Have to say one thing for the Republicans: they certainly are interesting, at least for party scholars. I don't think they've achieved and O'Donnell-sized fiascos this time around, but there sure are a lot of states in which they aren't getting the nominee that a seat-maximizing strategist would have selected at the beginning of the cycle. It's easier to find the states where they did that -- Lingle in Hawaii, Wilson in New Mexico, Rehberg in Montana, probably Berg in North Dakota even though his polling is disappointing for now -- than the ones they didn't, which is basically everywhere else. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Nebraska -- sure, they'll almost certainly win in Nebraska and probably in Indiana, but they're going to underperform in all of those thanks to candidate. I sort of think that seat-maximizing Republican strategists wouldn't have picked George Allen in Virginia, but I'm not sure about that one.
And now, add Missouri, as Member of the House Todd Akin advances to the general election, much to the glee of Claire McCaskill and the Democrats. It's still a very close race, but everyone thinks he was the weakest of the three candidates.
The Hotline's Julie Sobel had a great story about this back before the vote:
But Akin has gotten some major outside help recently, too, from Democrats who prefer him as the GOP nominee (while the Mason-Dixon poll showed McCaskill trailing behind all three, the matchup with Akin was closest). McCaskill took a page from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's playbook in July: Reid, in his 2010 reelection campaign, meddled in the GOP primary and helped gaffe-prone tea party favorite (and his favored opponent) Sharron Angle to a victory. In July, McCaskill released television ads targeting each of her potential GOP opponents, but the Akin-focused spot touted Akin's conservative credentials. And the Akin ad ran much more frequently than the commercials hitting Brunner and Steelman. To top it off, last week a radio ad paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee "attacked" Akin in a similar manner ("Todd Akin calls himself the true conservative, but is he too conservative?" asks the ad's narrator).Missing detail: were those ads calling Akin "too conservative" mainly bought on Fox News and Republican-aligned talk radio? Anyway, Democrats apparently have a thick opposition research file on Akin, but then again the Show-Me State should go comfortably for Mitt Romney, so we'll see.
Meanwhile, he may also benefit from outside ads hitting the other two candidates. The Democratic-aligned Majority PAC has directly targeted Brunner in two ads in another attempt to boost Akin. (The congressman and Brunner are both from St. Louis, and each needs to do well there to win. Steelman, from Rolla, has been campaigning hard for the rural vote). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports Brunner, has gone after Steelman in an ad. And Akin is the only candidate to refrain from running negative ads targeting his Republican primary candidates. His stay-above-the-fray approach could benefit him as it may have benefited Nebraska Senate nominee Deb Fischer: When two candidates are slugging it out in a three-way race, a candidate who sticks to a positive, attack-free message holds some appeal.
As far as this blog's obsession: Akin's win is probably bad news for getting a younger Senate. He was the oldest of the three candidates; he'll be 65 in January, while Steelman would only be 55, and Brunner 62. McCaskill will be 59, so if Brunner would have beat her but she will beat Akin, then it does keep the Senate from getting even older, but of course the best result here would have been a Steelman victory. None of it is as big a deal as Ted Cruz knocking off David Dewhurst, however. And I think the upcoming Tommy Thompson defeat is showing up in the polling now, although last I saw the Wisconsin Republicans are still a toss-up -- I think that the two biggest remaining points are anybody-but-Thompson in Wisconsin and Chris Murphy over either Republican in Connecticut.
See also David S. Bernstein for an update on GOP women in the Senate.
UPDATE: On the McCaskill strategy, Sobel has a wonderful, albeit anecdotal, piece of evidence.