Aug 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Celebrity candidates threaten GOP's hopes of a Senate majority

Oz and Shaq
Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic

Inexperienced Republican candidates are threatening to cost Mitch McConnell a long-anticipated Senate majority in this year's midterms.

The big picture: The GOP roster is filled with Trump-endorsed celebrities who've never run political campaigns — former NFL star Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and best-selling author J.D. Vance in Ohio.

Driving the news: The winner in this week's Arizona's GOP contest, Blake Masters — a venture capitalist who ran an unconventional primary comparing his candidacy to a tech startup — has resisted hiring political strategists to help tailor his message for a general election, according to Republican sources familiar with his campaign.

Why it matters: Despite a favorable political environment for Republicans, these nominees are trailing in recent public polls.

  • Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged the lowered expectations days ago in an interview with Fox News' Bret Baier: "I think when this Senate race smoke clears, we’re likely to have a very, very close Senate still, with us up slightly or the Democrats up slightly.”

Between the lines: McConnell is concerned that this crop of GOP Senate nominees is reminiscent of flawed Tea Party-aligned candidates like Christine O'Donnell and Todd Akin, who lost winnable races in 2010 and 2012.

  • In 2014, McConnell took a more active role in the recruiting process, focusing on more experienced contenders like Thom Tillis in North Carolina (a state House speaker), Cory Gardner in Colorado (a congressman) and Bill Cassidy (a congressman) in Louisiana.
  • Republicans won the Senate majority that year, netting nine Senate seats.

But, but, but: Political outsiders are sometimes the right candidates.

  • Democrats won control of the House in 2018 by recruiting military veterans, businesswomen and physicians to win over swing voters.
  • But those candidates also campaigned as moderates, unlike the current crop of Trump-backed Republicans.

The bottom line: McConnell prefers experienced candidates who stay on message. Trump likes zany outsiders who stand outside the political mainstream.

  • Trump won the fight in the GOP primaries. But if Trump's candidates lose in November, McConnell may get the last laugh — albeit while stuck in the minority.
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