Popularity gaps loom for GOP candidates Oz, Vance, Dixon and others

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A month ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said out loud what many Republicans undoubtedly felt. Indeed, the message was this: we have a chance for a good midterm election in 2022, but some of these Trump candidates could ruin everything for us.

At the time, there was evidence of a GOP nominee problem — particularly in the number of trailing polls of some key Senate candidates.

Today there are many more.

A surge in public polls at the end of the primary season bolsters McConnell’s view — and not just in the races he and others might have had in mind. While that doesn’t count the GOP on the potential to win the House and Senate and some key gubernatorial races, the candidates‘ popularity presents a significant and unnecessary obstacle in what should, historically speaking, be a good election for Republicans.

Where it’s perhaps most obvious: when looking at the image ratings for candidates – i.e. whether people view the candidate favorably or unfavorably.

The Washington Post reviewed more than 20 recent polls in the most competitive states in the 2020 presidential election, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And in most cases, the Trump-aligned candidates that observers have seen as potential liabilities in those states look exactly like that.

Often, polls show that voters in these states will be fairly evenly split on which party they want in power when presented as a generic choice — but they will then side with the specific, more popular Democrat.

Here are some big races where those popularity gaps could come into play in November.

The gap is perhaps most pronounced in Pennsylvania, where GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano have consistently trailed in the polls.

Oz was largely unpopular in the GOP primary, and he doesn’t seem to have improved his position too much. In three recent polls — from Mühlenberg College, CBS/YouGov and Monmouth University – the percentage of people who viewed it unfavorably was double digits higher than those who viewed it favorably. The Muhlenberg poll showed 29% of people liked him, while 53% disliked him. And the CBS/YouGov poll even shows that 36% of Trump voters do not like it.

Oz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), has lackluster approval numbers. But in every poll, Fetterman’s net preference (meaning positive opinions over negative opinions) is more than 20 points higher than Oz’s, which helps explain Fetterman’s consistent advantage in the racewhich sits about nine points shy of the FiveThirtyEight average.

The story is similar in the governor’s race, where Mastriano’s image ratings are about as bad as Oz’s; it’s also in double digits underwater in all three polls. (Monmouth, his best of three polls, puts him at 36% favorable and 48% unfavorable.) And thanks to his race against a Democrat more popular than Fetterman, State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the net image rating of Mastriano is constantly more than 30 points worse than his opponent.

Mastriano’s current average deficit is more than 10 points.

Perhaps the other two Senate races where this really comes into play are Ohio and Arizona.

Two recent polls show Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) scoring 12 and 20 points better than Republican JD Vance. One of them – of the Marist College – shows Democrats viewing Ryan favorably by a 76-point margin (79-3), but Republicans viewing Vance favorably by just a 45-point margin (58-13).

Ohio, unlike the other states we focus on here, is increasingly a red state. But for those reasons, it looks like a headache for the GOP to win a race that should be in its column. the race is neck and neck.

In Arizona, there are fewer quality public polls. But the clear preference of GOP nominee Blake Masters in a recent AARP Bipartisan Poll is minus-17 (37% in favor to 54% against), while Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) is marginally popular. In this poll and another, Masters’ clean image rating is about 20 points lower than Kelly’s.

A McConnell-linked super PAC pulled out of the race this week, rescinding $10 million in ad buys. Kelly driven by an average of 7.5 points.

Another candidate some have suggested could hurt the GOP is Kari Lake in the Arizona governor’s race. The evidence on this is less clear, and the race is poll tighter than Senate race. But the same AARP poll showed Lake 10 points under water (43% in favor to 53% against), while his opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, was marginally popular.

This popularity gap could also be significant in a few other races.

One is Michigan’s gubernatorial race, where Trump-backed Tudor Dixon was under double digits in two recent polls – including one EPIC-MRA survey this set his favorable rating at just 24% and his unfavorable rating at 44%. Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) remains popular with the majority approving of her professional performance. In both polls, her clean image rating is 28 points higher than Dixon’s, and she leads to two digits in the head-to-head match.

Another is the Wisconsin Senate race, where both a recent Siena College Poll and one Marquette Law School Survey showed less than 40 percent of voters as incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Sharp image ratings for Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes (D) are better by nine and 15 points. But the race is very tight.

In the Wisconsin governor’s race just as tightTrump-endorsed GOP nominee Tim Michels is less popular than Gov. Tony Evers (D) by similar margins.

Georgia and New Hampshire

In the final two races we’ll highlight, the gap is less pronounced – but still exists in ways that could matter.

Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker is consistently both underwater and less popular than Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), but the gap is usually between five and 10 points — which might help explain why it is don’t underperform as much like some of these other candidates, despite a very uneven campaign. (Walker, however, trails GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s performance in various polls. And the CBS/YouGov poll found a much larger gap that the candidates personally like.)

And in New Hampshire, incoming GOP nominee Don Bolduc is 17 points underwater in a new University of New Hampshire poll (26% favorable to 43% unfavorable), compared to Sen. Maggie Hassan’s (DN.H.) image rating minus nine. Hassan led in this poll by eight points and led Bolduc in all the polls.

One thing we’ve alluded to – and which you’ll notice if you dig into these polls – is that these popularity gaps are often bigger than the margins in head-to-head matchups. And there is a main reason for this: partisanship.

As the Post’s Philip Bump recently wrote, the CBS/YouGov poll showed Fetterman leading Oz on several key issues when it comes to voter decisions, often by double digits. Still, Fetterman led by just five points on the ballot. This is because the party often trumps voter decisions.

Even more telling: The same pollster showed that in Pennsylvania and Georgia, a majority of people supporting the Democrat said they did so primarily because they liked their candidate. But 8 in 10 Republican supporters said their vote was mostly about support their party Where vote against the other candidate.

That’s no doubt partly because these Republican candidates aren’t exactly setting the campaign on fire. But those numbers also show that the number of voters who like a particular candidate isn’t their only consideration at the polls — and often, it isn’t the most important either.

Indeed, what these polls suggest is that if Republicans can win in these states — and by extension win the Senate — it will be largely because of a supportive environment and the pervasive lure of partisanship.

And it will apparently be in spite of some of the candidates they have presented.

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