In a two-part political analysis written more than a month before the midterm elections, I predicted that Republicans would “run up the score” in Big Ten country – an eight state footprint that’s home to the legendary collegiate athletic conference. Based on demographics and polling, I concluded that if a nationwide GOP wave were to materialize on November 2nd, the party would need to perform strongly in this swath of Midwestern territory. How did my projections stand up on Election Night? Let’s examine the results, state-by-state:
Projection: GOP will gain 2-3 House seats, a senate seat, and the governorship.
Actual Results: Republicans exceeded my expectations in the House, holding a very competitive Northshore seat (IL-10) and picking up at least three Democratic seats (IL-11, IL-14, IL-17) across the state. As an apparent bonus, the underfunded and flawed Republican candidate in (IL-08) appears to have narrowly defeated incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean – a major upset, if it holds up. Bean now trails by only a few hundred votes, with hundreds of ballots still being counted.
Republican Mark Kirk weathered a furious last minute push by national Democrats to salvage President Obama’s old senate seat, defeating Alexi Giannoulias by two points.
As exhilarating as Melissa Bean’s apparent loss was for Illinois Republicans, gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady’s surprising defeat was equally, if not more, disappointing. Polls showed Brady with a solid lead over Gov. Pat Quinn on Election Day, yet the incumbent managed to hang on by the skin of his teeth.
Projection: Republicans will net a Senate seat and two House seats.
Actual Results: Bullseye. Republican Dan Coates trounced Democrat Brad Ellsworth in the battle over Sen. Evan Bayh’s open Senate seat, scooping up Ellsworth’s vacated House seat in the process. As I anticipated, Ellsworth’s flim-flammery on his voting record did not fool Hoosier State voters. The GOP also knocked off Rep. Baron Hill in (IN-09). Democrat Joe Donnelly (IN-02) faced a ferocious challenge from Jackie Walorski, but survived.
Projection: Republicans will win back the Governor’s mansion, hold their Senate seat, and “perhaps” pick off one or two House seats.
Actual Results: The top of the GOP ticket performed strongly, as expected. Sen. Chuck Grassley blew away his virtually anonymous challenger, and former GOP Gov. Terry Branstad reclaimed the governorship, ousting Democrat Chet Culver.
Despite the high profile successes, Iowa Republicans found themselves frustrated in all three competitive House races. Democratic incumbents won re-election in Iowa’s first three Congressional Districts, all by less than five points. Bruce Braley in (IA-01) got the biggest scare, overcoming Republican Ben Lange’s insurgency by less than 4,000 votes.
Projection: The red tide will sweep up Michigan’s governorship, and three House seats.
Actual results: Self-labeled “tough nerd” Rick Snyder (R) handily defeated Democrat Virg Bernero in the race to replace failed Governor Jennifer Granholm.
On the House side, Republican Dan Benishek, M.D. won Bart Stupak’s abandoned seat in (MI-01), and in a nasty (MI-07) rematch, former Congressman Tim Walberg exacted sweet revenge on Democrat Mark Schauer, who defeated him in 2008. Republicans fell short in (MI-05) and (MI-09).
Projection: Democrats will barely win the open governor race, as Tim Pawlenty is term-limited, and Republicans fail to gain any House seats -- although a few “outside shots” for victories exist.
Actual results: As of this writing, the gubernatorial tilt is still unresolved and appears headed for a recount. Republican Tom Emmer currently trails by several thousand votes.
Sometimes “outside shots” hit their mark. Republican Chip Cravvack shocked the nation by upsetting longtime Democratic incumbent Jim Oberstar in (MN-08).
Added bonus: Both houses of the Minnesota state legislature flipped Republican for the first time in nearly four decades.
Projection: Suffer, Ohio Democrats. They’ll lose the governorship and 3 to 5 House seats, and Republicans will retain the open US Senate seat.
Actual results: Bullseye, again. Gov. Ted Strickland fell to Republican John Kasich, and former Bush official Rob Portman stomped hapless Democratic nominee Lee Fischer in the race to succeed Sen. George Voinovich.
In the House, Republicans cleaned up, knocking off five incumbent Democrats (in OH-01, OH-06, OH-15, OH-16, and OH-18). Added bonus: Admitted wife-beater Rep. Charlie Wilson was among the political casualties, despite the mainstream media’s helpful silence on his domestic violence record.
Projection: The GOP will reclaim both the governorship and Arlen Specter’s Senate seat, along with 4 to 6 seats in the House.
Actual Results: My most satisfying Bullseye. Republican Tom Corbett coasted to victory in the governor race, and conservative hero Pat Toomey squeaked by Democrat Joe Sestak by about 80,000 votes of roughly 4 million cast.
Members of Pennsylvania’s Democratic House delegation fell faster than rebel infantrymen during Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. Like their colleagues in Ohio, Keystone State Republicans gained five House seats (PA-03, PA-07, PA-08, PA-10, and PA-11), and put a nasty scare into Democrat Jason Altmire in (PA-04).
Projection: The Badger State’s governorship, a Senate seat, and “at least one” House seat will flip from blue to red.
Actual results: A quasi-bullseye, due to non-specificity. Republican Scott Walker beat tax-and-spend liberal Tom Barrett in the gubernatorial race by five points. Tea Party favorite and successful businessman Ron Johnson unseated iconic liberal Senator Russ Feingold, also by five points.
The GOP gained two seats in the House, which certainly qualifies as “at least one,” which – admittedly – wasn’t exactly an audacious pick. Former MTV star Sean Duffy chopped down Democrat Julia Lassa, and Republican Reid Ribble cruised past incumbent Congressman Steve Kagen.
Here was my verbatim final “Big Ten Country” prediction on October 1, 2010:
“Based on the analysis above, Republicans will net at least 5 Governorships, four US Senate seats, and between 15 and 20 House seats in Big Ten Country alone this fall.”
So how’d I do? When all the votes were counted, the GOP won five governorships (IA, MI, OH, PA, and WI), with one race (MN) still pending. Republicans gained four Senate seats, while holding two more. And they netted 20 House seats, with one race (IL-08) still undetermined.
In sum, Republican gains in these eight Midwestern states alone accounted for 71 percent of the nation’s GOP gubernatorial gains, two-thirds of the party’s Senate pickups, and roughly one-third of all House turnovers. Analyzed another way, John Boehner needed just 39 seats to strip Nancy Pelosi of her gavel, and the Big Ten states carried Boehner more than halfway home. Bottom line: The GOP performed exceptionally well in “Big Ten Country” last week. Score.