Will the GOP drop the ball in Senate races?

Orange County Register editorial board (TNS)
Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz joins former President Donald Trump onstage during a rally in support of his campaign at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds on May 6, 2022, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.   (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/TNS)

With control of a currently 50-50 Senate up for grabs, it looks like the GOP could well come up short even in a favorable political environment because of questionable choices of candidates in key races.

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce luncheon, acknowledged this, saying, “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate.” He continued, “Senate races are just different. They’re statewide. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”

This is a lesson Republicans should have learned by now from past fumbled elections. In 2010, the former Republican Gov. Michael Castle was widely expected to win a general election race in Delaware for the Senate seat vacated by Joe Biden. However, Castle was upset by populist favorite Christine O’Donnell, who brought the political world gaffes like, “I’m not a witch.” O’Donnell went on to lose by double-digit percentage points to now-Sen. Chris Coons.

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These days, McConnell no doubt has in mind candidates like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia.

In the case of Oz, the Senate seat he’s running for is currently held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who decided not to run for re-election.

The GOP primary contest was a mess. Sean Parnell was the original Trump-backed candidate to succeed Toomey, but dropped out amid accusations of domestic violence.

Then there was hedge fund CEO David McCormick, who was deemed insufficiently loyal to Trump for having criticized him as having responsibility for the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

So in jumped Oz, best known for his frequent appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, who defeated McCormick in the primaries thanks to the “complete and total endorsement” from Trump.

Since then, Oz has been particularly gaffe-prone and an overall poor candidate compared to Pennsylvania’s popular Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has shifted the Pennsylvania Senate race from “tossup” to now “lean Democratic.” Again, in the context of a 50-50 Senate, this will be a particularly significant setback.

In Georgia, the seat held by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock should be a feasible pickup by Republicans. After all, Warnock is progressive in a purple state and was elected in 2020 thanks in part to Donald Trump’s constant discouraging of Republicans from voting by casting doubt on the legitimacy of Georgia’s elections.

Rather than have the GOP unite behind a competent candidate, the GOP decided to go with former football player Herschel Walker, who has consistently demonstrated a lack of knowledge about basic political issues. There are also lingering concerns over his complicated personal life, which includes a diagnosis for dissociative identity disorder and allegations of domestic violence.

In the cases of Oz and Walker, the GOP has taken a gamble on unorthodox candidates when more standard candidates likely would’ve made more sense. We’ll find out soon enough if this gamble fares better than expected or if it goes as many suspect and ends up costing the GOP control of the Senate.

— From the Orange County Register editorial board (TNS).