Vickie Klang felt something was missing as Republican Tyler Kistner’s closing ad aired last month in one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country.
The 58-year-old veterinary technician and self-described independent voter watched as the 30-second spot showed grainy black-and-white images of President Joe Biden superimposed alongside two-term Democratic Rep. Angie Craig. The narrator ominously described life in America as “dangerous and unaffordable” due to the two Democrats’ alliance.
According to Klang, anything resembling a solution other than electing Kistner needed to be added to the ad.
“You never tell me what you’re going to do for the state or the country,” Klang said. “That is a major turnoff.”
Klang eventually backed Craig, helping the Democratic incumbent, whom Republicans spent more than $12 million to unseat, win by five percentage points. According to AP VoteCast, a sweeping national survey of the electorate, Republicans faced similar unexpected setbacks from Maine to California with the small but critical slice of voters who don’t identify with either major party.
Republican House candidates received 38% of independent voter support in last month’s midterm elections, according to VoteCast. That falls far short of the 51% Democrats received from the same group in 2018 when they swept to power by winning 41 seats. The GOP’s poor showing among independents explains why Republicans only flipped nine seats, securing a shaky majority that has already raised concerns about the party’s ability to govern.
According to some Republican strategists, the finding indicates that messages that resonated during party primaries, such as scathing criticisms of Biden, were less effective in the general election campaign because independent voters were looking for more than just the opposition.
More than a dozen independent voters agree with Winston’s assessment in the northern reaches of Minnesota’s 2nd congressional district, a swath of lakes and once-farm country teeming with development near the Twin Cities.
Unlike Klang, who grew up in a union Democratic household, Steve Stauff of Shakopee, Minnesota, grew up in a rural, conservative Republican family. They both voted for Republican and Democratic statewide candidates and independent candidates for governor Jesse Ventura in 1998.