Ed Kilgore ponders the apparent failure of some “traditional” Republican Senate candidates:
But of equal importance has been a batch of more traditional candidates who have simply underperformed: Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Connie Mack in Florida, Heather Wilson in New Mexico, and Pete Hoekstra in Michigan….In almost every case…these candidates have faded in the late going after looking competitive for a while. It appears that substituting yesterday’s Republican stars for today’s doesn’t help a whole lot, even if turning back the clock to 2002 has become the primary strategy for Mitt Romney’s self-presentation in the stretch run.
I don’t know how much this applies to the other cases, but Heather Wilson was always overrated as a candidate. She was a Domenici protege and state party favorite going back to her first term as a member of the House, and leaders in the state party kept trying to foist her on Republican voters. As a moderate Republican, she has never inspired a lot of enthusiasm from many rank-and-file Republicans and conservative independents, and as a reliable yes vote for bad Bush administration policies in the 2000s she embodied everything that most New Mexicans came to dislike about the national Republican Party. (Full disclosure: as a New Mexico voter at the time, I regrettably voted for Wilson in 2000 and have been trying to make up for that mistake ever since.) Her high unfavorability rating isn’t just a product of her partisan affiliation. It’s also a product of New Mexicans’ familiarity with her.
In 2008, Wilson wasn’t able to secure the Senate nomination thanks to strong primary competition from the more conservative Steve Pearce. Because of the strong Democratic wave that year and Obama’s extraordinarily large margin of victory in New Mexico (14 points), Wilson actually lucked out by losing that primary. This time around, the state party discouraged opposition to a Wilson candidacy, which set her up for the match-up against Heinrich, and she has been losing that all year. While it’s possible that Wilson might be the most competitive candidate the New Mexico Republicans could have had, that says more about the persistent weakness of the party than it does about her strengths as a candidate.