The worse news is that their chances depend heavily on a Republican electorate that is simply not that enthusiastic about their party’s candidates.
The topline numbers suggest that Georgia is the more likely win for the party, though even there the Republican nominee, former football star Herschel Walker, trails incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D). In Pennsylvania, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz (R) is running behind Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) by double-digits. The standard caveats apply: this is one poll fairly early in the race. But another standard caveat also applies: it’s generally better to be up by double digits than trailing by that much.
But notice the heights of those red and blue columns. Among Democrats, Fetterman gets 89 percent of the vote and Warnock 91 percent. Among Republicans, Walker gets 84 percent of the vote and Oz only 73 percent.
In other words, only three-quarters of Pennsylvania Republicans say they plan to vote for their party’s Senate candidate! This is not generally a recipe for success in the moment’s deeply partisan national politics. Particularly when independents (who are less likely to have an opinion at this point) prefer Fetterman by 14 points.
The contrast between Walker and Oz is interesting by itself. Walker is not a flawless candidate, he wrote with acute understatement. Oz has been pilloried for having a residence in New Jersey and being absent from the campaign trail, but he hasn’t been buffeted by a flurry of gaffes, internal dissent or … other subjects.
What Oz did have working against him was a tough primary fight. Former president Donald Trump endorsed him, but much of the pro-Trump base in Pennsylvania found Kathy Barnette — who mirrored Trump’s rhetoric if not his celebrity — more appealing. Barnette, probably not coincidentally, got about a quarter of the vote in the primary.
Both states also have gubernatorial elections this year. There, the pattern repeats — to a degree.
In Georgia, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has a slight lead over challenger Stacey Abrams. In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) trails Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) by 10.
Notice the difference in how Republicans view the two candidates, though. Mastriano gets the support of 82 percent of them. Kemp gets 92 percent.
One difference is incumbency, no doubt. The gap here can’t easily be attributed to a tough nominating contest; Kemp faced a more energetic primary fight than Mastriano, though he dispatched former senator David Perdue with surprising ease.
Perhaps then the issue all along has been the candidate. Maybe Republicans are iffy on Oz, Mastriano and Walker (in that order) because they are skeptical of their candidacies.
And make no mistake: they are iffy. Fox’s pollsters asked respondents how enthusiastic they were about voting for their preferred candidates. Six in 10 Republicans expressed enthusiasm in the Georgia gubernatorial race, lower than the enthusiasm among Democrats. But in the Pennsylvania Senate race? Only about a third of Republicans were enthusiastic.
This may actually be good news for the GOP. If there are a bunch of Republicans who right now aren’t excited about Oz, that doesn’t mean they won’t vote for him. It’s not like the other quarter of Republicans back Fetterman. A lot of them are uncommitted.
Again, though, a rule of thumb comes into play. It is generally not great to go into an important election cycle hoping your voters will grudgingly show up to cast a ballot for your candidate. You can still vote in person even if you’re holding your nose, but you may make it less of a priority to go to the polls.