity agenda of the Democrats, you’re fighting against the transiting of the children, all that kind of stuff. All this stuff is super important. Icing is great, you can’t have a great cake without the icing. But if the cake is icing and what is underneath the icing is actually not cake, it’s just a bag of flaming garbage,” Shapiro said.

Therefore, behind this “red sprinkle”, the GOP will have to look inward, do what they have to do, and set the course and all energies for 2024.

Joaquín Núñez es licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política nacional norteamericana. Confeso hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda. Contacto: [email protected] // Joaquín Núñez has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and national American politics. Confessed fan of Racing Club of Avellaneda. Contact: [email protected]

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