How important is “electability” in determining whether a candidate can win an election? For both parties this primary season, the answer will determine who controls the House and Senate.
It’s not quite as cut and dried an issue as some may think. In the Republican senate race in Pennsylvania, there are two fairly standard Republican candidates in celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz, endorsed by Trump, and hedge fund CEO David McCormick. Both men are strong challengers to Democrat John Fetterman.
But out of the blue, conservative commentator Kathy Barnett began to gain traction and is now challenging the two men for the lead.
Oz’s main argument against Barnett is that she’s “unelectable” because she’s too “extreme.” Barnett tweeted out a statement claiming that “Pedophilia is a Cornerstone of Islam.” Oz, who would be the first Muslim senator in history, took issue with the tweet.
“It’s reprehensible that she would tweet out something that is defamatory to an entire religion,” Oz told The Associated Press. “This state was based on religious freedom. I’m proud as a Pennsylvanian to uphold those founding beliefs that every faith has its merits.”
The Barnette campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier in the week, Barnette told NBC News that she did not make the statement, which was still live on her Twitter feed on Saturday.
True or false, the statement is extreme. This plays into the hands of Oz, who knows that Barnett is siphoning votes from him and could cost him the election in a three-way race.
Worse, what if she wins? Barnett’s candidacy is reminiscent of Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell’s Delaware senate campaign in 2010 that was an absolute slam dunk GOP win — if some other candidate had run. O’Donnell’s fruitiness cost the GOP a seat — and a majority.
But it points to the conundrum facing Republicans: how best to handle candidates who clearly can’t win in November but might squeak through in the primary.
But there’s no consensus about the right tactics to avoid that fate. Whereas Trump is attacking Barnette as “very risky” in a general election, NRSC Chair Rick Scott (R-Fla.) says he’d be comfortable if Barnette is the nominee. For Scott, the hands-off approach in primaries is personal after national Republicans gave him the cold shoulder in Florida’s 2010 gubernatorial race.
“The voters do a better job of choosing the right candidate for their state than people in Washington,” Scott said in an interview. “Nobody supported me in 2010.”
Senate Republicans’ heavy-handed approach in 2010 didn’t exactly work either: Just ask NRSC-endorsed Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat who lost his 2010 primary battle to now Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Some in the party want to try a different approach: rather than picking candidates in primary fields, they’d like to focus more on calling out risky Republican hopefuls. That way, the GOP could follow through on its pledge not to nominate general election losers.
The Democrats also have electability problems. The difference is that their activist base doesn’t care about electability.
When asked to describe Democrats in Congress as an animal, almost all picked docile creatures, or as one man described them, animals that are “slow and arboreal.” When asked what kind of animal they wished Democrats would be, they chose “great white shark,” and “grizzly bear.” Another said she wanted them to be like a hyena, an animal that is “fast, aggressive, assertive, and gets what they want done.”
Overall, these voters were tired of what they perceived as Democrats getting rolled by the GOP. Biden, said one of these Democrats, is “way too trusting of McConnell and his ilk. I think he needs to fight fire with fire at some point.” Another member of that focus group concurred, saying that Republicans “stole a Supreme Court seat from Obama.”
That sure sounds like the same complaints coming from Republican activists. Are both sides right? Or are both sides wrong?