While Republicans denounce Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claim to have inside information from Bain about Romney’s tax returns, it’s worth remembering the ways in which conservative organizations have contributed to Reid staying in the Senate. In the 2010 primary, the Club for Growth, Republican Liberty Caucus and Tea Party Express, backed former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. And the Reid campaign couldn’t believe their luck that the Republican party had nominated a candidate who had previously floated the possibility of second amendment remedies to an out of control Congress.
The conservative groups had failed to properly vet the candidate they had lent their support to. Angle defeated two blander nominees, going from single digits in polls taken two months before the primary to 40% in a crowded field. As the nominee, she went on to commit a few more legendary gaffes, telling Hispanic children they looked Asian, and warning Tea Party supporters that Dearborn, Michigan had fallen under sharia law. She lost to Reid by six points, despite polls indicating that the Senate Majority Leader was finished.
Sue Lowden, the former Chairwoman of the Republican Party and State Senate Whip, may have suggested bartering chickens for health care, but she hadn’t come close to the stupidity represented by Angle. Two time General Election loser Danny Tarkanian was also likely to have been swept in by the Republican wave had he been the nominee. But that didn’t happen. The Republicans nominated Angle largely on the strengths of her endorsements. And Reid got reelected, continuing to serve as Senate Majority Leader, able to use the bully pulpit to accuse the Republican presidential nominee of paying no taxes whatsoever for the last decade.
A few other extreme candidates lost winnable Senate races in that cycle. Christine O’Donnell defeated former Governor and Representative Mike Castle in the primary for Senate and went on to lose to Democrat Chris Coons, now the Junior Senator. Castle had been reelected to the US House in an atrocious cycle for the party when the top Democrat from the state was on the ballot as a Vice-President, so there’s no question about whether he would have become Senator had he won the primary. So Republicans have the Tea Party groups to thank for Chris Coons, a reliable liberal vote, as well.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet won reelection by 1.7 percent against the gaffe-prone Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck. Buck had defeated former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton in a close primary with tea party support. The Republican party in the state was also hurt by gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, a tea party backed entreprenuer who defeated former congressman Scott McInnis in a close primary. Maes finished the General Election in third place with 11% after it had turned out that he had lied about working undercover with the Kansas Board of Elections. Congressman Tom Tancredo, known for his views against immigration, had 36.8% as a third party candidate. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper sailed through the General Election, and is nowconsidered a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
Republicans would have needed to win one more Senate race to get a majority. I suspect that the bad publicity of Angle, O’Donnell, Buck and Maes, as well as New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, helped Washington’s Patty Murray win reelection by five points. Another Senate race which could have been more competitive was the Senate election in Connecticut, where the Republican party nominated WWE CEO Linda McMahon over moderate former Congressman Rob Simmons. McMahon lost by twelve points to State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who was under fire for lying about his military service. With his bronze star, Simmons would have been in a better position to capitalize on Blumenthal’s shortcomings. And a better performance by the candidate for Senate would likely have meant that the Republican candidate for Governor would not have lost by half a percent.
The Republican party did take back the House in 2010. Had they chosen better candidates for statewide office, they could have taken back the Senate as well. And then they wouldn’t have had to deal with Reid or any Majority Leader.