The 2010 U.S. election cycle provided a veritable laboratory on the perils of nominating the wrong candidates for office.
A stark example of how important it is to nominate the best candidate for a given state in a primary came from the 2010 Delaware U.S. Senate race. The choice was simple. Had the Republicans nominated the venerable and popular Delaware congressman and former governor Mike Castle they would have won by double digits the seat formerly held by Vice President Joseph Biden. But by nominating Christine O’Donnell instead, the GOP lost by double digits. In fact, the Democratic candidate, Christopher Coons, had little or no control over his own fate.
O’Donnell appeared to be a nice, attractive lady with a great sense of humor. However, unlike the well-seasoned Castle, she had no real qualifications for the job of U.S. Senator and could not overcome the baggage of having played several points for a laugh on such shows as Politically Incorrect during the 1990s. People could not distinguish between when she was being serious or just being silly. She became saddled with having to defend several of her statements and with the perception that she was extreme in her viewpoints.
“I dabbled into witchcraft…I never joined a coven,” she said during a 1999 appearance on Politically Incorrect. That could be interpreted as strictly being played for laughs. So could her remark heard during a July 1999 edition of Politically Incorrect: “I was dabbling into every other kind of religion before I became a Christian…I would have become a Hare Krishna but I didn’t want to become a vegetarian. And that is honestly the reason why—because I’m Italian, I love meatballs!” Hah. Hah.
But some of her other remarks couldn’t be so easily dismissed as attempts at humor. Those would include: “You know what, evolution is a myth. Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?” which she said during a 1998 appearance on Politically Incorrect. And “American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains,” which she said when discussing cloning on FOX News channel with Bill O’Reilly in 2007. Another controversy was when she said on MTVs Sex In the 90s show: “It is not enough to be abstinent with other people, you have to be abstinent alone. The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. You can’t masturbate without lust.”
Chris Coons, the new Delaware Senator and the beneficiary of O’Donnell’s nomination, won the election on the day of the Delaware Republican primary. He could have lost it on that day too had Castle been nominated.
In New York, the Democratic Party in recent years has suffered the resignation of the elected governor, Eliot Spitzer, over charges he solicited a prostitute; the lackluster performance and low poll numbers of his successor, David Paterson; and several scandals involving state senators and house members. Therefore, the GOP was ripe for victory (or at least a very strong showing) in the 2010 governor’s race. That is until the party nominated Carl Paladino instead of the more electable Rick Lazio.
Paladino’s verbal and physical gaffes paved the way for Democrat Andrew Cuomo to cruise to victory. These stumbles included sending racially insensitive and sexually explicit e-mails, as reported by the New York Times; threatening to “take out” a reporter following a heated exchange with New York Post State Editor Fredric Dicker, as reported by ABC News; and being accused of “stunning homophobia” following an anti-gay rant at a meeting with Jewish leaders, as reported by the New York Daily News.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faced an almost certain end to his political career in a year that was difficult for Democratic incumbents. In the wake of a backlash against Washington politicians, he was considered the quintessential Washington insider. In addition, his home state of Nevada had one of the highest rates of unemployment and home foreclosures in the nation. Republicans such as Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian, the son of famed basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, stood poised, by opinion polls and the political environment, to defeat Reid. However, Reid had the good fortune of having Sharron Angle win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senator from Nevada. Angle provided the missteps (including running an ad many thought galvanized the Hispanic community against her) to allow Reid to maintain his seat.
Many people thought three-term incumbent Barbara Boxer was very vulnerable in her efforts to remain in the U.S. Senate. Her home state of California, like Nevada, has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation. However, when it was revealed that her opponent, Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, had laid off thousands of employees and outsourced hundreds of jobs during her tenure, Boxer actually benefited from the jobs issue and used it as a primary weapon to keep her seat.
In another big California contest, Meg Whitman also touted her credentials of running a major high-tech company, E-Bay. But when she spent over $140 million of her own money on her campaign, according to the Huffington Post, and also had a major issue with employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper, she enabled former governor Jerry Brown to return to the office he served in from 1975-1983.
Finally, the appointed Colorado Senator Michael Bennet was a long shot to be elected to a term in his own right. Many speculated that Jane Norton would easily defeat him should she win the GOP nomination for Senate. However, the nomination went to Ken Buck, a Tea Party favorite who ran a lackluster and gaffe-prone campaign, offending supporters and detractors along the way, and narrowly lost.
These examples were cases where better Republican candidates could have won elections in a Republican year when the party still managed to pick up over 60 U.S. House seats, a handful of Senate seats, and many governor’s chairs and state legislatures. Democrats also nominated some unelectable candidates, such as Alvin Greene, who received the Democratic primary nod for U.S. Senate from South Carolina. But the difference is these Democrats like Greene were running in states and in an election cycle where the Democrats were not going to win anyway, whereas the Republicans, with better choices, could have captured more seats and even won the U.S. Senate majority.
Politically Incorrect, hosted by Bill Maher, ABC television
MTV ‘s Sex In The 90’s
FOX NEWs, Bill O’Reilly