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Best and Worst Of the 2012 Campaigns: Part I

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Nelson, above, a Florida Democrat, won re-election last month by beating Mack, who raised little money and apparently figured that oozing cockiness was the best way to woo reporters and voters.

We can only wonder what sort of damaged candidate the Republicans are planning to nominate there in 2018.

The Best Campaign/Candidate of 2012

There were a lot of excellent campaigns and strong candidates this cycle. It is hard not to include Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester on the list. Illinois Republican Rep. Robert Dold lost his bid for re-election but ran a great race. Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson did the impossible by beating strong challenger Mia Love when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was winning his district overwhelmingly.

But for my money, the choice comes down to two Democrats: Georgia Rep. John Barrow and North Dakota Senate hopeful Heidi Heitkamp, who was the favorite of many Twitter followers to win this category.

Barrow certainly had some of the best TV ads of the cycle, and he won by a surprising 7 points in a very difficult district. But he benefited from having the inept Lee Anderson as his GOP opponent, giving him an advantage that others did not have.

For that reason, my winner is Heitkamp, whose strong personal appeal and quality campaign overcame a Republican state wave and an established Republican statewide politician.

The Biggest Upset of 2012

Many readers and Twitter followers think Heitkamp is an easy winner for this category, too, but there were also votes for other excellent choices, including somebody named David A. Curson of Michigan (yes, I know who he is, sort of), incoming GOP Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Ted Cruz of Texas, Kentucky Republican Rep.-elect Garland “Andy” Barr IV and Matheson.

How you answer this depends on where you start. I’ll focus on my surprise of election night, so my choice is easy: Massachusetts Rep. John F. Tierney’s re-election.

By the time Nov. 6 rolled around, the Democrat looked to me like a dead duck in the face of a personable, pro-abortion-rights, unusually strong Republican challenger Richard Tisei.

The legal problems that engulfed Tierney’s wife and her family looked politically fatal to the congressman, especially after both Republican and Democratic operatives and strategists started telling me privately that the race was over.

But Tierney squeaked by Tisei in a race that had me checking and rechecking my computer on election night, and that is why he is my choice.

Worst Personal Financial Investment By a Candidate

Most candidates put a few dollars into their own campaigns, if only to show a personal commitment to their race. But some candidates make a much larger investment. When the candidates win, their investments look good. When they don’t, those investments look bad, sometimes very bad.

Among the worst “investments” this cycle were those made by Arizona GOP Senate primary loser Wil Cardon, Pennsylvania GOP Senate nominee Tom Smith and unsuccessful Republican Texas Senate primary candidate David Dewhurst. Of the three, only Smith had a competitive general election in which to spend.

But the person who, once again, made the worst investment in her own campaign was Connecticut GOP Senate hopeful Linda McMahon, who contributed $677,000 and loaned her campaign more than $39.3 million as of her Oct. 17 FEC report.

McMahon may well be a wizard when it comes to running an entertainment company, but I wouldn’t ask her for advice about which campaigns to invest in next cycle.

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