When was the last time a race for the U.S. Senate produced a result as shocking as the one tonight? The answer depends on our point of reference. Tonight’s result wasn’t shocking in relation to how people thought the race would go when the day began. But if we use as our reference point the day that the candidates were nominated, can anyone think of a more surprising result?
I’ve been following Senate races for 50 years (albeit not that closely during the 1970s and 1980s) and I can’t think of one.
George Allen’s loss in 2006 might be close. However, Virginia had elected Democrat Chuck Robb twice, including in the great Republican year of 1994. Massachusetts hadn’t elected a Republican since Edward Brooke in 1972.
Speaking of 1994, the victory of conservative Rick Santorum in liberal Pennsylvania was a stunner. But to me, it never seemed as out-of-the-question as Brown’s victory did not long ago. Rod Grams’ 1994 victory in Minnesota (mentioned by Scott in a post below) also represented a major upset. I’ll defer to Scott and John on where that one ranks.
As i said, I’m a little vague about the 1970s and 1980s, but I do remember that James Buckley (brother of William F.) was an improbablle Senator from New York. But he won in 1970 with only 38 percent of the vote because the liberal vote split among the Democratic and Republican candidates (the Republican was Charles Goodell, father of the current commissioner of the NFL). Buckley ran as the candidate of the Conservative party.
In 1980, Paula Hawkins, a Republican, was elected Senator from Florida in a shocker. A lawyer-lobbyist friend who watched the election returns with Senator Lugar told me that Lugar was nearly in a state of shock when Hawkins won. So maybe that race rivals this one as an upset, but I don’t remember it well enough to say.
In 1962, Birch Bayh (father of Evan) narrowly defeated veteran Senator Homer Capehart. This was a major upset, as i recall. President Kennedy had despaired of a Bayh victory when the Cuban missile crisis erupted in October because Capehart, a strong anti-Communist, had constantly warned against the threat of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Kennedy is said to have quipped; “Who would have imagined, Homer Capehart is the Winston Churchill of our times.” But at least the prospect of a Bayh victory seems to have been on Kennedy’s mind a month before the election. Was the prospect of a Brown victory on Obama’s one month ago?
All-in-all, I’m tentatively declaring Brown’s victory the biggest Senate upset of the past 50 years, pending the comments of my conservative cousin and others.
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