Have Republicans and Democrats Chosen Poorly or Wisely?

Republicans enjoyed a hurricane-force wind at their backs going into the 2010 elections.  On Election Day, GOP candidates running for seats in the House realized the full potential of the wave they were riding by earning a massive and historic 63-seat net gain.  However, Republican candidates vying for their place in the Senate did not. Sure, they did well, picking up six seats in the upper chamber, but they missed out on several additional opportunities. Amy Walter, national editor for CookPolitical.com, points out a major reason why.  She writes:

In 2010, in what was a “wave year” just two of the seven toss-up races went to Republicans, though public polling predicted that four of those seven (57 percent) would flip to the GOP.  Terrible GOP candidates like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Ken Buck were the real culprits in the GOP underperformance that year.

Party nominees matter -- even in wave elections. So, with the primary season drawing to a close, let’s take a look at the candidates from each party who made it past the qualifying round and evaluate how those choices impact their party’s prospects for success in Senate and gubernatorial elections this November.

Thirty-six Senate seats are up for grabs this year.  Twenty-three of them are non-competitive races which the incumbent party is very likely to retain.  The remaining 13 seats are either competitive or non-competitive projected takeovers (South Dakota, for example).  Coincidentally, 36 governorships, of which 14 are currently competitive, are also on tap.  Looking at the primary lineups for these competitive races, we see that they fall into three different categories.

Incumbent Running

Seven senators, 6 Democrats and 1 Republican, are seeking reelection in competitive races this year.  The Democrats are Mark Begich (AK), Mark Pryor (AR), Mark Udall (CO), Mary Landrieu (LA), Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Kay Hagan (NC).  They are joined by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY).  Eleven incumbent governors are also facing competitive reelection bids in 2014.  They consist of 8 Republicans and 3 Democrats.

Non-competitive Primaries

Thirteen Senate primary contests from eight different states and twelve gubernatorial primaries in eleven states held primaries that were, well, no contest.  I won’t list them all here, but it is worth noting that in some cases -- Arkansas GOP Senate, Georgia DEM Senate, for example -- having a non-competitive primary meant the nominee was the top choice of the party from the outset.  In other cases -- Michigan GOP Senate, Montana DEM Senate -- the absence of primary competition resulted from the best choice deciding against running. The first two categories are included for completeness.  However, these races are not very useful when evaluating the role of primary voters in their parties’ prospects.  Their impact is gleaned best from races which featured a primary election in doubt.

Competitive Primaries

Let’s take a look at several of these primaries race by race and grade primary voters on whether they have improved or impaired their parties’ chances by the choice they made.

Alaska Senate (GOP)

Republicans here are salivating at the opportunity to unseat Mark Begich in this conservative state.  Three high-profile candidates vied for that honor.  GOP voters made the right choice by selecting former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.  While Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell would have given Begich a strong challenge, Republicans avoided a concession by not picking lightning rod Joe Miller.  GRADE: A

Georgia Senate (GOP)

Businessman David Perdue and Congressman Jack Kingston got the most votes in the primary election.  However, since neither was able to eclipse the requisite 50% +1 to avoid a runoff, Georgia Republicans had to return to the ballot box a month later to finalize their pick.  They get high marks for picking Perdue, but the prolonged runoff period subjected the nominee to more intra-party conflict and gave Democrat Michelle Nunn a longer grace period.  GRADE: B