Will the 2024 Republican nominee receive less than 40 percent of the vote for the fourth time in party history?

As Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown awaits his opponent to emerge from next Tuesday’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, he is positioned as a slight favorite at best to retain his seat as the seven-plus month march to the general election begins in the reddish Buckeye State.

Brown is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for the third consecutive cycle – the ninth time a Democrat has run without an opposing candidate for the office in party history joining Senator Robert Bulkley (1932), Senator Thomas Burke (1954 special), Governor Frank Lausche (1956), former U.S. Representative Stephen Young (1958), Senator John Glenn (1992), and former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Mary Boyle (1998).

Ohio Republicans, meanwhile, are eying their third consecutive plurality winner in a U.S. Senate primary, with State Senator Matt Dolan, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and Donald Trump-endorsed businessman Bernie Moreno each poised to receive a substantial amount of the vote.

J.D. Vance won 2022’s GOP primary with just 32.5 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field en route to the nation’s upper legislative chamber – the second lowest support in party history for the office behind the 31.8 percent received by former State Representative Kingsley Taft in 1946’s special primary.

There have been five other plurality winners for the Republican nomination:

  • 1914: Former Lieutenant Governor Warren Harding (40.9 percent in a three-candidate field)
  • 1920: Former U.S. Representative Frank Willis (49.6 percent in a five-candidate field)
  • 1932: Attorney General Gilbert Bettman (44.5 percent in a five-candidate field)
  • 1962: Owens-Corning Fiberglass executive and general counsel John Briley (34.8 percent in a four-candidate field)
  • 2018: U.S. Representative Jim Renacci (47.3 percent in a five-candidate field)

Of these seven GOP plurality winners, four were victorious in the general election: Harding, Willis, Taft, and Vance.

Just six of the 41 GOP U.S. Senate primaries have been competitive contests since the first primary in 1914. Not surprisingly, all but one of these were among the aforementioned plurality-winning contests.

But the closest race for the Republican nomination came in 1970 when U.S. Representative Robert Taft, Jr. eked out a 0.6-point victory against Governor Jim Rhodes.

The other five GOP primaries decided by single digits took place in:

  • 1914: Harding defeated former Governor and U.S. Senator Joseph Foraker by 5.9 points
  • 1932: Bettman beat publisher L.J. Taber by 8.6 points
  • 1946 (special): Taft defeated former U.S. Representative Dudley White by 2.5 points
  • 1962: Briley beat State Senator Charles Fry by 6.8 points
  • 2022: Vance defeated former Treasurer Josh Mandel by 8.3 points

With Republicans winning the nomination to the U.S. Senate unopposed in 13 contests, the average margin of victory has been 52.8 points overall and 31.0 points across the 28 contested races.

Democratic nominees have won by an average of 43.0 points overall and 27.4 points in contested primaries.

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  1. Cecil Crusher on March 16, 2024 at 8:28 am

    – “…a slight favorite at best…” Hm, ‘Gold Bars Bob’ (Menendez) is envious of the electoral position Brown, Tester, and Rosen (whose state may very well vote R at the presidential balloting) are in, I gather?!

    – Aside from the likely presidential headwind, Brown is bidding to become the very first person to win a FOURTH six-year term from this seat (John Herschel Glenn won his 4th six-year term in 1992 from the Class 3 seat, after having been tarnished with the Keating Five S&L scandal).

    – On the bright side, with the retirement of Sinema (AZ) and the defeat of CA US Representive “Katie” (who, with her response, apparently showed her true colors upon her ignominious loss), Brown arguably can look forward to greater financial backing from the national party and its aligned organisations.

    – Unlike the 2022 cycle, this one seems likely to produce a ballot box loss of at least one incumbent, though whether that will come from the primary election or the general election is uncertain as of now (embattled Senator Menendez is purportedly mulling his options).

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