From D.C. WATER COOLER:
This year should be a blowout for Republicans. 2010 is a year when voter dissatisfaction is extreme, high unemployment lingers, and Republican turnout is expected to be strong. Yet one group of Republican candidates is performing poorly in races from coast to coast. Why did Republicans choose such a weak bunch of women?
Arguably, deep pocket millionaires like Linda McMahon, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman chose themselves by tapping piles of personal cash to wage bitter, expensive primary campaigns. But that doesn’t account for Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. These grand dames of the lower middle class won largely unfunded – and unexpected – primary victories.
Though neither Angle nor O’Donnell was the party’s first choice, both were seen by voters as most consistent with the party’s platforms and pronouncements. In other words, Republican primary voters saw two women who spoke Republican and they chose them over candidates who could cruise to general election victories. The party became victim to its own hyperbolic rhetoric.
In O’Donnell’s case, her weakness is that she has a long history as a youth spokesperson for the ideas of old farts. As a teenager, she got seduced into playing the Pat Buchanan role – I’ll oppose anything you want, for airtime – to appear on Bill Maher’s old show. It was her pinnacle and like other child stars she’s still playing the role, never realizing that she was cast to make your jaw drop, not for her wit.
Next up, Linda McMahon. She’s co-owner (with her husband) of World Wrestling Entertainment, the fake-wrestling show popular with teenage boys and high school dropouts. McMahon should have had the easiest race, but she never caught fire, despite spending tons of personal cash. Her opponent, Richard Blumenthal had claimed he’d served in Vietnam when he’d only served during Vietnam. It should have killed his campaign. But McMahon undid that herself. Most recently, she was caught lying about whether her fake-wrestling empire used the same Washington lobbyists she’d blamed for everything.
Heading out west, the strongest of the candidates is also the craziest. Nevada’s senate race also should have been a cakewalk. Harry Reid had some of the highest unfavorables in the nation. But Republicans apparently visited the bar before visiting the primary, and chose Angle over a sure (and woman) winner.
Angle’s latest gaffe was being taped talking like a Washington insider, promising favors and access to an opponent if he’d drop out of the race. She claimed she could open doors and named insider names, which didn’t quite fit her outsider appeal. Voters may ultimately elect Angle because they hate Reid so much, but maybe not. Nevadans are prepared to elect a boob over Harry, but they won’t pull the lever for a boob who is also a hypocrite.
Lastly, we have the tech-boom, rich-ladies of California, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. Recently, I described Whitman’s strategy as treating the race like an eBay auction. She’s spent $140 million on her campaign, attempting to win by outbidding everyone else.
What seems to be sealing her coffin is the story of her nine year employment of an undocumented maid. The revelation resonates for its hypocrisy – she’s played the illegal immigrant card once too often – and because it seems to reinforce an image of heartlessness that’s always dogged her. That started at eBay when she punched an employee (and had to pay a big settlement.)
Carly Fiorina, is running on a platform of obfuscation, pretending up is down. She casts her time as CEO of HP as evidence that she’s a highly competent manager who is ready to lead. In truth, she failed at HP and was fired.
Why are these women losing? Mostly because of whom they are and what they have done. They all arrive with baggage and broomsticks. (Sorry.) Another thing they have in common is that each thought they could play from the Sarah Palin playbook and – by controlling media access – could prevent their images from being tarnished by their realities.
Weak candidates such as these can make a big splash in the rhetoric-heavy, turnout-light Republican primaries. The Republican faithful have always been more concerned with what they hear than whether it was true. But these women can’t appeal to an audience that is willing to look behind the curtain.