WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2013 — On November 6, 2012 the results came in: Mitt Romney had lost his campaign for the Presidency.
That night also revealed that Republicans had lost two US Senate seats. Only nine Republicans running for the US Senate received a higher percentage of the vote in their respective state than Romney received, even though he was campaigning nationwide. For example, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who won his senate seat, received a lower share of the vote in Texas than Mitt Romney.
This result occurred despite the fact that local candidates have the advantage of micro-targeting local issues and fashioning their message to better appeal to the idiosyncrasies of their state. Unlike Romney, these candidates did not have to be all things to all people nationwide, they did not have the burden of having to appeal to voters from such different states as New Hampshire and Nevada.
The extensive loss of Republican Senate candidates during the last Presidential cycle was not a single occurrence. In 2008, Republican Senate candidates received a higher percentage than the Party’s presidential candidate in 12 of the 33 races, 10 of 33 in 2004, and 16 of 34 races in 2000. Included in these numbers is John Thune’s (R-SD) election in 2004, when he scored a lower percentage but unseated a popular incumbent, and two races in 2000, under circumstances similar to Thune’s. That means for a decade, fewer than half of the Republicans running for the US Senate were able to outperform the top of their tickets running in their states.
The under performance of Republicans Senate candidates is not a problem the establishment can blame on Tea Party candidates, though they have accounted for some recent disappointing election results. However, this is a dual ideological and messaging problem for the GOP.
Often times, candidates running at the local level have the advantage of distancing themselves from the national party, rigid ideology, or prejudices about Republicans. Republican strategist Ray Riley, who has worked on campaigns in Brooklyn and Staten Island stated, “All politics is local and I’ll bet a lot of candidates did not do local outreach. I heard someone say this year that door-to-door is on its way back. I must have missed when it was on its way out.” It is that rebranding on the local level that has enabled Republican candidates to win in Brooklyn, Maine, Hoboken, and other areas Republicans were told to abandon decades ago.
That lack of local outreach and branding is how candidates who are well spoken, groomed and financed like Josh Mandel, the 2012 Republican Senate candidate from Ohio, lost. Mandel’s campaign never emphasized re-industrializing Ohio’s manufacturing base and reforming NAFTA, despite both positions being hugely popular in Ohio. Even though free trade is a popular Republican talking about, without a streak of populism and localism, Mandel lost every age group besides seniors, and every education level besides than recipients of Bachelor Degrees.
Republican candidates can start winning again in blue and purple states in Presidential years if they start to break away from the establishment’s cookie-cutter branding, while avoiding the foot-in-mouth disasters of Tea Party one-liners.
Tip O’Neil said, “All politics is local”; every city and town that marks up every district and state has its own individual quirks, traditions, and beliefs that would seem out of place anywhere else. Without tapping into Main Street populism and localism, Republicans will find themselves as a caricature of the rich rather than a voice for the people.
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