Democrats’ reluctance to take “Oddball” candidates seriously could cost them

Amanda Maltin, Opinions Editor

We all remember election night in 2016: Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton was the frontrunner, and Democratic campaign strategists sat back calmly as the votes from the electoral college came in.  

Many Americans went to bed before the election was even called. Then, on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, the American public awoke to see that Republican nominee Donald J. Trump had won the election and was headed for inauguration in January. For those interested in politics like me, I thought there had to be some sort of mistake. Political opinions aside, nearly all polling had pointed to a Clinton victory.

What pollsters had failed to acknowledge were the people who weren’t responding to their polls. While Trump voters had been vocal on social media and present at rallies in support of the former president, journalists and political scientists alike overlooked their enthusiasm because Donald Trump was such an odd candidate. He diverged from the Republican party’s messaging and opted to communicate with his supporters in informal ways that went below the political establishment’s radar.  

So goes the story over the last few election cycles. Party politics have convinced us that party leaders essentially choose their candidates and that polling can aptly predict who the winner of each election will be. This leads to complacency and inaction. And, as the close race between Oz and Fetterman illustrates, the Democrats still have not learned their lesson in the years following 2016.  

Over the summer, polls showed that Fetterman had a sizable 12-point lead on Oz. Since then, the gap has closed considerably, with recent polling putting Fetterman only five points ahead of Oz. If the Democrats have a vested interest in keeping control of the Senate, it is simply not showing in their handling of the Senate race here in Pennsylvania.  

Over the past couple of weeks, the Oz campaign has spent millions of dollars on advertisements that hit critical issues for Republicans and Independents – crime, spending, and immigration. The Fetterman campaign issued a single rebuttal, where a law enforcement officer proclaimed his support for Fetterman’s voting history, but besides that, the campaign has not taken control of messaging to the public, and polling reflects that.  

In recent elections across the country, different kinds of candidates have popped up and won, upsetting party favorites and more mainstream candidates. Political party leaders who once had a lot of control over candidate selection and campaigning have seemed to lose grip on the reigns. However, as this happens time and time again, party leaders are not changing their approach to campaigning. 

So what does this mean for the future of party politics? Party leaders are in need of a wakeup call. The priorities of voters on both sides of the aisle are changing and mainstream candidates simply are not attracting the amount of enthusiasm and attention that unexpected candidates, such as Oz, are. If the Democrats want to keep control of the Senate this November, it is imperative that they don’t take any election for granted. 

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