I was as excited as the next Republican at David Jolly's big win in Florida's special congressional election last week. I said then, and maintain now, that it is a sign of good things to come for the GOP in November's midterm election. It's quite possible that we are building to another "wave" election equal to the one in 2010. Certainly Democrats are in an absolute panic over the prospect.
But panic or no panic Dems still hold a tactical advantage that could blunt the wave this November, just as they blunted it in 2010. Had the GOP done a better job of candidate selection and adapting to Dem tactics we might have taken control of the Senate two years ago. I believe we will take control of the Senate this time around but I also believe we need to take as many seats as possible so we have the strongest team to counter Obama in his last years in office.
There are two key factors in maximizing our advantage in 2014. Both are being addressed to varying degrees overall and in the key states where gains are most likely to be found. But, and it's a BIG BUT, I don't believe the GOP has gone far enough and unfortunately we still find ourselves handicapped by Democrat generated media narratives which tell the GOP the only way to win is to pander to minorities and avoid nominating true conservatives.
Tea Party vs. Establishment GOP: Finding the Balance
In 2010 the Tea Party helped to nominate conservatives like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. She had no chance to win in Delaware and instead a Democrat who was far more liberal than Mike Castle, O'Donnell's establishment GOP challenger, won the seat. If Castle had been nominated instead the GOP would have won the seat and we would be one more vote closer to unseating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The lesson for the Tea Party in 2014 has to be that we return to the "Buckley Rule" and nominate the most conservative candidate who can win in a particular state or district. In 2012 both Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana lost Senate races that would otherwise have gone GOP had the nominee been less flawed and more moderate in their conservative views.
The Establishment GOP doesn't always pick the winner either. Do you remember when the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC) backed Charlie Crist in Florida over Marco Rubio, the Tea Party favorite? Crist was a poor candidate who later changed parties and is now running for governor of Florida again as a Democrat. Let's not forget that the NRSC threw away $8 million in California in a vain attempt to support Carly Fiorina's attempt to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer. Establishment GOP committees have every right to promote candidates they think will do best, but they should avoid picking fights with qualified Tea Party candidates and need to be better at sharing resources with ALL candidates.
Mechanics of Turnout Key to Winning Close Races
There were a handful of races in 2010 that the GOP could have won even with imperfect Tea Party candidates (is there ever a perfect candidate?). Most especially in Nevada where Sharon Angle and Colorado where Ken Buck had narrow leads in most polls before election day. Democrats used a well developed network of progressive and union activists to overcome that advantage and win (1,2). Obama, who was in big trouble in 2011, developed the same ground game in 2012 spending a great deal more than Romney did in field operations in the key states he needed to win.
Banking early votes and absentee ballots are critical to Dem's success. In the Florida special election Democrat Alex Sink beat Jolly in absentee votes. What handed Jolly the win was the turnout on election day. That was the wave effect and it worked in this case. However, Democrats will double down on their early voting efforts and in races where the GOP wave is not so pronounced, they may prevail.
With the Florida win Republican operatives are bragging about the GOP's new high tech turnout tools. I hope they are right. Since 2006 the GOP has been at a technological disadvantage and been forced to rely on the hope and prayer that the base will come out on election day. Sometimes the base does. Sometimes it doesn't. Adapting to the new reality of banking early and absentee votes improves GOP chances. A cautionary note. As the GOP plays catchup, the Dems are working on even better turnout tools.
Maximizing the effects of any 2014 GOP wave will require new techniques to capture the GOP vote which may not make it to the polls on election day. I hope the GOP has finally learned it's lesson and is working overtime to implement more effective ground game strategies!