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The 2022 GOP candidate problem: Polls show no runaway winners

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On Thursday, Philip Bump of the Post noted a rather interesting trend in the polls for the 2022 election: Despite President Biden’s continued decline in the polls, voters aren’t necessarily punishing the Democratic Party as a whole for it.

Republicans are still favored to clinch seats and likely take over both houses of Congress, given the very small gains needed to do so. But dwindling opinions of Biden have not translated into further dwindling Democrat hopes — at least as much as one might expect or as much as they have in previous elections when presidents are fallen into disgrace.

But there’s another aspect worth pointing out: In several races that Republicans are likely to win in a good year for them, their candidates are also lagging behind this national environment. The so-called “generic vote” hasn’t shifted as much toward Republicans as one might expect, and Republicans are also underperforming than generic voting in swing states that should top the list of GOP takeover. Polls suggest it could even jeopardize some states that should be sure things for the GOP.

Many of these states are ones that have often been spotlighted for their baggage-laden and extreme GOP candidates.

AARP came out with a pair of new bipartisan polls in the crucial states of Georgia and Pennsylvania. Both narrowly went for Biden in 2020 and would be the kind of states Republicans should win in a good year. But the GOP Senate candidates — Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker — aren’t winning.

In Georgia, the generic ballot — i.e. would you prefer a generic Republican or a generic Democrat for Congress — shows the GOP at 48% and the Democrats at 45%. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) also leads his re-election bid by seven points, 52-45.

But in the Senate race, Walker is trailing Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) 47-44. A plus-7 in the Governor’s race and a plus-3 on the generic ballot becomes a minus-3 in the Senate race.

A Quinnipiac University poll two weeks ago showed much the same gap: Kemp deadlocked in his run, but Walker trailing by 10 points.

Both polls were conducted after a series of revelations that Walker fathered children he had not publicly acknowledged.

The AARP Pennsylvania poll also shows that Oz is lagging where you might expect it to be. The wildcard ballot favors Republicans by two points, but Oz trails Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) by six. A big reason seems to be Oz’s image rating, with a 2-to-1 negative: 30% favorable vs. 63% unfavorable.

Oz also trailed by nine points in a poll last month. In both polls, he even trailed GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, whose extreme has led Republicans to suggest they may not support him in the fall.

The evidence is more limited in other breeds, but it’s certainly worth watching.

In red-leaning Ohio, there are few high-quality polls. But most polls show a surprisingly tight Senate race between Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan and GOP nominee JD Vance. It’s good that it’s the kind of state that should be a slam dunk for the GOP in a good year. As in Georgia, a poll last month showed the GOP Senate candidate severely underperforming the top of the ticket: Gov. Mike DeWine (R) was plus-15, but Vance was just plus-3.

Walker, Oz and Vance have each been endorsed by Donald Trump.

One place Trump has yet to make an endorsement is Missouri, which is another potential minefield for the GOP. The primary isn’t settled there, but the limited — and admittedly somewhat dated — polls we have show former Gov. Eric Greitens doing significantly worse in the general election than his main GOP opponents, the prosecutor. General Eric Schmitt and Representative Vicky Hartzler. Like Ohio, it’s entirely possible that Greitens could still win in a former red-leaning swing state, but his nomination could create a major headache in a state that shouldn’t have to be defended. (Trump attacked Hartzler last week and praised Greitens, suggesting he could still get involved.)

Two other states worth watching are a few other swing states to the west: Arizona and Nevada.

In Arizona, the GOP primary, like in Missouri, is highly up in the air — for both governor and Senate. Trump endorsed Kari Lake in the gubernatorial race and Blake Masters in the Senate race. But the limited polls we have suggest both are doing slightly – although very slightly – worse in general elections. (Establishment types, including Gov. Doug Ducey, are rallying behind Lake’s chief opponent, Karrin Taylor Robson, in part because of fears about Lake’s performance in November.)

And in Nevada, a poll this week showed Trump leading by three points in a rematch with President Biden in 2024, but former state attorney general Adam Laxalt (R) trailed incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto ( D-Nev.) By three points. Laxalt has been among the biggest promoters of Trump’s bogus stolen election claims.

In the 2018 gubernatorial race, Laxalt faced similar deficits but remained competitive in what was an exceptionally good year for Democrats. It is therefore not clear that he could be the responsibility of some of these other candidates.

In virtually all of those states, Biden is well under water, but that has yet to translate to those Republicans performing as one might expect — or even a lead in those swing states. Once we get more and better data and as we get closer to November, we’ll see if it holds up.

The trend in recent years has been for short-ballot races to reflect the national environment quite closely. But not so long ago, extreme Republicans jeopardized very winnable races, particularly for the Senate. And Republicans in 2020 actually won House seats despite losing the presidential race, suggesting the candidates — in this case, Trump himself — may still matter.

Republicans look set to retest the importance of candidates in some of those races in 2022.

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