This election season there will be a lot of factors working in the GOP’s favor. The president is muddling through historically low job ratings. The electoral map has Democrats playing defense in a lot of conservative-leaning states. Voters, and independents in particular, are unhappy with the impact of Democrats’ prevailing policies, especially as they relate to Obamacare and foreign policy. And the national mood is just dour, in no small part due to the lagging economy.
But Republicans aren’t simply letting voters come to them. We have no desire to simply be the default pick for a voter who is tired of Democratic leadership. Instead, the GOP has actively recruited one of the best crops of Senate candidates in recent memory, if not ever. Fred Barnes writes for the Weekly Standard:
Strong candidates aren’t everything in elections. Money and the political landscape matter. And in a landslide, even poor candidates are swept into office. But as a rule, the better the candidates, the better the prospects for winning. This is especially true in national elections, where candidates get greater scrutiny.
What makes candidates “top-tier,” in the jargon of politics? They tend to be disciplined, quick-witted, have a credible message, don’t say absurd or unnecessarily provocative things, can raise money, and deal effectively with the media. It doesn’t hurt to be likeable, either.
The Republican Party has done that, not in just a few targeted races, but across the board.
“Back in the very beginning, I would’ve told you we had six good candidates in six states,” NRSC Chairman Jerry Moran told reporters in July. “Now, the number of races where Republicans could pick up seats from Democrats has expanded to somewhere in the range of 12 to 14 states.”
Here’s a brief look into just a few of the all-star candidates who voters will see on ballots this fall:
- Tom Cotton (Arkansas): He grew up working on an Arkansas farm, made his way to Harvard and ended up graduating from Harvard Law, was so moved by the 9/11 attacks that he joined the Army (not as a JAG officer, but as a volunteer for the infantry), led soldiers in combat in Iraq, volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan, served as an Old Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then worked for McKinsey & Company before deciding to return to public service. That’s not a resume, it’s a Dos Equis commercial. No wonder some are already calling him “the future of the party.”
- Cory Gardner (Colorado): He is a fifth-generation Coloradoan who grew up working in his family’s farm implement dealership. Like Cotton, Gardner excelled in school, graduating summa cum laude from Colorado State and earning his JD from the University of Colorado. Political analyst Stu Rothenberg described him as “an excellent candidate” whose sunny disposition “may well be the best GOP challenger in the country.” Gardner’s late-game decision to join the race caused the Washington Post’s Chris Cilliza to remark that “Colorado just went from nowhere to competitive in the space of the last 24 hours.”
- Bill Cassidy (Louisiana): A physician by trade, Cassidy helped found the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic to help provide uninsured Louisianans with free health care. Following Hurricane Katrina he also led an effort to turn an abandoned K-Mart into a facility to provide care to victims of the disaster. The guy is so good that on a recent flight to Washington (where he’s currently serves in the U.S. House of Representatives) he woke up from a nap to treat an unconscious passenger with an undetectable pulse, then landed just in time to vote. His background led the National Review to say that he “could literally be the candidate who takes back the Senate for the GOP.”
- Thom Tillis (North Carolina): A self-made man, Tillis graduated at the top of his high school class, but nevertheless decided to skip college and head straight to the workforce. He got his first job with Provident Insurance, then quickly rose up the professional ranks at Wang Laboratories (a leading computer hardware manufacturer) and PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he became partner. POLITICO has already called Tillis a “top-tier challenger,” a designation that incumbent Senator Kay Hagan must take seriously considering she’s already launched a $9.1 million TV blitz that led some analysts to say “she really is in trouble.”
This is a historically-good crop of candidates. Now we’ll see if it leads to historically-good results on Election Night. The opportunity is there. And groups like the College Republicans will be there to help seize it.