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OPINION
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About That 'Candidate Quality' Stuff...

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All the geniuses in Washington, DC (you know, the ones who keep telling us that we have to come to terms with an amnesty plan for millions of illegal immigrants and we should stop complaining about Drag Queen Story Hour for 6-year-olds) have assured me that the reason the Republicans are looking at a 51-49 seat Senate minority right now is because of "candidate quality." 

"Candidate quality matters," they keep telling Republicans while they prepare their special one-hour report on the swearing-in of *checks notes* Senator John Fetterman.

Yeah... Republicans should be chagrined that Mehmet Oz, Herschel Walker, and Kari Lake lost because they were first-time candidates who relied on star power to win their elections and weren't high-quality, brilliant statesmen like John Freaking Fetterman. 

Spare me. 

Don't tell me candidate quality matters when John Fetterman is squeezing his lurch-like frame into a Brooks Brothers suit so he can call himself a senator. 

The whole "candidate quality matters" meme is meant to be a back-handed attack on Donald Trump and his choices in the Republican primaries that led to Walker, Oz, and Lake winning their races' nominations. The entire narrative is nothing more than establishment types in the party and the media once again shedding doubt on Trump's ability to lead his party to victory. 

But, instead of coming right out and saying it, they just stick with the weasel words "candidate quality matters," all the while staring at the ceiling when someone points out that the mealy-mouthed up-talker Katie Hobbs sounds like an ill-informed teenager and refused to campaign or even debate her opponent. 

Yeah, Hobbs is a real quality candidate, that's for sure. 

No, you shouldn't buy into this tired talking point for very long. It's not genuine, and it comes from people who didn't really want those candidates to win in the first place. 

However, if we don't take a good look at these races and why our candidates didn't do as well as we had hoped, we aren't really doing our job. And there may be some validity to examining the trend of these first-time, celebrity candidates and what flaws they brought to the table in their campaigns. They weren't perfect candidates, and there are legitimate reasons why they lost. 

And, before you even say it, I know... you don't think Kari Lake really lost that race. I get it. But she will not be sworn in as governor, and even if she lost because of Maricopa shenanigans, the cheating would not have worked if the race weren't so close. So, why was it so close?

To examine this properly, let's add one more name to the list of first-time candidates: J.D. Vance, the senator-elect from Ohio. We could also add Don Buldoc of New Hampshire (NH) to the list of first-time candidates running statewide, but the NH race was never really seen as being in the grasp of a Republican candidate; Vance, Walker, Lake, and Oz's races were.  

In fact, those three candidates should have won. Not only were these states that have recently elected Republicans statewide, but (with the exception of Ohio) the Democrats nominated flawed candidates in opposition to the Republicans. These were races that were completely winnable... with the right candidates. 

Ironically, Vance's victory in Ohio over Rep. Tim Ryan is even more impressive, considering Ryan has been in office in that state for years, had a well-funded and well-tested political operation, and Vance was a political novice. 

So, why did he win while Oz, Lake, and Walker lost? 

Let's answer that question with a question. Ask yourself, what did Herschel Walker stand for in Georgia? What was Mehmet Oz's overriding message in Pennsylvania? What did Kari Lake demonstrate as her number one strength in Arizona? 

I watched these races with keen interest, and here are my answers. 

With Walker... I couldn't tell you. Seriously. Other than being a famous football player and not a Democrat, I have no idea what Walker told Georgians he would do for them as a senator. Other than caucus with Republicans, which in my book should be enough, but for most voters, not so much. 

Oz's overriding message in the campaign was that he was Dr. Oz. And Fetterman couldn't be trusted because... well... you know... *wink*. In the final weeks, most of the buzz in Pennsylvania was about Fetterman's mental capacity and not about the great ideas, principles, and values Oz would bring to the Senate on behalf of Pennsylvanians. He never really made the case for himself, just the case against Fetterman.

And with Lake, there's no doubt she is a gifted communicator and campaigner. But the biggest takeaway from her campaign was that she would fight against the media. How does that help the average Arizonan trying to pay for gas? 

Now, look at Vance. He was also a political neophyte, but he's spent the last several years communicating about the plight of Americans who have been harmed by the economic neglect of Washington, DC. He's been in touch with the devastation so clearly delineated in his "Hillbilly Elegy" book and movie. He was able to empathize with voters and tell them that he planned to go to Washington and fix the problems that were hurting Ohioans. 

Candidate quality was not the issue, candidate message was. 

I have no doubt that Walker, Oz, and Lake could've communicated about relevant issues that mattered to the voters of their states, but no one ever bothered to lay out for them that this should be a priority. 

They won their respective nominations on their star power, and then when it came time to assemble a cohesive message for the general election, they seemed lost. Is that their fault? Probably. But, it's also the fault of the party elders and party infrastructure. 

Fetterman was shepherded along by party elders who prioritized his race, and Oz was left on his own because his party refused to coalesce around him. Ditto in Georgia. The party establishment may have spent money on ads attacking Raphael Warnock but not on the basic blocking and tackling needed to convey to Georgians what Walker would do for them as their senator. 

Does candidate quality matter? Sure. So does candidate messaging, candidate priorities, and candidate support. 

And ultimately, if the voters think all you have going for you is your name recognition, your star power, your Heisman trophy, and your ability to debate a cable news anchor, they might not feel completely motivated to give you the gift of their vote. 

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