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Interestingly, this is exactly what happened to Rep. Jim Leach in 2006. A moderate Republican from Iowa who often sided with Democrats in the House, Leach’s constituents liked him and his record — until 2006, when they decided the election was more about changing Congress, changing Washington and checking George W. Bush than about whether they liked Leach.
Republicans made an effort early on to widen the playing field, and they surely succeeded. They put credible candidates into places where Republicans hadn’t for many years, and some of those candidates won.
Of course, some not-so-great candidates also won. That happens in a wave year.
Democratic strategists are probably shaking their heads this morning, wondering how some of these damaged GOP nominees were able to win. How could candidates with huge negatives — Allen West in Florida, Tom Marino in Pennsylvania and Scott DesJarlais in Tennessee — possibly win?
GOP operatives thought the same thing the day after the 2006 elections, when plenty of damaged Democrats won.
The answer is simple: Democrats weren’t regarded as effective messengers, especially by conservative and Republican voters, and those voters were so upset about the direction of the country that they were more than willing to overlook the warts on the GOP challengers.
Things were a little different in the Senate, of course.
Senate races spend more money and get more media coverage, so voters are more likely to consider the candidates’ personal qualities.
Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle were obviously disastrous general election candidates who cost Republicans two Senate seats that should have — and would have — fallen into the GOP’s lap in the wave. As of press time Wednesday afternoon it appeared Colorado’s Ken Buck would fall into the same category, although his race had not been officially called.
So how did we do in predicting the results? The last Rothenberg Political Report House projection was as follows: “Likely Republican gain of 55-65 seats, with gains at or above 70 seats possible.” For the Senate, we said: “Republicans likely to gain 6-8 seats.” Not bad, I’d say. Not bad at all.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.