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A lesson from the midterms: Commit scandals after you’ve been elected

Midterm candidates in scandals mostly won re-election
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle
New Jersey senator Bob Menendez won by 8 points despite a corruption scandal.
  • Max de Haldevang
By Max de Haldevang

Geopolitics reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The 2018 midterms have an important lesson for every aspiring corrupt politician out there: commit your scandals after you’re elected to high office.

Incumbents, it seems, have rather a lot of leeway when facing scandals. Yesterday’s electorate cared not a bit about California representative Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret Hunter’s indictments for alleged campaign finance crimes. Voters looked the other way as New Jersey senator Bob Menendez allegedly took gifts from a wealthy doctor while using his office to further that doctor’s interests. Representative Chris Collins’s insider trading charges weren’t enough to stop him from squeaking out a victory in New York’s 27th district.

The polling gurus at FiveThirtyEight counted 11 men (yes, these were all men) up for re-election this year while also facing fresh scandals—i.e. ones allegedly committed since their last election. Eight of those incumbents won.

CandidateResultAlleged Scandal
Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa)LostFailing to disclose a conflict of interest
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-California)WonMolesting a teenager
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)WonOverlooking sexual abuse
Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia)LostPossible campaign law violations
Rep. Chris Collins (R-New York)WonInsider trading
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California)WonCampaign finance violations
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California)LostVery close ties to Russia
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Arizona)WonMis-spending official funds; campaign finance violations
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia)Won (uncontested)Sexual harassment
Gov. Henry McMaster (R-South Carolina)WonCampaign finance violations
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey)WonNot disclosing gifts

In addition, Minnesota elected Democrat Keith Ellison, who has been one of the state’s representatives since 2007, as its new attorney general, despite high-profile allegations of domestic abuse.

By contrast, new candidates facing scandals had a terrible night; all 12 men (again, all men) lost their race.

Many of those were no-hopers, like Omar Navarro, the 29-year-old fringe GOP activist running against California Democratic stalwart Maxine Waters, who has been in office longer than he’s been alive—and, unlike Navarro, hasn’t been accused of putting a tracking device on a spouse’s car.

However, four of them were Republicans running in districts currently held by their party. In theory, they should have had a decent chance of winning in areas that had gone Republican at the last election, but all four lost:

CandidateResultAlleged Scandal
Sec. of state Kris Kobach (R-Kansas)LostContempt of court
Attorney gen. Adam Laxalt (R-Nevada)LostAssaulting a police officer
Marty Nothstein (R-Pennsylvania)LostSexual misconduct
Attorney gen. Bill Schuette (R-Michigan)LostUnder FBI investigation for unspecified reasons; previous reporting alleged he used his position to favor GOP activists

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