Heitkamp and King, center, speaking with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy at the Capitol on Wednesday, helped add to the Democratic advantage in the Senate. The party’s gains rested on a number of elements, including strong candidates and GOP mistakes.
In New England, two credible Republicans, Sen. Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts and Linda McMahon of Connecticut, simply couldn’t overcome their states’ strong Democratic bent. Brown was badly outspent in his race, while McMahon once again could not turn a huge financial advantage into a victory.
The GOP committed political suicide in Missouri and Indiana — two races that should have been easy wins.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should send a box of candy to the Club for Growth for helping Richard E. Mourdock knock off veteran Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the Republican primary, and it should send Rep. Todd Akin flowers for refusing to get out of a race he should have known he couldn’t win. Both men had the political instincts of Christine O’Donnell.
Democratic incumbents held their own, in some cases with an assist from the president.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson didn’t need the help to beat back GOP Rep. Connie Mack, who was one of the more delusional candidates I’ve ever interviewed. Mack seemed to have a giant chip on his shoulder when I interviewed him. He told me “outside” groups were going to raise enough money to make up for his fundraising shortfall. Even more absurd were memos from campaign adviser Arthur Finkelstein pointing to a Mack victory.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson were flawed candidates. Obama’s win there may have been enough to help Baldwin.
But even Democrats say the outcome could well have been different if “outside” GOP groups had jumped into the void after the primary to defend Thompson and attack Baldwin. But that didn’t happen, and Democratic ads attacking Thompson quickly erased his initial advantage.
In Montana, GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg was a good candidate, but Sen. Jon Tester was a little bit better. Tester’s early ads were terrific, but Rehberg hung in the race, trying to make it about Obama. Had Tester faced Rehberg in 2010, the Republican would have won. But this time Montana voters (like North Dakotans) could vote against Obama and for the Democratic Senate nominee.
Finally, in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) was a more experienced candidate. He ran his usual good campaign, but the race’s outcome probably rested on Josh Mandel’s three major flaws — he looked too young, positioned himself too far to the right and appeared too ambitious.
Brown drew about 50,000 votes fewer than Obama, but Mandel drew 220,000 votes fewer than Romney. That falloff is telling.
Democrats won 15 of the 17 most competitive Senate contests, losing only Nevada and Arizona. Virtually all of the swing seats fell their way, which sometimes happens in wave elections but rarely happens in status-quo elections.
It’s easy to give credit and blame to the parties’ campaign committees, but I’m more cautious than most when it comes to second-guessing. Each cycle is different, in part because the different states and candidates involved but also because of the broader political dynamics.