My conservative cousin from New York agrees with me that Scott Brown’s Massachusetts miracle is the biggest upset in a Senate race in the past 50 years. As I expected, though, he is able to add a few strong contenders during this span and, reaching back two more years to 1958, a few more.
[Brown’s victory] was an upset for the ages. Two Senate election shockers may come close. Show biz hoofer George Murphy’s election to the US Senate from California over JFK Press Secretary Pierre Salinger in the face of the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide and Mitch McConnell’s defeat of Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston in 1984. Huddleston’s defeat was seen as a product of the Reagan landslide. But, he was the only incumbent Democratic Senator who lost that year.
McConnell launched possibly the best negative ad campaign ever waged by a politician in my lifetime. Recall the ads underscoring Huddleston’s attendance record that showed a pack of bloodhounds running through the swamps searching for him. and the series of “Dope on Dee” ads that made the incumbent look like the subject of a detective’s dossier. Whoever his media guy was he ranks right up there with James Carville & the late Lee Atwater.
1958 was also a great year for Senatorial upsets. The venerable John Bricker of Ohio was defeated by Stephen Young who had lost in runs for Attorney General & had been defeated in a reelection bid for a Congressional seat. Bricker had been the GOP Veep nominee in 1944 and his constitutional amendment restricting the President’s treaty making powers was one of the great policy issues of the 1950’s. It even was the national collegiate debate topic one year. Also, GOP veteran Edward Thye of Minnesota was surprisingly defeated by the late surging campaign of Eugene McCarthy.