In 2010, the Democratic Party surprised many pundits by retaining control of the Senate, albeit by a very slim majority. At the beginning of the 2011 election cycle, few political observers believed that the Democrats would be able to retain the majority following this November’s elections; after all they were defending 23 seats (including 2 seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats), while the Republicans were defending only 10. In early 2011 the question wasn’t “if” the Republicans would win control of the Senate, but rather how big a majority they would have.
However, for the second election cycle in a row, it looks like the Republican Party will again fall short.
How could this have happened?
In 2010 the GOP lost three seats they should have won: Nevada, Colorado and Delaware, all three as a result of Tea Party insurgents overcoming establishment candidates in the Republican primary. These seats were lost the moment Sharon Angle (Nevada), Ken Buck (Colorado), and Christine O’Donnell (Delaware) won their party’s nomination. It wasn’t until Election Day that the full impact of these candidates was felt as the Democrats retained a 53-47 majority; it could have been a 50-50 split, with Vice Presidentcasting the deciding vote to give the Democrats the narrowest of majorities.
Two weeks out from Election Day and the Republican Party looks like it is repeating the same mistakes.
While the Tea Party had less impact in this year’s primary elections, aligned candidates still held influence nonetheless.
At the beginning of this election cycle, Missouri’s Democratic senatorwas one of the most endangered incumbents and was given little chance of winning election to a second term. That was until Rep. Todd Akin, a member of the Tea Party Caucus in the US House of Representatives, was the upset winner of the Republican primary. Since that day it’s been all downhill for the GOP, accelerated by Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy. McCaskill’s seat has now shifted from being a likely Republican takeover to a likely Democratic hold.
The Senate’s most senior Republican, Indiana’s six-term senator, was defeated in his primary in a major shock by Tea Party backed State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. The Democrats immediately smelled blood, but Mourdock managed to maintain a narrow lead over his Democratic rival, Rep. Joe Donnelly, at least until this week when Murdock followed Akin’s lead and claimed that pregnancies from rape are "something that God intended to happen.” Indiana now appears set to become a Democratic pick-up.
The Republican Party should have packed Indiana away as a safe hold, and tucked Missouri into the safe pick-up category. Instead these seats look to be lost, and the GOP is involved in dog fights in Montana and North Dakota – two states which should have been Republican gains, and Arizona, which should have been a safe Republican hold.
The Tea Party’s leader in the Senate, South Carolina’s, once said that he would rather have “30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in principles of freedom than 60 who don’t believe in anything." Based on the performance of the National Republican Senatorial Committee over the last two election cycles, it may well be that Jim DeMint will get his wish of remaining in the minority come Nov. 6.
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