Back in January of 2010, I predicted that the Democrats, in keeping with historical trends, would lose five Senate seats. In reality, they lost seven seats (or six if you don’t count Scott Brown’s temporary victory). Let’s look specifically at the Senate class of 2010. They are up for re-election in 2016:
- Mark Kirk, the Republican who won the Illinois Senate race — Barack Obama’s old seat — also looks like someone Tea Partiers would want to purge. He received an “F” from the NRA, a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood, an “A” from the National Education Association, and 55% from Americans for Democratic Action. A moderate if there ever was one.
- Pat Toomey, a true-blue conservative member of the House of Representatives, rises to the US Senate from Pennsylvania, replacing Arlen Specter, who was a Republican until he realized he was too liberal to win a Republican primary. The Democrats suffered from a bruising internal split.
- Marco Rubio, a true-blue conservative with considerable talent and depth, nevertheless did not win a majority of the vote in the Florida, benefiting from the peculiar split between Governor Charlie Crist and Rep. Kendrick Meek. Without that split, would he have won? He replaces a Republican, Mel Martinez.
- Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin businessman, Tea Party candidate and a political blank slate who has no public record, beat incumbent Russ Feingold, an independent-minded Democrat with a long history of unconventional votes. Independent voters deserted Feingold because they are “angry at the status quo,” according to a New York Times analysis of the race. Republicans also took the governor’s seat and both houses of the state legislature in Wisconsin. Obama’s approval ratings in Wisconsin “declined at a faster rate than in any other state.”
- Rand Paul, a physician and libertarian conservative, becomes the new senator from Kentucky. His victory isn’t all bad — he’ll put cuts in defense spending on the table. He replaces a Republican in the Senate.
- John Boozman, an ophthalmologist, rancher, and member of the House, defeated incumbent Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. Conservatives said Lincoln was too close to Obama, while liberals said she wasn’t loyal enough. This was a state Barack Obama lost by 20 points in 2008.
- Dan Coats, a member of the US Senate from Indiana for 12 years, returns, taking the seat held by the retiring Evan Bayh.
- John Hoeven, Republican governor of North Dakota, takes the seat of retiring Democratic senator Byron Dorgan.
- Kelly Ayotte, former attorney general, won the seat in New Hampshire held by retiring Republican Judd Greeg.
- Rob Portman won the Ohio Senate race, keeping a Republican in the seat that Sen. George Voinovich is vacating. Portman spent 12 years in the U.S. House starting in 1993. He later was budget director and then U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush.
- Jerry Moran won the Kansas Senate seat vacated by Republican Sam Brownback, who was elected governor.
- Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat. This was a low-turnout special election for the seat held by Senator Edward Kennedy for 47 years. When Republicans realized that the Democrats were putting up a weak candidate for Senator Kennedy’s seat, they poured millions of dollars and hundreds of ground troops into a get-out-the-vote effort, in order to say proudly they took back Senator Kennedy’s seat. Brown accepted the support of the Tea Party, but quickly started to build a record Tea Partiers would consider that of a RINO — Republican in Name Only, worthy of a purge. If Brown keeps the Tea Party support, he’ll probably be too conservative to get elected in Massachusetts in 2012. But who knows? Brown might prove adept at walking the tight rope required of that rare Republican senator from Massachusetts. Edward Brooke was able to do it from 1966 to 1978, a liberal Republican and an African American. (Brown lost to Elizabeth Warren in 2012.)
Of those 12 new Republican senators, two — Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Marco Rubio of Florida — were improbable winners. Brown probably wouldn’t have won in a high-turnout election in Massachusetts. Rubio might not have won a two-person race in Florida.
The only real deer head the Tea Party can mount on its wall is that of Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. That race seemed to be a real repudiation of Democrats.