GOP Must Learn There Is No Single Formula to Winning Seats

The Republican Party can find victory by supporting the right candidates in the right states.

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Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., celebrates winning re-election to West Virginia's Second Congressional District Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 in Charleston, W.Va.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito celebrates winning re-election to West Virginia's Second Congressional District in 2008 in Charleston, W.Va.

To hear Barney Keller tell it, Nothing is better than Something.

Keller is a spokesman for the Club For Growth, a once-prominent conservative group that continues to pronounce on the worthiness—or lack thereof—of various candidates for public office. Recently, he weighed in on the potential candidacy of Shelley Moore Capito for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

"We have no idea if there will be any other candidate in this race, and that is not the point," Keller said. "Our point is simply that the formula of party bosses picking big-government Republican nominees has not proven successful."

'Tis true to some extent. Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana and Rep. Rick Berg in North Dakota, both establishment candidates in what should be reliably red states, went down on November 6. So did former Sen. George Allen in Virginia, Rep. Connie Mack in Florida, former Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin—all favored by party leaders, all thought to be reliably removed from the party's fringe.

But they weren't the only Republicans to lose this cycle. Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri blew a near-certain victory with his comments on abortion. Richard Mourdock in Indiana did much the same thing with a gaffe on the exact same topic. Neither were Tea Party candidates per se—Akin fought off two further-right challengers in his primary and Mourdock was a popular state treasurer before his Senate run.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

And in 2010, the Republicans kicked away two other near-certain victories when they nominated Christine O'Donnell, a Tea Party favorite, over former congressman and governor, Mike Castle, and Sharron Angle, an anti-immigrant crusader in immigrant-heavy Nevada, over two more centrist candidates.

The point is neither "side" in this contest—not the Club For Growth/Senate Conservatives Fund faction, nor the Young Guns and others who favor more centrist candidates—can lay exclusive claim to the "winning formula." And that's because the winning formula varies from state to state and from candidate to candidate.

Shelley Moore Capito would not make a good candidate for Mississippi or Louisiana. But she is not running from those states. She is running in West Virginia, where coal is still king, private-sector unions are still relatively strong, and a tradition of voting for Democrats for the Senate is still very much alive. Sen. Joe Manchin may be the Senate's most conservative Democrat, but he is a Democrat, and he replaced another Democrat, Robert Byrd, who was the longest-serving senator in history. The man she is running to replace—Democrat Jay Rockefeller—has served nearly 30 years.

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Her formula for victory is tried and true … for West Virginia.

It's time we remember that the most important vote a senator casts is the first vote of the session—for majority leader. If conservatives care about saving the country, rather than electoral purity, they need to identify the candidates in each state with the winning formula for that state.

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We have a president who wants to turn America into his personal experiment in socialism … and a national media that cheers him on. We have a House that stands strong against him … most of the time. We have a Senate now sufficiently dysfunctional to blunt the work of each.

Nothing does not beat Something. And, in West Virginia, where name-recognition is key, where a Republican who has it—she is the daughter of a former governor and just won re-election to one of the state's three congressional districts with 70 percent of the vote—is in the field, conservatives need to drop the friendly fire and go ahead and win one for a change.

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