With so much attention being paid to House redistricting and the ever evolving Republican presidential field, it is easy to lose sight of the 2012 Senate elections. Thankfully, The NY Times recently picked up the pace with an article titled "Feuding Hurts G.O.P.’s Hopes to Win Senate".
The article points out that in 2010 Republicans nominated Tea Party backed candidates in a number of states (Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada) when they were supposedly weaker general election candidates than their primary opponents. But is this hypothesis correct?
The answer is sorta. Yes, Delaware Republican voters threw away a near-perfect opportunity to pickup a Senate seat by nominating Tea Partier Christine O'Donnell over moderate Rep. Mike Castle.
It does not seem, however, that the nomination of Ken Buck in Colorado and Sharron Angle in Nevada cost Republican seats.
Colorado Republican voters passed over the more moderate Jane Norton. Yet, Norton actually was in a weaker standing in general election polls against Democrat Michael Bennet by the time Republican voters chose Buck.
She was also losing ground in the general election polls at the time of the primary.
Buck, on the other hand, lead in the vast majority of general election polls throughout 2010 (including polls taken during the final weeks of the campaign).
It is possible that Norton might have been a stronger general election candidate, but there is no sign that she would have been.
Sharron Angle in Nevada is the more interesting story. Yes, we can agree that she was such a weak candidate that she had to be hidden from the press by her handlers.
But who would have been a stronger general election candidate? The more moderate Sue Lowden? The same Sue Lowden who spoke about chicken exchanges in the healthcare business?
Like Norton, Lowden was in worse shape in general election polls than her Tea Party primary opponent, Sharron Angle, and was losing ground by the end of the primary season.
Angle lead in most general election polls leading up to the November election, only to have Democrat Harry Reid's turnout operation shock the political world.
I am certainly not claiming that primaries do not matter. Candidates can make a difference (though exactly how much is up for debate
), but the idea that Republican primary voters cost themselves three Senate seats in 2010 just is not supported by the facts.