Will Senator Marco Rubio resist the tug of the `wacko bird' wing? Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Will Senator Marco Rubio resist the tug of the `wacko bird' wing? Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Are Republicans, in this Senate election cycle, going to avoid the self-inflicted wounds of 2010 and 2012?

John Sides suggests today that they might. He backs it up with survey data showing that in several states likely Republican candidates are perceived as mainstream conservatives and not as, well, wackos.

It’s a good point. Yet it assumes that these solid candidates will be the nominees. And in several cases we don't know if that will be the case. There are at least three reasons to be cautious:

We have very little survey data from this cycle, making it possible that some apparently safe nominees could be in trouble that the polls haven’t picked up on.

Primary elections are inherently volatile. Wide swings are always possible, even fairly late in the game.

And we’re not talking about partisan tides or anything else that would hold party-wide. Republicans might do an excellent job of protecting strong candidates in almost every state, but two or three races might go the other way without affecting anything else. Indeed, it makes sense for Tea Party candidates and others who see themselves as insurgents to be very selective with their targets, and perhaps even to strike quickly and late.

I’m not predicting another round of candidates like Todd Akin and Christine O’Donnell. The bulk of Republican nominees this time will be the (apparently) strong candidates who seem to have solid leads right now. But it’s hard to be certain this far in advance. And the availability of perfectly good candidates doesn't seem to be the critical variable in determining whether Republicans wind up with a strong contender.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net