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Republicans Win House Big; Tea Party Costs Them Senate

With several close races still to be counted, it’s appearing that the Republicans will gain 60-65 seats in the House, exceeding the polls by 5-10 seats.  Also as expected, they’ll fall short of taking back the Senate.   The enthusiasm for Tea Party candidates likely helped the Republican wave.  But it also likely cost the GOP four Senate seats that it would otherwise have won — and thus the majority.

NYT’s Michael Cooper‘s analysis is titled “Victories Suggest Wider Appeal of Tea Party.”  It’s in inapt title.

The Tea Party victories by Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida underscored the extent to which Republicans and Democrats alike may have underestimated the power of the Tea Party, a loosely-affiliated, at times ill-defined, coalition of grass-roots libertarians and disaffected Republicans.

In exit polls, four in 10 voters expressed support for the Tea Party Movement. And Mr. Paul called his win part of “a tea party tidal wave” in his victory speech.

But other races showed the clear limits of the Tea Party’s appeal. The movement cost the Republicans a chance to pick up Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s old Senate seat in Delaware when Christine O’Donnell, a Tea Party favorite who was put on the defensive by her colorful past, lost as expected to Christopher Coons, the Democrat. And in the Colorado governor’s race Dan Maes, the Tea Party-backed candidate who won the Republican nomination, finished third in a three-way race. Republicans feared that they might be among several outspoken, highly conservative Tea Party candidates who could cost them other races they had thought they could win.

Still, the early victories in Kentucky and Florida — along with the victory of Nikki Haley, a Tea Party-backed candidate, as the governor of South Carolina — showed a strength to the movement that seemed unlikely just a year ago.

The problem with this analysis is that Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina would surely have gone Republican with a more traditional candidate.  And Colorado, which seems to be on the verge of electing a Republican Senator (the race is still too close to call definitively) would certainly have been more competitive.

The most disappointing loss of the night was in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was ridiculously unpopular.   So much so, that it appeared that a crazy, stupid woman was going to beat him.   A candidate who’s handlers basically spent the whole period after the primaries telling her to stop making public appearances lest more people find out what a stupid loon she is.

In Delaware, Mike Castle would have cruised to victory.  He’s a Republican In Name Only, of course.   But that would have been a vote for Mitch McConnell as majority leader.   Instead, we got a very liberal candidate who’ll vote for Harry Reid.   (The same Harry Reid, whom you’ll recall from earlier, would surely have lost running against any other conceivable candidate but the stupid, crazy woman the Tea Partiers backed.)

In West Virginia, where the GOP had hoped to take the seat held since roughly the Civil War by Robert Byrd, Democratic Governor Joe Manchin beat Republican Joe Raese by a much-wider-than-expected margin.

Still, the Republicans took back Pennsylvania, which they lost when Arlen Specter switched to save his ass.  It didn’t work.  Pat Toomey has won by 80,000-odd votes out of nearly 4 million cast.  They beat Russ Feingold in Wisconsin.   Mark Kirk won Barack Obama’s Senate seat!

Three other races which were expected to be close were and are yet to be decided:

  • In Colorado, incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet holds a narrow lead over Republican Ken Buck with 88% reporting.  Again, this is a case where a more mainstream Republican would likely have won easily.  Buck’s a global warming denialist and thinks homosexuality, like alcoholism, is a choice.
  • In Washington, with 65% reporting, it’s a 50-50 tie between Democrat Patty Murray and perpetual candidate Gino Rossi, who always seems to lose in recounts
  • In Alaska, Tea Party Republican Joe Miller is doing much less well than he was polling and is badly trailing “write-in candidates, including Lisa Murkowski” with 76% reporting.  That one may take a while to sort out.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Pete says:

    James, the Tea Party is an amorphous, embryonic movement spawned by the arrogance of DC pols. Any clear thinker couldn’t realistically believe it would be a well oiled, organization. If it stays engaged through 2012, it will likely polish its rough edges and exert more focused energy on its purpose. For those who are fair thinkers, it has taken our political debate in a new direction and hopefully sobered a majority of the power drunk elites in DC.

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  2. sam says:

    “With several close races still to be counted, it’s appearing that the Republicans will gain 60-65 seats in the House, exceeding the polls by 5-10 seats”

    Yeah, if you’ll excuse me, my order of crow is arriving.

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  3. largebill says:

    James,

    The problem with your analysis is you are making presumptions that are not provable. Winning the senate this cycle was not a likely result. 2012 is a cycle where DEM’s have a lot more seats to defend. You claim Castle would have cruised to victory. Huh? Maybe he would have won a slim victory which I doubt, but no he would not have cruised to an easy victory. Regardless, electing a liberal with an (R) after his name does nothing for me or our country. Castle would have been very similar to Specter, Chaffee, etc. Having a slim majority comprised of several senators who are fairly liberal does no good towards changing the crap done in DC. We had a majority like that 10 years ago and all we got was the blame for liberal spending, etc. Bottom line: Don’t tell us that some clown would have cruised to a general election victory if they can even win a primary election. I’m not going to apologize for being glad that we have Marco Rubio instead of your establishment choice of Charlie Crist. Taking your argument a different direction, establishment types pushed Fiorina in California I thought Chuck DeVore was a much better candidate.

    Maybe voters in some states (CA, MA, MD, WA, etc) are just too darn stupid. Maybe we need to explain basic economics more clearly during campaigns. Or maybe those states need to default before they will learn. Time will tell. Regardless, I’m not going to cry over not winning the senate by one seat just to see Snowe, Collins, Murkowski, Castle set the agenda.

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  4. John Personna says:

    The Republicans I’m watching on TV are saying a repudiation of both parties, and that it can happen again in two years. I can accept that.

    I’ve been talking my frustration with barbell politics and broken government for years. Maybe the expiration date on polarization has finally been reached. We’ll see.

    As I say in the other thread we’ll have to suffer people who think their minorities are majorities, but maybe they finally get to lose.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @largebill: Mike Castle is as conservative a Republican as you’re going to get in Delaware. He was a vote to organize the Senate under Republican leadership; now you have a vote for the Dems. And he’d cruised to statewide election as the state’s only Representative cycle after cycle. I like his chances.

    I haven’t followed Rubio’s campaign all that closely, and do prefer him to Christ. But Florida and Kentucky and South Carolina are the places to push for more conservative Republicans — they’re an easier sell there.

    I, too, would have preferred Chuck Devore in California. But he would have been even less competitive than Fiorina.

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  6. Not a big fan of a lot of some of the Tea Party candidates, but this is a bad argument against them. But I’m even less a fan of your assumption that the GOP’s primary goal should be having a Senate majority purely for the sake of having a Senate majority. While it may be advantageous in the short term to elect anyone who can win, I think 1994, 2006, and last night all show how this ends up being a bad long term strategy: the constitue vote buying you have to do to keep the marginal members on board ends up turning everything you do into a dog’s lunch of bad compromises that ends up costing far more seats than you gained.

    The Tea Party probably did cost the GOP the Senate, but the GOP may be better off. There’s another election in two years, after all.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy: “I’m even less a fan of your assumption that the GOP’s primary goal should be having a Senate majority purely for the sake of having a Senate majority”

    I get this argument. I really do. The problem is that, absent a perfect storm — and 2010 was pretty close to that — there simply aren’t 50 states where a conservative Republican can win Senate seats. Much less all at one time. At best, you’re going to get 40 conservatives, 10 moderates who are conservative on fiscal issues but not social issues, and a handful of liberalish Republicans from Blue states. You simply have to build a coalition and have the conservatives drive the train as best they can.

    Yes, that’ll mean constant arm twisting and vote buying. But that’s how you govern a very large, diverse country.

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  8. John Burgess says:

    I agree with Stormy Dragon. For the Tea Party, success in certain senatorial races would have been sweet. But by dumping the utilitarian, inside-the-beltway Republicans in primaries, the showed (though Karl Rove still isn’t getting it) that they’re sticking to their ideological guns. Republicans who spend like Democrats are going to be be challenged and some of them will lose.

    That’s a salutary lesson to the Republican Party. Rubio spelled it out very clearly and the repudiation of Crist is very tasty this fall morning.

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  9. george says:

    “Maybe voters in some states (CA, MA, MD, WA, etc) are just too darn stupid. Maybe we need to explain basic economics more clearly during campaigns. Or maybe those states need to default before they will learn. Time will tell. Regardless, I’m not going to cry over not winning the senate by one seat just to see Snowe, Collins, Murkowski, Castle set the agenda.”

    Nice to see the Tea Party picking up the standard line of Democrats and Republicans that anyone who doesn’t vote for them is stupid. Funny how quick a popularist movement can pick up elitism … the “we’re smarter than you, but you don’t realise it yet”. When do we schedule the popular revolt against the elitist Tea Party?

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  10. TG Chicago says:

    Joyner said:

    I haven’t followed Rubio’s campaign all that closely, and do prefer him to Christ.

    Marco Rubio: Bigger than Jesus!

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  11. john personna says:

    But by dumping the utilitarian, inside-the-beltway Republicans in primaries, the showed (though Karl Rove still isn’t getting it) that they’re sticking to their ideological guns.

    Do they have any other guns?

    It’s put up or shut up time on spending cuts.

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  12. The problem is that, absent a perfect storm — and 2010 was pretty close to that — there simply aren’t 50 states where a conservative Republican can win Senate seats.

    Then you’re better off working to convince voters to come to you (something neither party ever seems to do anymore) than going to them. It may be you can only get 40 conservatives. But if you start pandering to those 10 moderates just to get a majority, the voters start getting pissed at the hypocrisy. Is it worth having a slim Senate majority that can’t really accomplish anything if it means in four years you end up with only 30 conservatives and the other party in control anyways?

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  13. Take the healthcare bill, as an example. The democrats would have faired better with a far less ambitious bill that stuck to their actual principles than the unweidly compromise they settled for to please moderates, when ended up costing them tons of seats.

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  14. Muffler says:

    The Tea Party is not a) grassroots and b) much different then the Republicans. All the Tea Party represents is an expensive rebranding of the far right wing. The infighting isn’t over and I wait to see if the Tea Party critic in the next 2 years is directed much to the Republican controlled house. I also expect to see the usual ranting and raving, subpoenas and general non-productive political maneuvering.

    I will congratulate America for rewarding people who offered nothing for 2 years but opposition and while running offered you no solutions other then the ones they have been doing for decades. Bait and Switch time.

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  15. john personna says:

    Stormy, you don’t seem to be aware of the shift, that more voters are dissociated from both parties than ever before. Obama won when the independents shifted his way, and now Republicans won (in the House) when they tipped the other way.

    It’s tippy politics, with the real moderates deciding.

    If Republicans deceive themselves into thinking they’ve got a bunch of new partisans they’ll lose again.

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  16. john personna says:

    Muffler, the Tea Party will prove itself useful if they fulfill their “fiscal sanity” slogan. I’m skeptical though, just because genuine spending cuts continue to be the third rail in American politics. The conservatives differentiate themselves by talking half the game, claiming they want cuts, that’s all.

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  17. bandit says:

    Mark Kirk won Barack Obama’s Senate seat!

    He won the state’s seat – it didn’t belong to anyone.

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  18. steve says:

    Republicans would have won big without the Tea Party. They clearly, IMO, would have won DE, CO and NV with regular, competent candidates. Instead, the Tea Party gave no thought to the quality of their candidate, just the label.

    Steve

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  19. matt says:

    Seriously can we stop pretending the tea party is anything other then Republicans under a new name. Polls of tea partiers clearly show the vast majority are Republicans. Every tea party candidate ended up running as a Republican after winning in a Republican primary. I would give these people some credit if they actually were an independent party that ran candidates of their own but it’s painfully obvious to anyone without a partisan axe to grind that these people are just republicans re branded….

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  20. largebill says:

    Steve,

    They MAY have won those states with other candidates. You can not say with any certainty that they would have won. Polls today obviously don’t reflect any opposition damage that would occur during a campaign.

    The House has been temporarily given to the Republicans. If they continue with business as usual instead of being good stewards of the public trust then they can be dumped in two years. They’ve got the purse strings and better tighten them. Defund NEA, NPR, and a hundred other government garbage they have no business wasting confiscated tax monies on.

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  21. ptfe says:

    Guess we can move from the “enthusiasm gap” to the “enthusiasm drop”. We saw it after Obama’s election (partly due to the economy, partly due to policies [some as a result of aforementioned economy], partly due to the loss of “the enemy”, partly due to the baseline organization not keeping relevant), and I suspect we’ll see it again with the Tea Party.

    Unfortunately for the TP, this will just showcase how significant the base Republican party was in the movement, since Republicans won’t exactly be effective at protesting a government they’ve got responsibility for. I think we’ll just have to see how many Tea Party rallies are held in the next year — and how many people still attend. If the numbers drop pretty much immediately (say, Jan-May of next year), we can declare the Tea Party fully absorbed into the Rs. (If that happens, though, they’ll doubtless try to raise its zombie sometime around Jan 2012.)

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  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***The Tea Party probably did cost the GOP the Senate, but the GOP may be better off. There’s another election in two years, after all.***

    Ya, but then again the GOP and many of it’s suspect supporters including some here bashing some of the tea party candidates relentlessly day after day post after post surely did not help.

    Thanks guys:(

    And anyone who thinks people like Marco Rubio and Ron Johnson will be absorbed into the slapped awake GOP have truly not been paying attention.

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  23. ponce says:

    “The most disappointing loss of the night was in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was ridiculously unpopular. ”

    Did you really want “crazy, stupid” Sharron Angle to win?

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  24. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: “Did you really want “crazy, stupid” Sharron Angle to win?”

    I’d gladly have traded a Harry Reid win for, say, a Barbara Boxer loss. Not having that option, though, I’ll support the shitty Republican candidate who’ll vote for my guy in the leadership.

    That makes sense in legislative politics. It probably doesn’t in an executive race.

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  25. Stormy, you don’t seem to be aware of the shift, that more voters are dissociated from both parties than ever before.

    No, I am aware. Which is why there should be less focus on tricking those people to vote for you this election and more on convincing them your principles are right. The latter is much harder and doesn’t have an immediate effect on elections, but it’s the only way to make lasting changes in what the public wants from Washington.

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  26. Linda says:

    And if the Democrats had not been so arrogant and wacko and been more mainstream with the average American, they would have won or retained more seats. So whats the point of this article…………….Funny Mr. Joyner does not mention absentee ballots and how they played a role in many of these tight races. Think “voter fraud”!

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  27. ponce says:

    “That makes sense in legislative politics.”

    With their individual power to block legislation and nominations…isn’t the Senate really made up of 100 executives?

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  28. James Joyner says:

    “With their individual power to block legislation and nominations…isn’t the Senate really made up of 100 executives?”

    The Senate isn’t a parliamentary body. But it has characteristics of one: Leadership matters. Committee chairs matter. So, as long as members will vote for your caucus, they’re very useful. That’s why I’d have much preferred Mike Castle in Delaware to Coons. At the end of the day, they’ll probably vote 85% the same way. But one’s a vote for Harry Reid and Democratic chairmen, the other one for Mitch McConnell and Republican chairmen.

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  29. Wayne says:

    Largebill good points. I also would point out if people like James had their way, Specter and those like him would still be representing Republicans in the Senate and house. The House is much more conservative because of the Tea Party than it would have been otherwise.

    Also we would had a better chance of picking up another seat or two if the Republican Establishment and RINOs would have back the Tea Party Candidates after the primaries instead of undermining and attacking them.

    In the end we are better off with a strong more conservative minority than a more liberal very slim majority. Many of the analyst liberal and conservative on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX thought that Republican controlling both houses with only a very slim majority in the Senate would have hurt the GOP in 2012.

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  30. JKB says:

    Yeah, I remember that stirring Republican call to arms before the primaries. What was it, that’s right it was, “eh!” Or “Vote for us, we’ve got no ideas which is better than Obama’s ideas”

    Sorry but McConnell failed at leadership when the RSCC was permitted to publicly attack Republican nominees who happened to be Tea Party favorites and threaten to withhold support. So he can sit in the back and think about working with America or working to keep Washington elite. And yes, he may not control the RSCC but that is the burden of leadership.

    The Tea Party went long and not everything connected. Now there is all this whining about how the Republicans could have been a contender. Sounds a little punch drunk to me. When the real question is that now that the Democrats have freed themselves from the restrictions of an overwhelming majority in the Senate will they be able to pass legislation that was just impossible when they had a majority?

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  31. Wayne says:

    1. Re “When the real question is that now that the Democrats have freed themselves from the restrictions of an overwhelming majority in the Senate will they be able to pass legislation that was just impossible when they had a majority?”

    LOL. 60+ gains in House and 5+ in Senate, pretty good gains to me.

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  32. An Interested Party says:

    “Maybe voters in some states (CA, MA, MD, WA, etc) are just too darn stupid. Maybe we need to explain basic economics more clearly during campaigns. Or maybe those states need to default before they will learn.”

    Funny you should write that, as I would bet that those states send in more federal tax money than they recieve back…meanwhile, so many of those “smart” red states keep sucking at the teat of money taken from those “stupid” states…

    “Defund NEA, NPR, and a hundred other government garbage they have no business wasting confiscated tax monies on.”

    Oh yes, because that will really go so far in balancing the budget…

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