Democrats Hang on to Senate…Barely

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

As was mentioned yesterday, the Republicans easily took control of the House, with a monumental gain in seats. While the party also made gains in the Senate, it was not enough to beat the Democrats who currently hold a plurality, but not majority. Going into Tuesday’s vote, the Dems had a 57 to 41 seat lead (with two independents). As of right now, the seat count stands at 50 to 46 with two independents. There are still two seats yet to be called in Washington and Alaska.

While President Obama’s party did not receive the same thumping they did in the house, there is no question the Republicans were victorious in this arena as well. The Democrats can point to key Senate wins however, if they are looking for a bright side to the outcome. Some of these include Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer and Chris Coons’ wins. These were all heavily contested races and would have been disastrous if the party had lost.

In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was in a close battle with Republican Sharon Angle. Had Reid lost, it would have been a clear failure on the part of the Democrats, especially since Reid is a very prominent member. Angle is (correctly or not) identified as a Tea Party Republican. It is no secret that the Tea Party movement largely hijacked the Republican party in these elections in an effort to bring an even more conservative voice to Washington. Reid accepted help from many on the campaign trail and stated First Lady Michelle Obama was his saving grace, as she made a last minute appearance for him. When the votes were tallied, Reid won with 50% of the vote.

In California, there was a similar situation brewing for the Democratic incumbent. Barbara Boxer was first elected in 1992 and is also a well known and respected Democrat. Her defeat would have been an embarrassment to the party. Her challenger was former Hewlett-Packer CEO Carly Fiorina. In the contest Fiorina, like many other Republicans, tied her opponent to President Obama, and the growing discontent with his lack of economic success. The polls and media hyped up a close race, but after the votes were counted, Boxer won reelection handily.

A less publicized, but still important seat was up for grabs in Colorado as well. Incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet was challenged by Tea Party Republican Ken Buck, (a man who regardless of his party is a total nutjob). Regardless, this was another test for the Democrats as they faced a well known Tea Party affiliate. Once again, the Democrats managed to hang onto the seat, but by a much closer margin. Bennet won by less than 20,000 votes.

Christine O'Donnell

Another important race (or one deemed important by the media) was in Delaware. Incumbent Chris Coons was challenged by newcomer and Tea Party Republican Christine O’Donnell. The race became exciting when O’Donnell surprised everyone by winning the Republican party nomination. Her striking resemblance to Sarah Palin of course helped fan the media firestorm. She proved herself to be very knowledgeable and politically savvy, but also stumbled on many occasions. However she ultimately failed, and Coons will be headed back to the Senate.

As was noted above there are still two outstanding races to be called. The first of which is in Alaska, where a situation played out similar to Delaware. Tea Party candidate Joe Miller unseated incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski for that party’s nomination. Since she got snubbed for her party’s nomination, Murkowski launched her own self funded campaign to be reelected through write-in ballots. Residents of Alaska have the opportunity to write-in Murkowski’s name instead of voting for Miller or Democrat Scott McAdams. Early counts are showing Murkowski with a lead and it would be incredible if she pulled off the victory. The problem is, the vote counting is extremely slow, and each ballot will likely be recounted and time is needed to confirm the legal issues surrounding a write-in ballot. As such the result may not be known until the end of the month.

In Washington, incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray is in a close battle with Republican Dino Rossi, which has still not been called. Murray has had a slight lead since the vote counting began, but to his credit Rossi has been close the whole time. The Democrats desperately need Murray to win, as that would put them back into a majority situation in the Senate (even though the two independents generally vote with the Democrats). Rossi is not considered to be a Tea Party Republican, but of course would like to unseat Murray after 18 years in Washington. It seems like every election involving Dino Rossi is ridiculously close. In 2004 he ran for governor and lost by 128 votes to Christine Gregoire. In 2008 he tried again, and lost by a larger, but fairly close margin. And here we are in 2010 where Rossi is once again trying to win another election against a Democrat. Perhaps these close victories are what is keeping him going. If he doesn’t win this Senate seat (and it might be a while before we know, as a recount is almost for certain) look for Rossi to pop up in the 2012 House elections, or maybe he will run for dog catcher or maybe school crossing guard! UPDATE: Murray retained her seat, beating Rossi by two percentage points.

Dino Rossi

It is clear in this election that the Tea Party candidates hiding behind Republican masks hurt the Republicans. The majority of candidates with Tea Party ties lost. It is impossible to know what the outcome would have been if they were simply Republican candidates. But it is fair to say that many Americans were unwilling to take a chance on what could be a passing phase. To their credit, the Tea Party candidates were extremely successful, even if they benefited their opponents more. It is impossible for two candidates on the right to beat one on the left. The Tea Party movement and the Republicans must unite or merge if they wish to have any long term success. Splitting the vote does nothing but aide the Democrats, something neither party wishes to do.

However it is unlikely that many in the Tea Party movement have any desire to associate with or have formal ties to the Republican party. Although many of them hijacked the Republican label in an attempt to get elected, it was likely done to garner name recognition and money. The situation is compounded by the Tea Party’s de facto leader Sarah Palin who is crossing the country speaking to every Tom, Joe and Mary six pack who will listen.

Many were looking for these elections to solidify the Tea Party movement one way or another. It would either entrench it within American society or effectively kill it. In this case, I don’t think either occurred. The movement was not successful, but they put their name and vision forward and it was accepted by a large chunk of the electorate. They will be very vocal in these next two years and it will be 2012 when the presidency is on the line that their future will really become clear.


About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on November 4, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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