Candidates matter

Interesting post from Tom Jensen at PPP about how the quality of candidates is affecting various Senate races, but perhaps not so much in House races.  My undergraduate mentor, Paul Gronke, wrote a book on the difference between House and Senate races, but I never read it, so I don’t really have too much expertise on the matter, but Jensen’s comments struck me as pretty compelling:

That’s a reminder that candidates matter- but they matter a lot more in Senate elections where voters really get to know them than in House elections that are much more likely to be determined by the national tide. We’ve seen time and again in Senate races this year that the better voters get to know the Republican candidates the less they like them. But unfortunately for Democrats I don’t know that voters ever get to know the House candidates well enough for that same effect to occur.

Jensen then goes on to present data showing how poor candidates are harming the GOP’s Senate campaigns in Connecticut, Nevada, and Colorado.   E.g.,

3) On our Nevada poll this weekend we asked just for the heck of it how folks would have voted if the Republican nominee had been Danny Tarkanian. He did 8 point better than Sharron Angle, most notably winning independent voters by 26 points when her advantage with them is only 8. Independents in Nevada want to vote against Harry Reid, but a lot of them consider him to be a lesser evil than Angle. But if Angle was a House candidate would she ever have been exposed to enough scrutiny to make voters realize they didn’t like her?

I think his conclusion is pretty spot-on– most House candidates just don’t get nearly the kind of scrutiny that Sharron Angle’s nuttiness has drawn in the spotlight of a Senate race:

If House candidates got the same level of exposure Senate ones do there are probably some races Democrats would win that they’re going to lose…but the simple reality is that they don’t and Democrats won’t benefit from candidate unforced errors the way they are on the Senate side.

Final, totally unrelated point.  The name Tarkanian, especially associated with Nevada, really resonates with any Duke basketball fan.  And, indeed, Danny Tarkanian is the son of Jerry (aka Tark the Shark), the infamous UNLV basketball coach.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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