Gary Peters, Terri Lynn Land — October 8, 2014 at 10:37 am

Have the Kochs already cost the GOP a Senate seat?


Or is Terri Lynn Land just the worst Senate candidate of 2014?


On Tuesday we learned that National Republican Senatorial Committee has cancelled all television ads for the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Michigan and the candidate will spend a big chunk of the millions she’s raised, much of it from herself, on billboards.

Michigan was supposed to be a state where the GOP was expanding the map.

Our Chris Savage has argued that Land is the candidate national Republicans never wanted for more than a year now.

However, that view has only recently become the consensus.

The National Journal‘s Josh Krashauer, who perpetually squints at the news horizon in hopes of seeing a GOP wave, thought Land would put the seat in contention:

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver called her “a pretty good candidate” in June of this year.

Silver’s colleague Harry Enten sounded the death knell for Land candidacy just before national Republicans pulled the plug on Land.

“What’s causing Land’s collapse?” he asked. “It’s likely a combination of the natural political tilt of the state and the candidate herself.”

It’s true that Michigan is a blue state when Democrats come out to vote.

A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t carried the state since 1988 and we haven’t elected a Republican Senator since the nineties. But in 2010, when there was an actual GOP wave, Republicans swept the state handily. And Land was leading Democrat Gary Peters as the year began and millions of dollars from Koch-affiliated groups running inflammatory and mostly false Obamacare attack ads kept the race close for months.


But something happened in late spring.

Land’s particular awfulness as a candidate has left her unable to coherently answer questions or articulate a campaign theme beyond throwing Republican talking points in the air and hoping some would land on her opponent. Unlike other Senate candidates — like Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst — she hasn’t had the opportunity to run against Obama because the president is still so popular in the state that our Republican governor is actually running for re-election on expanding Obamacare. Thus she absorbs the unpopularity of the GOP’s national brand along with her own failings as both a campaigner and from her tenure as Secretary of State.

The race began to turn when began to work which was about the time that the Senate Majority PAC ran ads connecting Land to Paul Ryan’s budgets and the Kochs. I don’t believe this is a coincidence.

Michigan is the state where the Democrats national campaign against the Kochs has been most pointed.

The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent is our finest interpreter the broader strategy of the Democrats’ focus on the right-wing billionaires who have spent and help raise close to a billion dollars over the last three national election cycles. “The ‘Koch addition’ approach is rooted in a strategic imperative Dems face: How can they create a framework within which voters will believe what they are saying about the real policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on?” he wrote in March.

Like the Bain campaign against Mitt Romney, the point isn’t just to smear by association but to say: “These rich polluters are spending millions to elect Republicans who will improve their bottom line and hurt yours by gutting Medicare, keeping the minimum wage low, cutting their own taxes, etc…” By summer, polling showed that the Kochs were already a liability for Land.

Meanwhile, Gary Peter’s workmanlike campaigning has allowed the focus to remain on his Republican opponent and her backers.

The Congressman appeals to swing voters by focusing on government waste in a charming manner. But he’s also effectively ignited his base by making the Kochs’ interest in defeating him personal by emphasizing how he caught their attention by calling out the mounds of petcoke dust from the brothers’ business interests polluting Detroit’s waterfront. Peters is also the swing state Senate candidate who has most effectively made fighting Climate Change a rallying cry of his campaign.

The lesson that should come out of Michigan is that it’s possible to turn the Koch’s money against them — especially if you’re running against a candidate who is unable to make the case that she’ll do anything in office except help billionaires get a little richer.