The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Republican Party’s candidate problem (in two charts)

Two days after a wholly disappointing election for the National Republican Senatorial Committee that saw the party not only fail to gain the majority but actually lose seats, a soul-searching of how it happened has begun.

The blame, as it often is, has been thrust on the candidates. And, at least in this case, for good reason. After all, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin essentially gave away seats with their comments on rape and pregnancy.

But the trouble for the GOP wasn't just in Indiana and Missouri.

In fact, as the chart below details, Republican Senate candidates under-performed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in most of the important races of 2012.

In five races, the GOP candidate under-performed Romney by at least nine points. This includes Reps. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who both lost in states that Romney carried by at least 13 points. (Maine is a bit of a special case, since there was a third-party candidate in the Senate race.)

Meanwhile, the only Republican Senate candidates who out-performed Romney were four people running in very Democratic states that Republicans weren't going to win anyway: Connecticut, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Hawaii. (Obama won all four states by double digits.)

Democrats did have more help from incumbency than Republicans, which makes the GOP's under-performance in states like Ohio, Florida, Montana and Michigan more understandable.

But even if you look at only the open seat contests, the GOP under-performed in most of those races -- up to and including two people who won: Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in Arizona and state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) in Nebraska.

GOP candidates in two key toss-up races -- Virginia's George Allen and Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson -- both performed roughly equally with the top of the ticket.

But especially in Thompson's case, that has to be disappointing for Republicans. After all, Thompson is a moderate former four-term governor who ran against a liberal congresswoman from Madison, Tammy Baldwin. And he still couldn't beat Romney's number.

Candidates often get too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. But, candidates matter. Always have, always will. And in 2012, it's pretty clear that lackluster candidates cost Republicans multiple Senate seats in Election Day.