While conventional wisdom and pollsters had by and large projected the U.S. House would be won by Republicans (Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times has analyzed the phenomenon exhaustively), the U.S. Senate has been far less certain.
It was expected that Republicans would make gains, but even by 10 minutes to midnight on Tuesday, it was still not certain they would gain 10 seats. Republican hopes were dashed shortly after California Sen. Barbara Boxer won re-election.
In that context, here are five politically significant results in the race for control over the Senate.
Kentucky Senate — Winner: Rand Paul (R)
Paul’s race was one of the few expected Republican wins that was in serious jeopardy of going off the rails. As late as Oct. 19, Rasmussen Reports had a poll showing challenger Jack Conway narrowing the gap between them to only five percent. But Conway tried to capitalize on early Paul gaffes by showing the “aqua Buddha” campaign ad, an ad that misleadingly and unbelievably suggested Paul wasn’t actually a Christian. The deceptive approach actually turned voters off against Conway and his campaign collapsed. Yahoo! News had Paul winning with 56 percent to 44 percent with 99 percent of the vote in.
Florida Senate — Winner: Marco Rubio (R)
In fairness, certainly not all Tea Party candidates could be said to hold “fringe” viewpoints. Nor were they all gaffe-prone. Unlike N.Y. governor candidate Carl Paladino, Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller and Senator-elect Paul, Rubio ran a tough campaign that was professional, largely gaffe- and scandal-free, and could even be seen as “mainstream” for a Tea Party candidate. By shutting out Gov. Charlie Crist in the primaries, a three-way race opened up. Similar races took place in Colorado, Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island (where independent Lincoln Chaffee won) and other races across the country.
Yahoo! shows that with 94 percent of precincts reporting in, Rubio took 49 percent, Crist took 29 percent, and Democrat Kendrick Meek netted 20 percent of the vote. Given the numbers, it would seem that had Meek stepped out as encouraged by Democrats, if even 1 percent of his votes went to Rubio or sat out, it wouldn’t have changed the results.
Rubio’s popularity in the movement signals that, as a youngish senator, he may be destined for even greater aspirations, should the Tea Party movement persist.
West Virginia Senate — Winner: Joe Manchin (D)
This was the first breath of relief for Democrats before the night continued to rain Republican victories. This early return meant that Republicans had to run the table on all of the competitive Senate races remaining.
Popular Gov. Joe Manchin bested John Raese 53 percent to 43 percent, as noted by Yahoo! with 99 percent of precincts reporting in.
Connecticut Senate — Winner: Richard Blumenthal (D)
The moral of this race: Money can’t save an unattractive candidate. Widely considered a potential Republican pickup after Democrat Christ Dodd retired, WWF manager Linda McMahon found herself trailing with little room to celebrate her primary victory as she trailed Richard Blumenthal, according to Rasmussen Reports. She dwarfed Blumenthal’s campaign budget with $46,682,270 in her own coffers, mostly her own money, according to OpenSecrets.org. Yahoo! has McMahon losing, 46 percent to Blumenthal’s 52 percent, with 64 percent of precincts in as of midnight eastern.
Wisconsin Senate — Winner: Ron Johnson (R)
With 63 percent of precincts reporting in, Tea Party candidate Ron Johnson defeated outspoken liberal Sen. Russ Feingold 53 percent to 46 percent, according to Yahoo!. Feingold’s loss means that disappointment in the Democratic Congress ran deep in the Midwest, where unemployment rates were at 7.7 percent in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.