Back in February, I wrote a lengthy post seriously questioning an article in The Atlantic that suggested Colorado was the harbinger of the year to come for Democrats, as failed and notably abrasive 2010 Republican nominee Ken Buck agreed to drop out of the Senate race there in favor of Congressman Cory Gardner, the more moderate and affable establishment pick. That article basically asserted that this proved that Republicans had gotten their act together on the Senate side after major flubs cost them Senate control in 2010 and 2012.
Tonight, Ken Buck is a Congressman-elect in Gardner’s old seat (the only part I predicted correctly) and Cory Gardner is a Senator-elect, having defeated Sen. Udall in a race that I wasn’t even seriously putting on the map until this summer. It looks like Republicans will end up winning more than they need (possibly quite a bit more — it’s been a bad night) to capture the Senate, but they’ve definitely crossed the line at this point. And Gardner was a major factor in that, both dismantling what could have been an easy hold for Democrats with somebody like Buck running again and ensuring that Republicans had extra paths to victory while Democrats had extra states to defend. Gardner becoming the clear favorite in the last month basically made it obvious that Democrats were going to lose at least seven seats for sure (the fallback magic number to flip control even if Republicans choked in Kansas), almost certainly one or two more, and quite possibly more beyond that. In the end, when all is said and done (after Alaska comes in and after Louisiana’s runoff, if they don’t beat expectations at this point), Democrats are about to have lost 9 Senate seats and won none.
Even with recruits like Scott Brown proving to be duds (New Hampshire) or “offbeat” Joni Ernst beating expectations (Iowa), getting people like Ken Buck to step aside in Colorado and nominating non-fringe candidates via primary in places like North Carolina are a big reason why Republicans had a pretty easy time winning the Senate tonight. And they also very nearly won a surprise bonus seat in Virginia by nominating Ed Gillespie, a moderate Beltway Republican with extensive fundraising capabilities, to challenge Sen. Mark Warner even when it looked for much of the year like Warner might be re-elected by double digits (and not the 0.5% margin he’s currently on track to win). That’s definitely not what I was expecting in February when I wrote (in the same post) “…Virginia Republicans getting behind Ed Gillespie won’t prove much of anything since the Democrats will still win handily there.”
Which is not to say any of these winners are genuinely moderate. But they certainly talk the talk convincingly enough to not giftwrap unforced errors to embattled Democrats all over the place for a third cycle in a row.
This was always a tough year for Senate Dems with a very strong GOP advantage built in from early on in 2014, but it was not clear it would be a lock as things developed. In the end, though, Ken Buck and Cory Gardner making a smooth switcheroo in Colorado back in February was one of the major tipping points after all for Senate control. I sure didn’t see that coming. Maybe in 2015 I’ll stick to picking out minor global news stories before they become huge headlines, because I did pretty well on that front this year.