The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The worst candidates of the 2022 election

Arizona GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters introduces GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake during a campaign rally at Schnepf Farms on Nov. 6 in Queen Creek, Ariz. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

The 2022 election is perhaps most notable for the GOP’s missed opportunities.

The environment was slightly favorable to Republicans — as it almost always is in midterms when you’re the opposition party — but a series of bad and almost always Trump-aligned candidates cost them winnable races. The result is that the party actually lost governor’s mansions and failed to take control of the Senate, despite needing to gain just one seat to do so. You could also make a credible argument that its House majority should be at least somewhat bigger, but for shooting itself in the foot in some key races.

There were Democrats who underperformed what you would expect in their districts, too, but nothing on the scale of Republicans in many key races.

So who were the worst of the worst — and the costliest? Let’s run through them.

Blake Masters

GOP Senate candidates underperformed their party’s Election Day showing in crucial races in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Ohio and arguably Nevada and Pennsylvania, too — but not all by the same amount. The Arizona Senate candidate performed worse than everyone else in his state — including Kari Lake and the GOP’s election-denying secretary of state candidate, Mark Finchem. Masters’s 4.9-point loss to Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) was slightly larger than Finchem’s 4.8-point loss, and it was the largest of six statewide GOP candidates. The GOP also managed to win races for state schools superintendent and treasurer (the latter by double digits), reinforcing the missed opportunity. Masters is now set to advise on the Republican National Committee’s 2022 election postmortem.

Kristina Karamo

Michigan is the other big swing state in which the GOP nominated extremists and bad candidates for many big statewide offices — and paid the price. And the worst performer was its secretary of state candidate. Karamo, who rose to prominence thanks to baseless and false accusations about issues in the 2020 election, lost to the incumbent Democrat by 14 points. That’s the largest loss among the most prominent election deniers running for secretary of state, who themselves had a brutal election. It was also larger than the GOP’s deficit for governor (minus-10) and attorney general (minus-eight). Given that this is a state that was close in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, all three results are pretty shocking. But Karamo’s was the worst, and now she’s running for state party chair.

Don Bolduc

In no marquee state was the gap between the GOP’s performance for governor and Senate bigger than in New Hampshire. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) won by more than 15 points, but Bolduc lost by more than nine — a nearly 25-point split, on the margin. It’s true the GOP struggled in congressional races here, too. But Bolduc, like Masters, was a guy who could have helped deliver a GOP Senate majority in a competitive state where other Republicans were able to win, and he came up way short.

Doug Mastriano

National Republicans effectively conceded this race the moment Mastriano won his primary — and for good reason. Despite Mehmet Oz losing Pennsylvanis’s Senate race by five points, Mastriano lost by more than 15. He raised very little money and made almost no effort to moderate his positions on things like election denial and abortion. “I’m going to show you who the real extremist is in this race, and it’s not me and it’s not us,” he said defiantly in August. Mission not accomplished.

Sarah Palin

Palin would like to blame ranked-choice voting for a failed attempt at a political comeback, but she should blame Sarah Palin. The former GOP vice-presidential nominee lost both a special election in August and now a general election to Democrat Mary Peltola, despite coming from Alaska, a state that favored Donald Trump in 2020 by 10 points. And Palin managed to lose the second time around by an even larger margin: nearly 10 full points. Adding insult to injury: The data suggest that the other Republican, Nick Begich, might well have won the seat in August if Palin hadn’t been in the race.

Joe Kent

Alaska was one of only five instances in which Democrats won a district Trump had carried in 2020. And the only one of the five in which that Democrat wasn’t an incumbent? Washington’s 3rd district. Trump-endorsed GOP candidate Joe Kent knocked out impeachment-supporting Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) in the top-two primary, thanks to Trump’s support, and then proceeded to lose a district Trump had carried by four points. That’s not a huge underperformance, but it was a costly one. And there’s little doubt Herrera Beutler would have kept this in the GOP camp. But Trump had a point to make.

J.R. Majewski

This is another of those five Trump-Democrat districts. Majewski fell to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) by 13 points despite Trump having carried the district by three points — a gap trumped only by Palin’s loss. Somewhat similar to Karamo, Majewski rose to prominence thanks to a pro-Trump stunt rather than any discernible talent as a candidate: He painted a Trump banner on his yard, which led to Fox News coverage. It was soon learned that he had been in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, promoted QAnon and, perhaps most damningly, apparently inflated his military service.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.)

She’s the only candidate on this list who actually won. But there is no universe in which it should even have been close. She comes from a district that favored Trump by more than eight points, yet she leads by less than 0.2 percentage points in the latest results. Her close call was perhaps the biggest surprise in the House, given handicappers didn’t even rate her district as being potentially competitive. You’d think that might send a signal of voters’ appetite for Boebert’s brand of “angertainment.” We shall see if Boebert adjusts course.

David Perdue/Janice McGeachin/Mo Brooks/Madison Cawthorn

We’re lumping these ones together because it’s worth recalling that pro-Trump candidates didn’t just crash and burn in the general election; they also did so in many key primaries. Perdue lost to Gov. Georgia Brian Kemp (R) by a stunning 52 points — despite being a former senator. McGeachin lost to Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) by more than 20 points despite also having Trump’s backing and being the incumbent lieutenant governor. (She engaged in a series of bizarre stunts, wielding her momentary power while Little left the state to temporarily change things like covid policy.) Brooks managed to perform so poorly that Trump unendorsed him, before he lost a primary runoff by 26 points. And Cawthorn took less than one-third of the vote in his primary and failed to even force a runoff, after a series of ugly personal revelations and effectively being disowned by his party. The loss came just two years after he was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention.