The successful Democratic candidates in Montana and North Dakota helped to make a bad night for Republicans even worse. Heidi Heitkamp is apparently the winner of the North Dakota race, and Sen. Tester was re-elected in Montana, which will give the Democrats 55 votes in the Senate. Neither outcome was expected, but they aren’t entirely surprising. By all accounts, Heitkamp had been running a very competitive and competent campaign, and the Republican candidates in both states were weaker than expected. Despite being overwhelmingly Republican states in presidential voting, both states have a history of sending Democrats to the Senate. Because of Republican setbacks in these states, the GOP picked up just one seat last night in Nebraska while losing the three seats in Indiana, Maine, and Massachusetts.
Everyone knows about the failures in Missouri and Indiana, but the losses in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Wisconsin seem more significant. The failures in Wisconsin and Virginia could be blamed on the retread candidates that the GOP put forward, but more troubling for Republicans in these states is the fact that enough of their primary voters believed that the retread candidates were their best options. Thompson hadn’t won an election in his state in well over a decade, and it had been almost as long since Allen had won a race in Virginia. Thompson’s loss suggests that Republican Senate and gubernatorial wins in 2010 were anomalies, and Allen’s loss along with Obama’s victory in the state points to the steady drift of Virginia into the Democratic column.
The Ohio and Florida races involved weak challengers and fairly popular incumbents, so Republican losses there in a presidential election year aren’t surprises. What should worry the GOP about the Ohio loss is the reason for Brown’s popularity. This is his economic populist message, which Republicans don’t seem to know how to counter or match with populist arguments of their own. In Florida, the Republican nominee was easily defeated and lost by 13 points. Mack ran well behind Romney, receiving over half a million fewer votes than the presidential ticket. Mack lost independents by 17 points. It’s worth asking whether Rubio could have prevailed in a two-candidate race with an electorate similar to this one, since his next election will also be in a presidential year. Rubio is certainly a more talented politician than Mack, but his political future in Florida may be more limited than it seems. Before the GOP starts running to Rubio as its new national hero, they might want to make sure that he will be able to win re-election in his own state.