Mitch McConnell and Alaska’s new RCV system

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about Henry Olsen’s column on the potential effects of Alaska’s new electoral system (and how it can help non-MAGA Republicans like Lisa Murkowski), there’s new reporting on how dissatisfied Senator Mitch McConnell is with some of the GOP nominees that emerged from traditional party primaries in this year’s Senate races. Pennsylvania is mentioned as a specific example, where Trump-endorsed Dr. Oz squeaked out a very narrow victory over David McCormick for the Republican nomination and is now way behind in the polls against John Fetterman, the Democrat. There is even reporting that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is pulling money out of Pennsylvania at the same time that McConnell is forced to pour more money into Ohio to bolster the struggling campaign of Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance, who is facing a much tougher campaign than anticipated against Tim Ryan, the Democrat.

Given this situation, it is worth speculating how McConnell would feel right now–and what GOP campaign spending plans would be–if Pennsylvania and Ohio had used Alaska’s electoral system this year. While the primary would have been different, as Alaska uses a nonpartisan primary in which the top four candidates regardless of party advance to the November general election (and thus campaigning among candidates in that system might have been different from the beginning), we can identify who the top four candidates were in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in each state this year. In Pennsylvania, the top four candidates were: Fetterman (D) 751,521; Oz (R) 419,834; McCormick (R) 418,868; Lamb (D) 336,606. In Ohio, the top four were: Ryan (D) 359,941; Vance (R) 344,736; Mandel (R) 255,854; Dolan (R) 249,239.

Assuming that these would have been the candidate on the November ballot if Pennsylvania and Ohio had used Alaska’s system this year, then there still would non-MAGA Republican in the running: McCormick in Pennsylvania, and Dolan in Ohio. What would be McConnell’s strategy in that context, in his effort to become Majority Leader? Would the strategy be different in the two states, given that the Pennsylvania race would have involved two Ds and two Rs, while the Ohio race would have involved only 1 D and 3 Rs? How would the Democratic Party have campaigned in each context?

Most fundamentally (at least from my perspective), given the overriding goal of protecting small-d democracy from the authoritarian tendencies of election denialism and MAGA-style populism, would it help or hurt if these four-candidate RCV races were the campaign context in Ohio and Pennsylvania, compared to the binary choice between the Trump-endorsed Republican and the Democrat, as currently exists in each state? I will only raise that question here and not attempt to answer it definitively. I’m grateful for recent conversations with some political scientists on the need to consider the ratio of MAGA and non-MAGA members of the Republican caucus in the Senate, as well as the chances that a MAGA-dominated Republican Party will win control of the chamber, as part of the overall calculus on this point.

My own instinct is that, as I contemplate the counting of electoral votes on January 6, 2025, I want the lowest possible number of election denialists sitting in the Senate. I think one can make the argument that the four-candidate races that would be generated by the Alaska system if used in Ohio and Pennsylvania would reduce the risk of an election denialist winning either of those Senate seats, in comparison with the binary choice that currently exists in each state–and that this is true even if it increases the chances that McConnell might become Majority Leader by adding non-MAGA Republicans (like McCormick and Dolan) to his caucus. But I’d like to see any empirical (or related social science) evidence that would affect this analysis. Given the goal of protecting democracy, electoral reform should evaluated according to its efficacy in this respect according to whatever empirical evidence is available.

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