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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.

As another election year draws to a close, it’s time again for me to pick the cycle’s winners and losers, my most and least favorite candidates, and those who distinguished themselves by skill or by old-fashioned dumb luck.

After three successive partisan wave elections, the overarching takeaway from the 2012 cycle is that candidates and the campaigns they run still matter. Up and down the ballot — from the presidential race to Senate contests to various House races — we saw examples of how the strength of one candidate/campaign (or the sheer ineptitude of another) made the difference on Election Day.

Given this was a crazy year, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that it will take me two columns to run through the various categories and the politicians who deserve mention in each, in addition to my winners.

So, without further delay, here is Part I of this year’s Rothenberg End-of-the-Year Awards for 2012.

Luckiest Candidate of 2012

There are a handful of obvious candidates. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill had no chance of winning a second term — until Republican challenger Rep. Todd Akin popularized the term “legitimate rape.” Akin could have spent the entire general election in Finland and beaten McCaskill, and even after his self-inflicted injury, he could have resurrected GOP chances of winning the seat by dropping out. McCaskill is lucky he didn’t.

Similarly, Indiana Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly had little or no chance of getting elected to the Senate this year — until Richard Mourdock made yet another campaign error, in answering a question about rape and abortion. Donnelly ran a good race, but he wouldn’t have defeated Sen. Richard G. Lugar or any minimally appealing mainstream Republican.

Republican Kerry Bentivolio looked to be merely a humorous anecdote when he entered the GOP primary against then-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter in Michigan’s 11th District. But when McCotter’s staffers failed to collect enough signatures to get the congressman on the ballot, the quirky Bentivolio became the GOP nominee. And now, in an example of the saying that it’s better to be lucky than good, he’s headed to Congress.

But my choice for the Luckiest Politician of 2012 Award this year is Sen. Bill Nelson.

The Florida Democrat won re-election last month by beating GOP Rep. Connie Mack, who raised little money and apparently figured that oozing cockiness was the best way to woo reporters and voters.

But what makes Nelson so lucky is that Mack was the third consecutive mediocre Republican he faced. The Democrat first won his Senate seat by defeating former Rep. Bill McCollum in 2000, and then was blessed with the controversial Katherine Harris as his opponent in 2006.

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