John Oxendine and the Failings of Republican Frontrunners

Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine was expected to be the Republican nominee for governor. He finished fourth in the primary. But, he can take a small measure of solace that it's been a rough year for Republican frontrunners in other states too.
by | July 22, 2010

John Oxendine finished fourth in this week's Georgia Republican primary for governor, quite a rebuke for a candidate who was considered the frontrunner for a long while. Oxendine's loss reflected his own weaknesses as a candidate, but it also may have reflected the mood of Republican voters, who often seem to be treating establishment support as a bad thing this year.

With that in mind, I decided to catalogue the Republicans frontrunners who have lost or seem to be losing primaries for governor this year. These are people who, once all the major candidates had declared their intentions, were favored to win (in conventional wisdom) and then went on to lose or look as though they will lose. There's quite a bit of subjectivity to this analysis, so let me give you the list and then discuss the questionable cases.

 Republican Former Frontrunners

Most of these I feel pretty solid about, but there are a few exceptions:

-The only race where I'm not venturing a guess is Colorado. After the Scott McInnis plagiarism scandal, the race is totally confused and unpredictable.

-In Michigan, you could make a case that the candidates should be reversed: That Hoekstra was actually the original frontrunner and that Cox is now in the lead. Really, though, it's been a race without a clear frontrunner for quite a while.

-The Minnesota Republican nomination was, from the beginning, exceptionally difficult to handicap. Seifert won an early Republican convention straw poll, which is why I list him.

-In South Carolina, I'm not entirely sure that McMaster was the original frontrunner, but I do feel as though I can say with confidence that Nikki Haley wasn't the frontrunner.

There are also some ambiguous cases in the states where I think the Republican frontrunner came out on top or is going to come out on top. Here's that list:

Republican Frontrunners

The ambiguous cases:

-In New Mexico, Pete Dominici Jr. led early on in the polls on the strength of name recognition, although I have a vague sense that he never was considered all that serious of a candidate. In the end, he didn't come close to winning.

-Maybe there was about a 30-minute period where Steve Levy was the frontrunner in New York, before everyone realized the logistical hassles he faced to winning the nomination.

-Was Allen Alley ever the frontrunner in Oregon? I'm not sure.

-In Wyoming, where Republicans have a deep field, I don't know if Rita Meyer was the frontrunner to begin with and I don't know if she's the frontrunner now. That's pretty much a guess. You do have to think that a Sarah Palin endorsement is coming though, right?

When you add it up, I'm not sure that the number of Republican frontrunners who have lost is really all that unusual. Still, some of the implosions have been striking enough (Hutchison, Byrne, Oxendine, most likely McCollum) that it feels as though something strange is going on.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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