House races

Top 10 worst candidates of 2014

A stronger-than-expected GOP wind helped lift Republicans to historic gains on Tuesday night, but in several races, the truism that candidates matter still held true.

The political skills of a candidate can often be decisive, regardless of which party has the advantage in a state or district.

As the midterm campaign progressed, political operatives and observers grumbled behind the scenes — and sometimes in public — about these candidates, who all found themselves on the losing end when votes were counted on election night.

Democrat Bruce Braley, Iowa Senate

The Democratic congressman went from being the clear front-runner in Iowa to the goat when GOP strategists leaked his remarks about Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) being just a “farmer from Iowa.”

Other gaffes and controversies dogged Braley throughout the race. His campaign responded by pulling his face from TV ads and focusing relentlessly on destroying Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R). It wasn’t enough, as Ernst won by a surprisingly large eight-point margin.

Republican Terri Lynn Land, Michigan Senate

The former secretary of state wasn’t Michigan Republicans’ first choice, as they first approached now-retiring Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dave Camp (R-Mich.) about running for the seat.

While her fundraising strength and self-funding ability intrigued national strategists, she struggled in her few public appearances, and responded by disappearing from the campaign trail for months and refusing debates as Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) gradually expanded his lead. On Tuesday, she lost to Peters by 14 points.

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky Senate

Even before her much-maligned refusal (twice!) to say whether she voted for President Obama, national and Bluegrass state Democrats were grumbling about the Kentucky secretary of state’s campaign.

Observers privately complained that Grimes’s campaign team kept her too guarded and that her father, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, was calling too many of the shots. The result was a 15-point blowout for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Democrat Sean Eldridge, New York’s 18th District

The wealthy husband of Facebook co-founder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes was supposed to bring big bucks and a stiff challenge to Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.).

Eldridge put $2.8 million of his own money into the campaign, but saw a terrible return on his investment as he lost by an astounding 30 points. Hammered often for being a newcomer to the district and for locking out the press, Hughes was never a real threat to the centrist Gibson.

Democrat Domenic Recchia, New York’s 11th District

It takes some talent to lose a race in a swing district to an indicted congressman.

Recchia, the Brooklyn-based former New York City councilman, seemed like a congressman-in-waiting when Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) was hit with a 20-count federal indictment and caught-on-camera threatening to throw a local reporter off a balcony.

But Recchia failed to answer standard policy questions from the local media, and many local papers went on to endorse Grimm in spite of his legal woes. The editorial board of The Daily News endorsed Grimm and described the Democrat as “a candidate so dumb, ill-informed, evasive and inarticulate that voting for a thuggish Republican who could wind up in a prison jumpsuit starts to make rational sense.” Grimm won the race by a double-digit margin.

Republican Steve Southerland, Florida’s 2nd District

Southerland has the dubious distinction of being one of the few Republicans who ran a poor enough race to lose in the 2014 cycle.

Up against one of Democrats’ strongest recruits in Gwen Graham, Southerland was criticized for holding a men-only fundraiser, and further ridiculed when he compared it to women attending a “lingerie shower.” By the end of the cycle GOP strategists were wringing their hands over this race, and Graham eked out the win even in a hostile environment and conservative-leaning district.

Republican Lee Terry, Nebraska’s 2nd District

Like Southerland, Terry sealed his fate with self-inflicted wounds. After last year’s 16-day government shutdown, he said he wouldn’t give up his own pay because, “I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly.”

Democrats didn’t let him live down the comments, and they were especially fatal after several close elections. Despite the Republican shade of the district, Democrat Brad Ashford (D) won on election night.

Democrat Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Governor

Coakley sought a political comeback this year after costing Democrats the Massachusetts Senate special election in 2010, launching Republican Scott Brown onto the national scene.

Her run for governor seemed more promising initially, but she ended up only narrowly winning the primary. Ultimately, her image with Democratic and independent voters never healed, she was hurting for cash in the final stretch, and centrist Republican Charlie Baker was exactly the type of GOP nominee who could win in the Bay State, especially with the national mood in his favor.

Democrat John Walsh, Montana Senate

Democrats were thrilled when they landed the current lieutenant governor as a candidate after Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced his retirement and former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) decided not to run. They were even more optimistic after Walsh was tapped as the replacement when Baucus resigned early.

But Republicans blew up Walsh’s campaign by exposing that he’d plagiarized much of his Army War College master’s thesis. Walsh resigned in disgrace weeks later, and didn’t just blow Democrats’ hopes of holding his seat — he also lost his degree.

Republican Monica Wehby, Oregon Senate

Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon, had the right profile to pull off an upset in reliably blue Oregon against Sen. Jeff Merkley (D): She was socially liberal, fiscally conservative and had a healthcare background that gave her credibility in a state with a disastrous ObamaCare website.

Her first ad was hailed as one of the best of the cycle, featuring a mother praising how Wehby helped save her daughter’s life after she was diagnosed with a rare spine disorder in utero.

But personal problems soon plagued her campaign after it was revealed that her ex-husband and a former boyfriend had both filed police reports alleging harassment. Wehby’s bid stalled, and she lost by nearly 20 points.

Tags Bruce Braley Chuck Grassley Jeff Merkley Max Baucus Mitch McConnell
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