Jul 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP fears Senate debacle

GOP symbol sweating
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Top Republicans, once confident about winning control of the Senate in the midterms, fear they'll blow it after nominating several deeply flawed candidates in winnable states, according to conversations with GOP strategists, pollsters and other officials.

Why it matters: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been sounding this alarm for months: electing fringe candidates with checkered pasts could squander a golden chance to reclaim power. Now, McConnell is left hoping for a red wave so wide and powerful that candidate quality is irrelevant.

What they're saying: "The environment is excellent for us. We just can't fumble the ball on the five-yard line," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a top McConnell lieutenant, told Axios.

  • "Many of these candidates are first-time candidates, so they’re still adapting to the political environments they’re in," added Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), another member of GOP leadership.

What's happening: In several crucial Senate races, polling, fundraising and news coverage tell a similar story. The Republicans are on the defensive rather than surfing the national wave of dissatisfaction with Democrats.

Here are the states Republicans are watching with trepidation:

Georgia: A new poll of the Georgia Senate race, conducted by both Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio and Biden pollster John Anzalone for the AARP, shows Sen. Raphael Warnock leading Republican Herschel Walker 50% to 47%.

  • The same poll shows Republican Gov. Brian Kemp with a seven-point advantage over Democrat Stacey Abrams, and President Biden underwater with a 34% approval rating.
  • Walker's personal flaws have made him an outlier: The Daily Beast last week reported that the former football great fathered several secret children and lied to his campaign staff about it — with the story quoting Walker's own aides calling the candidate a "serious liability."

Pennsylvania: The same pollsters found Mehmet Oz, the Trump-backed GOP nominee, losing to Democrat John Fetterman by six points, while holding a dismal unfavorability rating of 63%.

  • Oz has been criticized by Fetterman as a "carpetbagger" from New Jersey and has gone dark on the airwaves since emerging from a bruising GOP primary in May.

Arizona: After receiving Trump’s endorsement, Blake Masters has surged ahead in primary polls.

  • Masters is also one of the few Republicans to openly embrace a national abortion ban, which could be a liability in a state that narrowly swung to Biden in 2020.

Missouri: Senate GOP leaders are perhaps most concerned about the likelihood that former Gov. Eric Greitens, whose personal scandals include allegations of domestic and sexual abuse, will prevail in the Aug. 2 primary.

  • Greitens received backlash last month after posting a campaign ad brandishing a rifle and simulating a SEAL raid on RINOs — "Republicans in name only."

Ohio: A USA Today-Suffolk University survey showed Republican nominee J.D. Vance statistically tied with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in a state Trump comfortably carried twice.

  • Ryan’s campaign has spent $6.4 million on television ads since winning the primary, while Vance hasn’t spent any money on TV spots since emerging as the GOP nominee.

What to watch: Keep an eye on this week’s Q2 fundraising reports to see if these GOP nominees can keep pace financially with their Democratic counterparts, who have released historic fundraising numbers in the run-up to the deadline.

Go deeper