Senate Republicans Have A Candidate Quality Problem -- Again

Mitch McConnell

Sen. Mitch MConnell

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Republicans failed to retake the Senate in the 2022 midterms, owing in large part to what GOP leader Mitch McConnell had identified before the election as a “candidate quality” problem. The strategy of running millionaire candidates who could self-fund and were handpicked by Donald Trump was a bust.

So did Republicans learn from that? Of course not.

The Senate map for 2024 is much more favorable for Republicans than in 2022, but in key battleground states and those with Democratic incumbents, GOP candidates are already trailing. Their hopes of picking off a vulnerable Democrat or two are complicated by that pesky “quality” problem yet again.

That could be part of the reason why Democrats are romping over their GOP opponents in fundraising so far, a fact that led Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo to take National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines to task.

“Just about every Democrat running in competitive Senate races significantly outraised their GOP challenger in the first quarter of the year,” Bartiromo said. “And if things are going so well, how come you’re not keeping up with fundraising?”

Why indeed? Let’s take a look at those GOP candidates to figure it out.

Kari Lake, Arizona

Where to begin with Arizona’s Kari Lake? The former local news anchor and former Obama supporter turned ultra-MAGA conspiracy theorist and election denier is the GOP front-runner in the July 30 primary to replace independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. She has already secured the endorsement of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm and has been embraced by Republican Senate leaders.

Lake spent much of 2023 declaring herself Arizona’s “lawful governor,” refusing to accept defeat to Democrat Katie Hobbs in the state’s gubernatorial election even as she was declaring her run for the Senate seat. She took her case challenging the use of electronic voting machines all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was quickly dismissed.

Lake seems intent on self-sabotage, knowing that she has to at least make an effort to mend fences with the state’s establishment GOP and to appeal to moderates, but she’s quickly reverting to her old self by hanging out with white nationalists and tweeting paranoid musings that Hillary Clinton is plotting to kill her. She recently exhorted her supporters to “strap on a Glock” ahead of the 2024 elections because Democrats are “going to come after us with everything. That’s why the next six months is going to be intense.”

But nothing has been more damaging to Lake than her dizzying array of responses to the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling to reinstate an 1864 abortion ban. Back in 2022, she applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying she was “incredibly thrilled” that Arizona’s “great law that’s already on the books” could now be enforced.

Once the backlash to the decision kicked in, she wasn’t so keen on the old law.

“I oppose today's [state court] ruling,” she said, calling for state leaders to fix it.

Days later, she reversed her stance completely in an interview with a far-right media outlet in Idaho, bemoaning the fact that “the people running our state have said we're not going to enforce it.”

All of which is reportedly turning her from a Trump darling to a perceived liability. Multiple Trump insiders told The Washington Post last month that he’s worried that she’ll be a drag on his prospects for winning Arizona, and that she had been spending way too much time hanging around Mar-a-Lago.

Trump “gently suggested to Lake that she should leave the club and hit the campaign trail in Arizona, according to a person with direct knowledge of his comments,” the Post reported.

The GOP disillusionment with Lake isn’t limited to Trump. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly left Arizona off of his list of states where Trump has a chance of winning, Politico reports. The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, the primary GOP Senate super PAC, has begun making ad reservation buys in other states, but not Arizona.

At the end of last quarter, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona had more than doubled Lake’s fundraising, with $7.5 million to her $3.6 million. There couldn’t be a stronger contrast to Lake than Gallego, who has been unwavering in his progressive politics from his first run for Congress a decade ago.

Tim Sheehy, Montana

On paper, Tim Sheehy is a Republican dream candidate. He’s got loads and loads of his own money, with a net worth of as much as $200 million. He’s a former Navy Seal. He built the aerial firefighting company Bridger Aerospace from the ground up. He owns a cattle ranch and has scrambled his way to the top. In his telling of his story, anyway.

“We bought our land, and we lived in a tent, literally, for months, and we built the barn that we lived in for four and a half years. And it was like bootstrap central,” Sheehy said in a podcast last fall, discussing how he built his Montana empire.

Except that when he says he “bootstrapped” his way to success—”I didn’t get a government loan, didn’t get a government handout”—he’s stretching the truth. In his own memoir, Sheehy details the hundreds of thousands of dollars he got from his wealthy parents and his brother, a financier in New York. His brother also helped him secure a deal with the Wall Street firm Blackstone Inc. to fund the $200 million acquisition of another company to grow his fleet of firefighting planes.

What’s more, the majority of income for Bridger Aerospace comes from government contracts. Sheehy’s company also took a $774,300 Paycheck Protection Program loan during the coronavirus pandemic, which he didn’t have to repay. He might not have started his business without government help—except for a Veterans Administration loan—but he’s sure profited from it.

So, not so much a rags to riches story for Sheehy. How about his status as a decorated war hero? That’s where it gets weird. Did Sheehy get shot by friendly fire in Afghanistan and not report it, still carrying the bullet in that old wound? Or is the bullet there because he mishandled his handgun—a big no-no in Montana’s gun culture—and shot himself on a visit to Glacier National Park? It’s not entirely clear. What is clear is that he’s been telling conflicting stories about it, as Montana Democrats helpfully illustrate.

Some part of what he’s said has to be a lie, both with that particular bullet wound as well as the service-involved injuries that he claims led to his medical discharge from the Navy. Again, the source that is contradicting Sheehy’s story is Sheehy’s own autobiography.

In campaign events and interviews, he’s said he “got wounded and injured a handful of times, so eventually was medically discharged from the military.”

In his book, however, Sheehy described facing the prospects of working a desk job until he healed up and could return to active duty, and instead choosing to leave. He also wrote that he was disillusioned by Obama-era “social initiatives” in the military, and that he “hated … the military’s constriction of your life and your path.”

So he either left voluntarily because he was tired of it, or the Navy discharged him as a wounded warrior.

Okay, his own varying histories as a Navy Seal might be a bit problematic, but at least he’s a cattle rancher. That might give him some traction against third-generation Montana dirt farmer, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, right? Except for the part about how he’s one of the carpet-bagging millionaires who have flocked to Montana to gobble up huge tracts of land.

Sheehy spent his youth in a multimillion-dollar suburban lake house in Shoreview, Minnesota, which he used as his home address until 2016. So much for the story told to the Working Ranch Radio Podcast last fall about how he “grew up in rural Minnesota … in an old farmstead, and we were surrounded by farmland.”

That hollow appeal to rural Montana is not likely to paper over his potentially biggest sin. Sheehy’s Little Belt Cattle Company, which he has been expanding, contains prime elk-hunting ground that Montana hunters can’t access. Instead, he contracts with a hunting outfitter to bring in other super rich people on guided hunts that cost upward of $12,500 for five days. Not so much a ranch, then, as a wannabe cowboy fantasy island, complete with a gift shop.

Montana is a deep red state, where Trump won nearly 60 percent of the vote in 2020. But it’s also a place that demands authenticity and is particularly hostile to carpetbaggers. Daily Kos covered Tester’s first Senate campaign in 2006, when he was taking on powerful Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. Even though Burns had lived in Montana for 40 years—and been a senator for 18 of them—Montanans regularly talked about the fact that Burns was really from Missouri, and therefore not a Montanan at all.

A rhinestone cowboy from Minnesota who’s gobbling up Montana’s land and has a penchant for exaggerating the truth might have a rocky road from here to November.

David McCormick, Pennsylvania

Speaking of ultra-wealthy carpetbaggers, let’s talk about David McCormick. One would think that after 2022, when Pennsylvania rejected the millionaire transplant from New Jersey, Mehmet Oz, in favor of Democrat John Fetterman, the GOP would reconsider its approach to choosing candidates. Nope. Despite losing in the 2022 primary to Oz, McCormick is back, and so is his baggage.

After Oz lost, McCormick determined it was because the New Jersey millionaire is out of touch.

“People want to know that the person that they’re voting for ‘gets it,’” he said last spring. “And part of ‘getting it’ is understanding that you just didn’t come in yesterday.”

McCormick might be a Pennsylvanian by birth, but even now, in the midst of a second bid for the seat, the multimillionaire doesn’t live in the state, according to the Associated Press. In fact, he hadn’t voted in Pennsylvania for 16 years before his 2022 run.

Though he does own a $2.8 million home in Pittsburgh, he’s living in a rented mansion in Westport, Connecticut. The $16 million property, AP reports, “features a 1,500-bottle wine cellar, an elevator, and a ‘private waterfront resort’ overlooking Long Island Sound.”

That part of the state is known as the Gold Coast and has “one of the densest concentrations of wealth in America.”

McCormick also admits to conducting his campaign largely on the road.

“I am spending half my time with donors,” McCormick told students at the Tuck School of Business, according to audio obtained by the progressive news site Heartland Signal. “So, I’m everywhere across the country, mostly with really wealthy people, where you will all be in 20 years. Or many of you. And I also spend half my time in Pennsylvania, where the median income is $55-60K.”

While McCormick claims Pennsylvania native status, his personal history in the state has undergone some revisions, as Daily Kos Elections recently noted. In his first run in 2022, he claimed that he "started with nothing” as a Pennsylvania farm kid whose father was a humble teacher, a claim he reiterated this year in a tweet responding to a New York Times report about his privileged childhood.

Yes, there is a family farm, which has been rented out for the past few decades. But his father served as president of what's now Bloomsburg University and later became chancellor of higher education systems in both Pennsylvania and Minnesota. The family lived in the “president’s sprawling hilltop residence, which students called the president’s mansion,” the Times reported.

Today, McCormick and his wife Dina Powell, a former Trump administration official who had also been a partner at Goldman Sachs, have a combined net worth of between $61.6 and $183.6 million, according to the AP.

A good chunk of their millions can be attributed to McCormick’s tenure as the president and CEO of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, from 2009 to 2022. While serving as a treasury official in the George W. Bush administration, McCormick and Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio formed a cozy relationship as Dalio was setting himself up for a big win in the upcoming financial crisis, during which he made $780 million.

Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians lost their jobs and homes in that crisis, but McCormick landed nicely in his new gig at Bridgewater, which had healthy profits even while other funds were suffering significant losses.

“You look at it right now, there are still pension funds that have not gotten fully back. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of union members whose pensions were literally wiped out or were taken to the point where they’re still not back. People are still struggling from that day,” Darrin Kelly, President of the Allegheny/Fayette County Labor Council told The Keystone.

Democratic incumbent Bob Casey Jr. is making sure Pennsylvanians know this about McCormick.

“He doesn’t live in Pennsylvania. He lied about living in Pennsylvania. We know that, and he continues to try to make that case that he’s living here,” Casey told supporters in April. “So here’s a candidate who’s an out-of-state candidate being supported by out of state billionaires. We don’t want a senator like that.”

Eric Hovde, Wisconsin

This one is on Mitch McConnell, who handpicked multimillionaire bank owner Eric Hovde, another self-funder, to take on Democrat Tammy Baldwin in November. Wisconsin’s primary isn’t until August, but Hovde is clearly the front-runner, thanks in no small part to all of that money, as The Nation delineates.

Hovde is very rich. In addition to serving as chairman and CEO of Utah-based Sunwest Bank, which has at least $2.7 billion in assets, he’s the president and CEO of H. Bancorp, a holding company that hails itself as “a $2.9 billion multibank holding company providing banking solutions to small and middle market businesses across the United States.” He’s also the president and CEO of Hovde Capital Advisors, LLC, an asset management group, and president, CEO, and chief investment officer of Hovde Private Equity Advisors, LLC, a private equity firm. And he’s CEO of Hovde Properties, a real estate development company with a substantial portfolio of commercial and residential buildings.

Despite having been born and raised in Wisconsin, Hovde’s current home is actually in California—a $7 million oceanfront mansion in Laguna Beach where he has an easy commute to his bank offices for what he calls “my main business.” Wisconsin Democrats have had a lot of fun with that:

Beyond being a filthy rich Californian, Hovde has been having a hard time keeping his foot out of his mouth. For example, he proclaimed on a radio show in April that people in nursing homes shouldn’t be voting, which feeds on the debunked Trump election fraud conspiracy theory stemming from the 2020 election.

“Well, if you’re in a nursing home, you only have five, six months life expectancy. Almost nobody in a nursing home is at a point to vote, and you had … adult children showing up and saying, ‘who voted for my 85- or 90-year-old father or mother?’” Hovde said.

Given the opportunity to clear that gaffe up in a later interview, Hovde doubled down, while insisting that he never said elderly people shouldn’t be voting, but that they are “totally incapable.”

“They either have dementia or at the very end stage of their life, they’re not capable of voting … a large percentage of those people are not in that mental capacity to do that,” he said.

That’s a fine attitude for someone who owns an assisted living and memory care facility, also in California. Last month, The New York Timesreported that his Sunwest bank has been named a co-defendant in a lawsuit against the Claremont Hacienda in Los Angeles County. The suit brought by the family of a deceased resident alleges elder abuse, negligence, and wrongful death.

Sunwest Bank is identified in the suit as one of the “owners, officers, administrators, managers, and/or members” of the facility. It might be a tenuous connection to Hovde himself, but his attitude toward older voters makes it an issue.

It isn’t just the elderly Hovde has a history of insulting. In an unsuccessful primary Senate run in 2012, Hovde said that people living with obesity have made a “personal choice” and should face the “consequence” of paying more for their healthcare.

He also attacked single mothers and low-income people by saying that they’re responsible for a breakdown of the country “socially and morally,” arguing that providing economic support for these families has to end.

Lawmakers should “do everything we can to support the family unit, and we have to stop government policies that reward those that are having children out of wedlock and harming people that are having children in marriage,” he said in a 2012 debate.

In 2016, Hovde showed he’s an equal opportunity misanthrope by bashing both women and men, but still succeeded in being anachronistically sexist.

“Most of the country, sadly, doesn’t know what the heck is going on … I like to say, sadly, with females, they spend too much time with what’s going on in Hollywood,” he said. “And with males, they engross themselves too much with sports. And now it’s not just sports, it’s fantasy sports.”

With all of that in mind, it isn’t surprising that Hovde has a history of making antisemitic slurs and embracing antisemitic conspiracy theories, according to a May 19 report by the Israeli news outlet Haaretz.

The Wisconsin Independent followed up on that report, citing Hovde’s repeated use of the dog-whistle word “shyster” during a 2023 Republican Women of Dane County luncheon and his embrace of the Great Reset conspiracy theory that arose out of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called for countries to “act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions.”

“The Davos crowd, there’s no question they want the Great Reset,” Hovde has said about that conference. “They’re so blatant and open about it, they talk about it now. And they do believe that we want one central world government.”

“You know, people say, ‘Oh, that sounds [like a] conspiracy,’ [but] they’re very open about it and their whole views—and it’s a push toward socialism. It benefits the very elite in a global world order.”

In a 2020 article explaining the theory, the Anti-Defamation League said that “adherents warn that ‘global elites’ will use the pandemic to advance their interests and push forward a globalist plot to destroy American sovereignty and prosperity.”

“As is so often the case with conspiracy theories, one can find antisemitic sentiments in the Great Reset, with some believers going so far as to accuse Jews of orchestrating the plot or invoking George Soros and the Rothschild family,” the ADL explained.

At this rate, Hovde will have insulted just about every group of Wisconsin voters by the time the primary rolls around.

Meanwhile, Democrat Tammy Baldwin is handily outpacing Hovde in the money race. While he has plenty of his own money, he doesn’t have much in the way of appeal.

These are the marquee races the GOP is counting on to flip the Senate, with candidates chosen and favored by Trump and McConnell. Democrats can thank the gods for the favor of Republicans equating personal wealth with quality when it comes to vetting.

Keeping the Senate won’t be a cakewalk for Democrats in 2024, but this quartet of misfits will help.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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