The Surge

Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, where this week we will rank some of the ding-dongs suckered into running for America’s dumbest job, United States senator.

You will pick up on this fairly quickly as we run through some of the races, but here’s a bit of context about the Battle for America’s Senate Soul 2022: Republicans are losing a host of experienced senators who know what they’re doing (Richard Shelby, Pat Toomey, Rob Portman, Roy Blunt) and vying to replace them are a series of goons, celebrities, and posers who have to rub Donald Trump’s tummy each morning to keep their primary campaigns viable. And they’re totally favored to retake the Senate.

Let’s start with the most competitive open-seat race in the country, and its latest celebrity entrant.

Dr. Oz's face, against a background of intersecting red and blue shapes
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Pennsylvania


It’s been a turbulent few weeks in the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. Former President Donald Trump had endorsed Sean Parnell, a decent enough consensus GOP candidate to replace retiring Sen. Toomey … until Parnell’s campaign became entirely untenable. His estranged wife, Laurie Snell, testified against him in child custody proceedings that he was both physically and emotionally abusive to her and their children, allegations that Parnell denied. The judge, however, deemed Snell the “more credible witness” and granted her primary custody of their three kids. Parnell suspended his campaign shortly after the decision. With the field left unstable, there was only one man who could step in to fill the void: Dr. Mehmet Oz, star of the daytime TV doctor show Dr. Oz. The longtime resident of northern New Jersey, who lives in a splendid mansion overlooking the Manhattan skyline, says he relocated to the Philly suburbs recently, where he rents his wife’s parents’ house, and also “acquired” a Pennsylvania driver’s license and concealed carry permit in the state (nice, guns). Also running is rich lady Carla Sands, who released an ad this week shreddin’ up Joe Biden’s socialism bill, and another rich guy, Jeff Bartos. The Democratic field is hardly settled either, though. Candidates include Rep. Conor Lamb, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, and Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, among others. And that, folks? That’s what we got on the Pennsylvania Senate race until Trump decides whom to endorse next.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. New Hampshire

In which someone realizes the Senate sucks.

There are people like Dr. Oz, a man who is willing to ditch his lucrative lifestyle and shack up in his mother-in-law’s house in Pennsylvania in the off chance he can be elected senator, so he can spend six years commuting to Washington for three days each week to eat lunch and vote against nominations. Then there are rational people like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who said—in announcing that he would run for reelection rather than Senate—that the more he heard from those urging him to run for Senate, the less he wanted to do it. And there were a lot of people urging him to do it: nearly every Republican senator across the gamut and several former presidents. He’s a popular three-term governor, and the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, only won her 2016 election by about 1,000 votes. They were all apoplectic, and not a little bit humiliated by their recruitment failure, when Sununu declined. But they should take solace: This is a cycle where it would have been nice to have a recruit like Sununu, but not one where they need him. If the environment stays as favorable as it is for Republicans, there should be some other Republican out there to give Hassan a run for her money. Just start knocking on the doors of local dads and one of them will probably do it.

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Wisconsin

Do Democrats even want an open-seat race here?

Normally parties looking to pick up seats in competitive states would prefer to run for an open seat rather than against a tested incumbent. You might not have seen so many Democrats jump into the Pennsylvania race if Sen. Toomey hadn’t retired. Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan may not have finally pulled the trigger on a statewide race in Ohio if his opponent was going to be incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. But in Wisconsin, another one of the stray pickup opportunities Democrats have, they might just prefer Sen. Ron Johnson—who remains undecided on running for a third term—to go for it. He’s never been particularly … impressive. But the guy has gone off the deep end this year. He’s the biggest vaccine skeptic in the Senate Republican Conference. He’s downplayed the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. This week, he said Dr. Anthony Fauci was “overhyping” the pandemic and that he “did the exact same thing with AIDS.” If he does decide to run for reelection, Democrats would have plenty to work with. But that doesn’t mean they should take him for granted. Johnson, like Florida Sen. Rick Scott, is one of those guys who always seems like he’s going to lose whatever election he’s running in and never does. The top Democratic candidates vying for the seat are Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Ohio

This is getting mind-bending.

You’ve probably read about the basic contours of the national embarrassment that is the Ohio Senate GOP primary by now. Short version: A bunch of people who absolutely, no question believe that Donald Trump is a world-historically vile oaf are crab-walking over one another to profess more and more devout support for the man, who’s holding off on an endorsement because the show of devotion amuses and flatters him. The candidate most vulnerable here is author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who has the most documented history of criticizing Trump in earlier times before he decided to live his life as a lie. The Club for Growth, supporting his main GOP competitor Josh Mandel, has been hammering Vance with ads of his past anti-Trump comments. These ads have gotten Trump to weigh in on the Ohio race—but not in the way you’d expect, with him releasing statements trashing Vance. Instead, as Politico reported this week, Trump called the Club for Growth and asked them to take the ads down because he was worried the “commercials could have the effect of driving down [Trump’s] popularity in Ohio.”

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Alabama

Is Trump’s endorsement enough, though?

Rep. Mo Brooks—who, like Vance, was pretty vocal about how much of a scumbag he thought Trump was in 2016—thought he had it all figured out when he earned Trump’s Senate endorsement by playing a leading role in amplifying the stolen election narrative. But his primary has been tougher sledding than expected. His chief opponent, Katie Britt, is a former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby who later ran the Business Council of Alabama. Whereas Brooks would come to the Senate as a bomb thrower, Britt would more likely carry on the Shelby tradition of staying out of the culture war rabble and focusing on delivering defense appropriations for ships built in Alabama that the Navy, itself, doesn’t ask for and may not know exist. Britt has comfortably out-raised Brooks, and there’s more coming: Shelby, according to the Washington Post, “has said he plans to spend $5 million of his campaign funds” to help Britt. In a statement over the summer, with characteristic sexism, Trump complained that “the RINO Senator from Alabama, close friend of Old Crow Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby, is pushing hard to have his ‘assistant’ fight the great Mo Brooks for his Senate seat.” Statements like that, and Trump’s endorsement, certainly help Brooks. More money would help, too.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Georgia

All-in on Herschel Walker.

One state in which Trump’s ego and McConnell’s ego appear to have reached a tepid harmony is Georgia, where forces have coalesced around former football star Herschel Walker as the challenger to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. It wasn’t always so. It was Trump who urged Walker, a featured speaker at the 2020 Republican National Convention, to run for Senate. McConnell and his allies were initially opposed to the idea, given the baggage he carried of threats against his ex-wife’s life and a questionable history in business. McConnell instead tried to get either ex-Sens. David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler, who both lost their seats in the 2020 cycle, to run, but each declined. (Perdue may run for governor instead.) With GOP support consolidating around Walker, McConnell came around to endorsing him in late October, saying he is “the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate.” Trump, along with ex-athletes Doug Flutie, Tom Glavine, and pro wrestler Ric Flair, hosted a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser for Walker this week. Standing beside Trump, Walker described his host as “no doubt the greatest president to ever, ever hold office.” Sheesh. Even Trump (sometimes) leaves a caveat for Abraham Lincoln.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Arizona

One more … Republican … primary … about … Donald Trump’s ego …

Georgia is Republicans’ best pickup opportunity, and at least the party has consolidated around a candidate. That is not the case in Arizona, Republicans’ next-best opportunity, where they hope to unseat spaceman Mark Kelly. What makes their candidate selection tricky is that all of the best candidates are hated by Donald Trump for failing to overturn the state election result on his behalf. Gov. Doug Ducey, whom Trump hates for that reason, is not running for Senate. Attorney General Mark Brnovich is, and is under pressure from Trump and other loons like Paul Gosar to start indicting people based on the nonfindings of the clownish election “audit” performed in the state this year. So who else is out there? There’s Blake Masters, an aide-de-camp to libertarian venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who’s occupying the creepy tech nationalist lane. Also occupying the creepy tech nationalist lane, though, is repeat candidate Craig Brittain, the former operator of a revenge porn site. So … is Martha McSally down for round No. 3 or what?