Romney's Negative Coattails

Former governor Mitt Romney’s serial gaffes seem to be doing cumulative damage not just to his own campaign, but to Senate and even House races.

In the days since Romney’s clumsy attempt to make political gain from the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Politico’s piece revealing ineptitude and finger-pointing at the Republican National Convention, and the leak of the infamous “47-Percent” video, Democratic Senate candidates in most contested seats have opened up leads, according to usually trustworthy polls.

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren is up by six points over Scott Brown. Tim Kaine leads George Allen by seven or eight points in Virginia. Tammy Baldwin is at least even with Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin. And in Florida and Ohio, incumbents Ben Nelson and Sherrod Brown have benefitted from the swing of support to Obama and are holding solid leads.

Once long shot Democratic senate candidates in Missouri and North Dakota now seem competitive, partly due to local gaffes by their opponents, but are also gaining from Obama’s recent surge.

History surely suggests the existence of positive and negative coattails, and in both parties.

In 1980, when Jimmy Carter faltered against Ronald Reagan, Democrats lost 12 senate seats and control of the upper chamber.

In 1964, when Barry Goldwater was seen as extremist, Democrats gained their largest share of House and Senate seats since the New Deal.

And in 1948, when Republican Thomas Dewey ran a dismal campaign against the sure loser Harry Truman, not only did Truman win but Democrats picked up record numbers of House and Senate seats and took back Congress from the GOP.

Many political scientists, however, say something has changed about the American electorate. More voters today seem to be ticket splitters, and some seem to like divided government (though they tell pollsters that they detest the deadlock that results.)

One standard model, based on such factors as the economy, anticipated turnout, presidential approval, projects that Democrats will pick up only one House seat.

Statistically, Romney has been running about even with the “generic” GOP candidate—reflecting the voters’ partisan predisposition. But the fact that Democratic senate candidates in state after state are surging in the wake of Romney blunders can hardly be a coincidence.

At some point, surely, a clumsy candidate such as Romney has to damage not only his own chances, but those of his party. One piece of fallout from the continuing Romney blunders is that many Republicans feel the need to distance themselves from him, contributing to the sense of Republican disarray.

Unless Mitt gets a character transplant, and fast, he is likely to damage the Republican ticket from top to bottom.

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