The GOP has a lot of work to do if the party hopes to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate come 2018. After all, to get to the magic 60 they’ll have to keep every seat they already have, in addition to flipping nine of the 26 seats currently held by Democrats or those who caucus with them.
Conservatives are focusing intently on the 10 blue seats held in states that President Donald Trump won in the 2016 election. But how they campaign for those seats appears to vary based on the gender of the incumbent. And, interestingly, Republicans seem to be coming up with a cookie-cutter approach to opposing Democratic women.
The question is, will this strategy work — or will it blow up in their faces?
Of the nine Democratic female Senate candidates up for reelection, the three most vulnerable are Missouri Sen. Claire McGaskill, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heidkamp and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin. The GOP struggled to find anyone to run against Heidkamp, eventually settling on the semi-problematic Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer, hoping his name recognition will help out in the end.
Meanwhile, both McGaskill and Baldwin face primary frontrunners that look very similar. Both are GOP prospects are young, male, white and backed by very serious big money, despite their lack of political experience.
Wisconsin Republican Kevin Nicholson has mostly cleared out his path to the Republican Senate nomination in Wisconsin. Even without any political experience, this Marine Corps veteran and former Democrat is so far polling far ahead of Leah Vukmir, a GOP state senator with a decade in the legislature.
The key to the Nicholson’s steamroller over his opponent? Massive spending from outside the state. So far, most of that money has come from one Illinois businessman who has made Nicholson his latest “investment”: Richard Uihlein of Illinois.
But Uihlein is just one of the national interests throwing money at this Wisconsin race before the actual candidates have even been chosen. Meanwhile, the GOP gave the party endorsement to Vukmir, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping Nicholson’s momentum as the August primary approaches.
National Republicans consider Nicholson a potential “perfect candidate.” He’s conservative, a Harvard grad, Washington outsider, veteran — and white. That’s a similar argument being made for Missouri’s Josh Hawley, who has been tapped as the one to challenge McGaskill.
Too bad he’s blowing it.
Star-struck Senate Republican leaders anointed the 38-year-old, Stanford- and Yale- educated state attorney general as their top recruit of 2018 — a squeaky-clean figure they saw as the future of the party and an ideal opponent to take on the endangered Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill. Yet as the campaign season kicks into high gear, many Republicans worry that Hawley — who openly admits he had no intention of running for Senate until he was pressured into it — is squandering his shot.
Republicans in the state appear angry that their “golden boy” isn’t putting in the work they deem necessary to bring them home a flipped seat. Instead of hitting conservative radio stations and rallying with local leaders, Hawley’s been drinking wine and hitting the gym.
Hawley is currently trailing behind McGaskill by about four points in polling, and his refusal to do the interviews and glad-handing that could bring his numbers up have party leaders incensed. Then again, maybe avoiding the limelight is really Hawley’s campaign strategy — and a good one, too.
After all, it was during media interviews that McGaskill’s last challenger made his “legitimate rape” comment that easily lost him the 2012 election. No interviews means no “gotcha” moment to sink his campaign.
Tapping “golden boys” to clear the women out of the Senate is exactly the sort of strategy you’d expect from leaders on the right. That it very well might squander their chance at a filibuster-proof Senate? Well, that’s karma for you.