Can the GOP win in 2014?

gop_climateCan the Republicans take the Senate next year? Yes, it is certainly possible. But, then, it was possible in 2010 and 2012, but the party flubbed some winnable seats. Lazy journalists have already proclaimed the reason why. It is because the GOP chose candidates who were too conservative to win states like Nevada, Delaware and Colorado in 2010 and Missouri and Indiana in 2012. If Republicans had only had the sense to choose moderate, mainstream, establishment candidates, it would have won all those states, and maybe one or two others, and have a minimum of 50 senators right now instead of 45.

This is an analysis based on cherry picking cases that suit a particular thesis. I can do it too: just watch me. The problem is that the GOP did not pick conservative enough candidates. Just look at what happened in Florida and Kentucky where Marco Rubio and Rand Paul defeated establishment moderates and went on to triumph at the polls. Maybe Kentucky – a very conservative state – is a bad example, but Florida is a swing state. And look too at Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – both light blue in color, certainly bluer than Colorado or Nevada, let alone Indiana – which elected Tea Party Republicans. By contrast, when Wisconsin selected the most moderate, mainstream and establishment candidate it could find for the 2012 election, he lost. 

Perhaps what is at issue is the quality of the candidates. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania was an experienced congressman running for Senate and Marco Rubio had been Speaker of the state assembly. On the other hand, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin were political novices, and while Paul was elected in an open seat in a conservative state, Johnson defeated an 18 year Democratic veteran in a light blue state. Maybe it is about quality, but quality is not merely a function of experience.

Nevada and Delaware were two states which Republicans were favored to win, but ultimately lost under poor candidates, both associated with the Tea Party. But even here the parallels are not precise. Nevada was an election against Senate Leader Harry Reid in a swing state. Delaware was an open race in a very, very, blue state. Reid has never been popular, but has always managed to scrape to narrow victories. A good candidate, in the environment of 2010, could probably have won. The actual candidate was very weak. In Delaware the candidate was also weak, but a good candidate could not have won that state. An outstanding candidate was required. Republicans were favored to win because an outstanding candidate was available – former governor and at-large congressman, Mike Castle. Top Democrats, like Beau Biden, chickened out of running against Castle. Insanely, primary electors rejected Castle. In Nevada the choice proved poor in retrospect. In Delaware, the decision to choose anyone other than Castle was obviously crazy at the time.

Can the GOP do a better job next time? Who knows? The formula is not as simple as ideologically motivated journalists imply. Chanting “Moderates good, Tea Party bad” is a reflex, not a strategy. Weeding out poor quality candidates probably requires a more demanding selection procedure, but the procedure is already time consuming and expensive. Reform might put off good people too.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at



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