The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The worst candidate of the 2014 election

Bruce Braley, democratic candidate for U.S. Senate speaks during a debate with republican candidate Joni Ernst on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. (AP Photo/The Des Moines Register, Charlie Litchfield)
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On Monday, we named Colorado Sen.-elect Cory Gardner (R) as the single best candidate of the 2014 election. Today, we go to the opposite end of the spectrum in search of the worst candidate of the midterms.

First, the nominees -- listed in alphabetical order.

* Bruce Braley (Iowa Senate)

* Anthony Brown (Maryland governor)

* Martha Coakley (Massachusetts governor)

* Wendy Davis (Texas governor)

* Sean Eldridge (New York House)

* Ed FitzGerald (Ohio governor)

* Chris McDaniel (Mississippi Senate)

* Pat Roberts (Kansas Senate)

* Mark Udall (Colorado Senate)

* Monica Wehby (Oregon Senate)

Let's be honest: There were a lot of bad campaigns/candidates this cycle.

In another year, Pat Roberts, whose horrendous campaign almost cost him a seat in one of the most conservative states in the country, would have run away with the worst candidate award. (To their credit, national Republicans saw the problem in the early fall -- and fixed it. Roberts won by double digits.)

Texas Democrat Wendy Davis, who faced long odds in the contest for Texas governor, conceded to Republican Greg Abbott Tuesday night, telling her supporters "your work is not in vain" during her emotional speech to supporters. (Video: NBC)

Wendy Davis was, by any measure, a massive disappointment -- not even breaking 40 percent of the vote against state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) in the Texas gubernatorial race. Martha Coakley lost a second sure-thing bid for higher office in Massachusetts, a defeat that effectively ends her political career. Anthony Brown somehow came up short in his run for governor in Maryland despite the fact that he was running in one of the most Democratic states in the country.

Then there was Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga Country Prosecutor Executive who had been groomed as the next big thing coming out of Ohio for Democrats. The man who would vanquish Gov. John Kasich (R). Um, not so much. There was the story about FitzGerald in a car with a "close family friend" -- a woman -- at 4:30 in the morning in a deserted parking lot. Or the one about him not having a valid permanent driver's licenseOr his atrocious fundraising. It was a disaster from beginning to end -- and by end I mean when FitzGerald won just 33 percent of the vote last Tuesday.

And yet, not even FitzGerald was bad enough to claim the prize as the absolute worst candidate of this election. That "award" goes to Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who, through sheer force of personality, not only lost a very winnable open seat race but lost it badly. Some races are a failure of the campaign. This was a failure of the candidate.

It started way back in January when the conservative opposition research group America Rising obtained video of Braley speaking at a Texas fundraiser. Here's part of what he said:

If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the space of two sentences, Braley managed to: (1) insult popular Sen. Chuck Grassley (2) insult farmers and (3) sound as super-arrogant as humanly possible. And, according to the final Des Moines Register poll conducted in the race, voters never really forgave Braley or forgot the comments. Forty-five percent of likely voters called the comments about Grassley one of the worst mistakes Braley made on the campaign trail.

And the hits kept coming. In the spring of this year, Braley got into a dispute with his neighbors over wandering chickens. Yes, you read that right. Here's Phil Rucker's write-up of the back and forth:

Then this spring, Pauline Hampton’s chickens roamed onto Bruce and Carolyn Braley’s vacation property on tranquil Holiday Lake. Hampton said she did not know this until she walked over one day to offer Carolyn a dozen fresh eggs. To which she said her neighbor replied, “We aren’t going to accept your eggs — and we have filed a formal complaint against you.”
Carolyn took her complaint to their neighborhood homeowners’ association board meeting in May. Her husband, Bruce, then called the association’s lawyer, Thomas Lacina, to say that he believed “chickens are not pets and should not be permitted at Holiday Lake,” and that he wanted to “avoid a litigious situation,” according to an e-mail Lacina wrote. Braley denied that he threatened a lawsuit.

Then there was the story in mid-July revealing that Braley had missed 75 percent of the hearings of the House Veterans Affairs Committee over two years -- a revelation that came in the wake of the national controversy surrounding the VA. One of the committee meetings Braley missed, according to the Des Moines Register, was on a day he held three fundraisers for his 2012 campaign.

The overall effect on Braley of this series of unforced errors was profound: Voters saw the episodes as a window into his personality -- and it was a view they didn't like. He came across as arrogant and dismissive, two of the worst traits for any candidate. It didn't help Braley that he was running against Joni Ernst (R), an Iowa state senator who was his opposite in terms of personality and approach on the campaign trail. (Monica Hesse described Ernst as the "biscuit-baking, gun-shooting, twangy, twinkly farm girl and mother" in a profile of the candidate last month.)

Because Braley's personality became the focus of the race, the fact that he was probably closer to the average Iowan than Ernst on the issues didn't matter. People liked Ernst. They didn't like Braley. On election day, the race wasn't close; Ernst won by eight points.

Braley's loss was so horrible for two reasons: (1) it was a seat that Democrats badly needed if they had any hope of holding the majority (they didn't) and (2) it was so avoidable. Braley deserved what he got because he simply didn't perform close to expectations as a candidate in a race with massive national import. And for that, he was the worst candidate of the 2014 election.