Unlike Florida and Georgia where Democrats went to extraordinary lengths to win Senate and gubernatorial races, the Senate race in Arizona was over after Republican Martha McSally conceded to her Democratic rival, Krysten Sinema without the drama in those other two states. To be sure, Sinema is a whack job who has appeared at anti-war protests dressed in a pink tutu, dissed Arizona by referring to it as the “meth lab of democracy,” and passing herself off as a moderate when she is, in fact, far to the Left. Yet, she won despite the negative publicity that hit her campaign late in the effort. So, what went wrong? There are a few theories floating around out there.
The first is that fraud was committed. Although there likely was some fraud involved (a Democrat won), it also is unlikely there was enough fraud to have made a difference. Unlike the situation in Florida where new ballots were mysteriously appearing out of the air in two counties (that happen to be Democratic strongholds), in Arizona about 200,000 absentee and early voting ballots not counted by Election Day, which were fully accounted for, made the difference. It is estimated that 120,000 of those ballots came out of Maricopa county which should have been McSally territory. Absent those ballots, an overlay of the McSally map with that of GOP Governor Doug Ducey- who easily won reelection- tells a far different story. Either there was a large amount of ticket splitting, or voters in certain areas- particularly Republicans overall and especially in Maricopa county- voted for Ducey and neither McSally nor Sinema. There are also exit polls showing that Flake supporters crossed party lines in this election.
We kind of see the same phenomena in Texas and Ohio where there were competitive Senate races to some degree and a gubernatorial race. In Texas, Greg Abbott ran about 7 points higher than Ted Cruz while in Ohio, Mike DeWine ran 8 points better than Jim Renacci. Abbott and DeWine closed the deals and while Ted Cruz won, it was a narrow victory and Renacci lost outright.
A second theory is ideology, specifically that McSally was not conservative enough. Compared to her primary opponents- Kelli Ward and Joe Arapaio- she certainly was more moderate than they. Discounting Arapaio, however, had Ward won the primary, she would have lost on Election night by about 200,000 outright and we would not even be talking about uncounted ballots which swung the election to Sinema over McSally. Besides, if we look at the Texas Senate race, Ted Cruz is perhaps the most conservative Senator. Yet, he had trouble against a goofball like O’Rourke. Matt Rosendale in Montana was certainly far to the right of Jon Tester, the Democratic opponent (and to the right of McSally) and he too lost. So ideology or how conservative a candidate is probably played some, but a minimal role in the Arizona outcome.
A third theory is that the national GOP did not support McSally. Actually, the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee threw over $6 million into the race. She had a huge influx of conservative PAC money and although Sinema was well-funded, money was not the issue.
Instead, the most plausible explanation may come down to personality. According to many reports, McSally was a huge turn off to many Arizona moderate Republicans. What may have been the impetus is that McSally represented the type of GOP candidate that checks off certain boxes. As they should have learned from 2016, Republicans may be looking beyond the candidate that checks certain boxes.
Specifically, for too long the Republican Party has listened to their consultant class. They need to cease relying on the likes of people like Cheri Jacobs, Steve Schmidt, and Mike Murphy (all of whom are proven losers, by the way). And further, the problem is not the voters. In Texas, we found that Abbott made gains with the black community while maintaining his high numbers with the Hispanic community.
And this is what that consultant class lectures us with: how we have to pander to the Hispanic or black community, how we have to sacrifice principles to curry the favor of gays, etc. What business trashes its own customers? What business insists their customers are “stupid” or “ill-advised” for not wanting to buy their product? And for that, I am looking at the NeverTrump crowd.
The product itself is vastly superior to the alternative competition out there- liberalism. Obviously, conservatives are better on the issues since liberals fail to debate on the issues.
What the GOP needs is honest and authentic messaging, even if it is crass and bold at times, and candidates who will not stand down. Most reports indicate that McSally ran mainly negative ads. Many people failed to get to know who Martha McSally was. And this is potentially troublesome for another reason.
While fully supportive of the attack ad, defining the opponent without defining yourself has its drawbacks. What the GOP needs is NOT candidates who check off the demographic boxes, but those who check off the conservative ideological boxes.
And once that is achieved, the candidate must create a message that resonates with voters by showing them, on an individual (not demographic group) level how those conservative policies and principles improve their lives. As stated earlier, the product of conservatism is vastly superior to that of liberalism. If a candidate is not willing to accept that fact and fight for it with all their heart, then they do not deserve to be a candidate in the first place.
This writer has no doubt that on a comparative basis, Martha McSally was and is more conservative than Krysten Sinema. The big question is whether the messenger was the right one.