2010 Election Analysis and Post-Mortem

All the vote counting is Colorado and Washington State is not done yet but one thing is already clear. The push of Tea Party candidates who were not vetted and clearly not ready for prime time, largely thanks to critical endorsements by Sarah Palin, has cost GOP control of the Senate in 2010. Below is a scorecard race by race.

Tea Party failure




I’m scoring these contests on two levels, one a strict measure of Senate seats lost or gained, and the other a measure of just how conservative these candidates are compared with the alternate GOP candidate who would have otherwise been nominated. Call this latter measure “conservative points.”

Delaware – Christine O’Donnell is the most obvious Tea Party failure but that is only the beginning of the Tea Party’s Senate disaster in 2010. Turns out that Karl Rove was right. We all know popular GOP governor Mike Castle was a dead cinch lock the Senate. His huge popularity in the state would have carried him to an easy victory in the general election. Yes, he was not a great candidate for talk show conservatives, but as Reagan said you gotta win baby. He would have voted the conservative line perhaps 70% of the time in the Senate. The winner and former “Marxist” Coons becomes now the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate who will vote with conservatives approximately 0% of the time. So from a conservative perspective, the Tea Party cost conservatives -0.7 conservative points in Delaware. From a Republican perspective, the disaster results in -1 Senate seat.

Nevada – Harry Reid wins re-election, an outcome considered unfathomable over the summer. Democrat brass at the time were ready to pull the rug out from under him suggesting he should pull out of the race. That bit of electioneering presumed Sue Lowden was the GOP nominee as expected. Alas, we got stuck with Sharron Angle, an incredible money drain that might have benefited better candidates in other states, and a ridiculous loss to an otherwise unelectable incumbent Harry Reid with a 30% approval rating. From a conservative perspective, Reid votes with us only 10% of the time while Lowden could be expected to vote with us 80% of the time, a net loss of -0.7 conservative points in Nevada. From a Republican perspective, this Tea Party disaster results in -1 Senate seat.

Florida – A bright spot for conservatives to be sure, but not a GOP gain. In a sane election cycle Crist would have won the nomination and the Senate seat and voted with conservatives about 70% of the time. And poor Charlie wouldn’t have melted into a mushy doggie doo of a candidate and nobody would have known better. Rubio will vote the conservative line 90% of the time. The Tea Party gets a 0.2 conservative points here, and Republicans get a net 0 Senate seats, a small plus but practically a wash.

Colorado – Jane Norton would have won the Senate seat that Buck is having to struggle for and been a rising female star in the national GOP picture. If Buck loses, we get Bennett back who was another lost cause for Democrats as of this summer. Bennett votes with conservatives about 30% of the time. We might expect Buck to vote with conservatives about 90% of the time, while Norton would be with us 70% of the time. So a Bennett victory means the Tea Party loses us 0.4 conservative points while a Buck victory gains conservatives 0.6 conservative points. That’s a small net plus, but a Buck loss is one Senate seat the GOP should have won.

Kentucky – Rand Paul is my candidate. I love Rand Paul but don’t kid myself about his negligent impact in the political sphere. Grayson would have won this seat a little more easily. Rand Paul is my kind of libertarian conservative but probably not everyone’s. His victory is a net 0 for the GOP and a net plus for fiscal conservatives and probably a net minus (compared with Grayson) for social conservatives. Let’s call him charitably +0.2 conservative points and +0 Senate points.

Pennsylvania – Toomey’s victory, along with Rubio’s in Florida, are the most resounding Tea Party achievements on the election. Oh the long storied history of Arlen Specter’s demise is not for this article, suffice to say I’m glad to see him go. Still, he voted the conservative line about 50% after he got driven by conservatives to the dark side. We might expect Toomey to vote conservative 80% of the time, and we also can expect him like good old Rick Santorum to be a one term Senator. Winning by 1% in a huge Republican wave is not very impressive for Toomey’s future prospects in the state. Score this a pickup of 0.3 conservative points and 1 Senate seats.

Washington – Dino Rossi is probably the unluckiest politician alive, having lost two extraordinarily narrow elections previously and possibly a 3rd in 2010. He isn’t a Tea Party candidate as he wins his party’s nomination regardless. But the hidden story out west is that nominees like O’Donnell and Angle cast an appalling shadow on the local elections. It allowed the Democrats to paint a story that GOP extremism needed to be stopped, and I believe that story gave Murray the 1% she needs to get over the top. She may lose in the final vote count but I doubt it. If she does win by less than 1%, hang this one not on Rossi who is a good candidate, but lousy Tea Party candidates elsewhere who tainted his prospects.

Alaska – Whether Joe Miller or Lisa Murkowski, this is net no change either way for the GOP. And because it looks like Murkowski will win when the write-in votes are counted, this whole exercise was a waste of time. Net 0 conservative points and thanks for sucking the oxygen out of the room.

So in the final analysis, I cannot identify a single Senate race that the GOP won because of the Tea Party except PA depending on how you score it retrospectively, but we can identify some they clearly lost. No question Nevada would be in the GOP column as would Delaware. That is +2 Senate seats the GOP should have won.

And if either Buck (Colorado) or Rossi (Washington State) lose their close contests, at least one of which is probable, those are the 3rd and possibly 4th Senate seat that the Tea Party cost the GOP. That is Senate control tinkled away, and a ton of money down the drain in the process. Meanwhile we have a net loss of “conservative points” from Tea Party machinations, meaning that the Senate in total will be less conservative because of Tea Party involvement (and Sarah Palin endorsements) than it would have been without.

Update: With Buck and Rossi both losing in Colorado and Washington, respectively, the Tea Party cost conservatives -4 Senate seats in the final election analysis. That is indeed control of the Senate. So instead of Jess Sessions chairing the judiciary committee, we get Chuck Schumer. We get Democrat Tom Harkin blocking repeal of health care repeal in the health committee, and we get Democrats blocking smart tax policy in the finance committee. Love her or hate her, this is the legacy of Sarah Palin’s influence in 2010.

And this story of the 2010 election is too bad because I like the Tea Party movement. Your thoughts?