Friday, December 23, 2011

Back to 1994

I appreciate Andrew Sullivan's readers' points in response to my post on the limits of the effectiveness of Wall Street attacks on Mitt Romney:
The democrats lost eight Senate seats that year. In Virginia, Oliver North would
have won a seat if an independent candidate hadn't taken 11% of the vote. The fact that Kennedy still beat Romney in 1994, and by that much, shows how weak Romney is -- as does the fact that if Romney had run for re-election as Governor, he would have lost.
However, there's a little more to that story. Let's hop in the time machine back to 1994 and look at the Republican win/loss record that year. For the seats Republicans gained, we have the following:
Arizona: Jon Kyl wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Maine: Olympia Snowe wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Michigan: Spencer Abraham wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring
Democrat).
Ohio: Mike DeWine wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Oklahoma: Jim Inhofe wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Pennsylvania: Rick Santorum wins over Harris Wofford, who was appointed
to the Senate seat in 1991 and won by less than ten points a special election to hold the seat in late 1991.
Tennessee (1): Bill Frist defeats a 3-term Democratic incumbent.
Tennessee (2): Fred Thompson wins an open Senate seat (Al Gore's seat, held
by a Democrat appointed to it but who chose not to run for it in 1994).
Six of these eight wins occurred in open Senate seats. Santorum's win was over a not-very-established incumbent. So Bill Frist's win was the only Republican Senate victory in 1994 over an entrenched incumbent, and Tennessee was growing a lot more friendly to Republicans than Massachusetts.

Every other Democratic incumbent was able to fend off his or her Republican challenger, even in more Republican-friendly states. These results suggest that incumbency can be a significant advantage in Senate races, even in wave years. They also suggest that Romney's defeat in 1994 is not exactly an outlier.

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