Bad candidates and split tickets, not voter fraud, could lose key elections for GOP
The midterm elections are a month away, and already there are a few Republicans grumbling that Democrats might try to steal certain elections. While voter fraud does occur, in the vast majority of cases candidate quality is the primary factor in deciding who wins. And you can see it by the split in several recent Republican election polls.
Proponents of the 2020 stolen-election narrative claimed that voting machines in several states transferred votes from President Trump to his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden. But apparently the machines only transferred Trump votes, because Republicans did very well in the congressional and state elections that year.
No one has yet been able to provide any evidence to support the stolen-election claim — at least, no evidence that would hold up in court. Fortunately, pre-election polling doesn’t rely on voting machines. And while the polling industry has been going through something of an existential crisis over how to better predict election outcomes, polls rely on voter responses, not voting machines. And several states are seeing a gap between certain Republicans running statewide in the same state.
Consider the recent polling in key states that have been at the center of the stolen-election narrative. Let’s start with Arizona. According to the Real Clear Politics (RCP) average of polls, Republican newcomer gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was up an average of 2.2 points (between 9/14-9/26) over her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs.
By contrast, RCP has incumbent Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly up by 4 points over his Republican challenger, Blake Masters, for the same time period. That’s a 6.2 point spread between two Republicans running in the same state for statewide office.
That means there are likely more than a few Arizona voters who plan to vote for the Republican gubernatorial candidate but a Democratic Senate candidate, a split ticket.
We see something similar in Georgia. RCP’s average of polls (between 8/24-9/26) has incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp up 6.6 points over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams. However, the RCP average of polls has incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock up less than a point over his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker. Again, a 6-point spread between two Republicans running statewide.
Let’s turn to Pennsylvania, where smooth elections just aren’t the state’s thing.
RCP’s average of polls (between 9/6-9/26) has Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro up a whopping 10.2 points over his Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano. And Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman is ahead of Republican Mehmet Oz by 4.1 points. So, even though both Republicans are losing in the polls, there’s again a 6-point spread between the two of them.
Now, these polling numbers are likely to change, perhaps significantly, over the next month. The point isn’t the exact poll number, but the spread between two GOP candidates running statewide.
We saw a similar phenomenon in the 2020 election, where a Republican candidate running statewide often received a higher percentage of votes than Trump. As London’s The Guardian observed, “[T]he election wasn’t just about Democrats rejecting Trump by turning out in record numbers. It was also about Republicans and independents who preferred the Republican party — but just without Donald Trump.”
It’s an important point because there are a number of Republican candidates who received strong endorsements from Trump, not because they brought with them a wealth of political expertise or a legacy of public service as an elected official. They got the nod largely because they embraced Trump’s view of the world — and of elections.
Several well-qualified Republican candidates ran in several swing or blue-leaning state primaries. If they had won, they might have been able to give their Democratic candidate a real challenge. But primary voters in some of those states wanted the Trump protégé. Qualifications and electability were less important.
Yes, several polls are tightening, and the pollsters may be undercounting Republicans again, leading to a bigger-than-expected GOP victory in November. Even so, it’s likely that several potentially winnable seats may remain in Democratic hands.
When William F. Buckley, Jr. (one of the country’s leading conservative voices until his death in 2008, founder of National Review magazine and the longtime host of the PBS program “Firing Line”) was criticized for not supporting the most conservative candidates, he replied he would back “the most right [i.e., conservative], viable candidate who could win.”
It is an extremely important insight, and one that is frequently ignored or forgotten, especially by those who have only recently gotten their political dander up. It’s not just about winning a primary, it’s about winning the election.
Even if Republicans see a probable red wave (or even a red tsunami) come November, it’s likely that several winnable seats will be lost because of not embracing Buckley’s wisdom.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.