10 Moments That Won or Lost Senate Control

Posted October 27, 2014 at 4:01am
10 Moments That Won or Lost Senate Control
Ernst, above, is running against Bruce Braley for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The 2014 battle for the Senate has featured a few candidate bumbles and some colorful characters.

So far, it’s lacked any cycle-defining gaffes — “Todd Akin moments” — but there is still a week to go until Election Day and potentially two runoffs extending things into early next year.

Every election cycle provides noteworthy events or moments in time that, in hindsight, proved to be pivot points in the outcome. Roll Call has identified 10 such instances that helped define this cycle’s Senate landscape.

In 2012, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe’s, R-Maine, last-minute retirement began to alter the conventional wisdom that Republicans were likely headed for the majority. Months later, comments about rape by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock sealed the deal for Democrats.

Now, once again, the majority is up for grabs: Republicans have pushed the fight into purple states, while Democrats are holding out hope the party can hang on.

Here are 10 moments that helped get us here, in chronological order:

Hollywood Star Declines McConnell Challenge (March 27, 2013)

There is little doubt an Ashley Judd-Mitch McConnell race would have garnered plenty of attention, but it’s unlikely the actress could have put up as strong a fight against the Senate minority leader as has Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Although McConnell remains favored in the Kentucky race, Grimes has pushed the Republican in one of the most expensive races of the cycle. Two weeks after Judd announced in a series of tweets that she wouldn’t run, a bizarre story unfolded from a Mother Jones report on a secret recording of a McConnell campaign meeting where opposition research on Judd had been discussed. Lundergan Grimes jumped in the race three months later.

After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family.

— ashley judd (@AshleyJudd) March 27, 2013

Herseth Sandlin Decides Not to Run (May 13, 2013)

Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s decision not to run for Senate in South Dakota all but ended any hopes Democrats had of holding the seat. The Republican-leaning state would have been a tough race for Democrats in the best-case scenario, but with Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., retiring, there was little shot without a top recruit, such as Herseth Sandlin. Her decision to pass, which came shortly after the senator’s son made clear he would not pursue the seat, left Democrats without a strong candidate to contest the seat. There was a brief ray of light for Democrats in early October, when poll numbers showed Democratic nominee Rick Weiland and independent Larry Pressler closing on Republican nominee Mike Rounds. Democrats dropped $1 million into the race to capitalize on that, but Republicans matched them, and with less than two weeks ago, this race is sliding back into the Republican column.


10 Moments That Won or Lost Senate Control

Schweitzer Shocks Democrats (July 13, 2013)

Heading into the state Democratic Party convention, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer was widely expected to announce he would seek the seat of retiring Sen. Max Baucus. But on a Saturday morning in the middle of the confab, Schweitzer declared he would not run, leaving Democrats in a lurch and giving Republicans the upper hand. Had he run, most or all of the events that followed would never have happened: Democratic Lt. Gov. John Walsh entered the race, GOP Rep. Steve Daines entered the race, Baucus resigned, the governor appointed Walsh to the seat, The New York Times uncovered extensive plagiarism by Walsh in a graduate school paper, Walsh dropped out of the race.