The primary season has finally concluded, and we now know our two challengers (or three if you count the Florida and Alaska Senate races) for the Congressional seats. The big story througgout the whole season has been the Tea Party’s unexpected influence in the Republican primary. Previously seen as mainly an anti-stimulus group and against wasteful spending as a whole. Led by the charismatic former govenor Sarah Palin, and to a smaller extent Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, they’ve remade the landscape of many races by promoting their own candidates in many races. Starting with Rand Paul’s landslide victory in the Kentucky GOP primary over Secretary of State Trey Grayson, they’ve gone on to upset mainstream Republican candidates in Nevada, Florida, and Delaware, as well as ousting GOP senators in Alaska and Utah. Two of the candidates, Paul in Wisconsin and Marco Rubio in Florida, have proven to be very good campaigners with very solid conservative ideals, essential considering they represent fairly conservative states where Tea Party philosophy is welconsed with open arms. Alaska and Utah were cases where sitting GOP senators were outsted by upstarts who considered them too liberal for the Republican Party (to be honest they were, especially Bob Bennett of Utah). Democrats think this makes these seats vulnerable for pick up, but they are so heavily conservative states, the GOP can still count these states as victories. However, there is an underlying fear that the hard push to the right some of the candidates have may have weakened the GOP’s chances of capturing the Senate, particularally with Sharron Angle’s win in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell’s win in Delaware. These are well founded worries, since O’Donnell knocked off moderate Rep. Mike Castle, who was a sure win in November if he was the candidate, and Angle’s win over ex-Nevada GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden, who was running nearly 15 points better than Harry Reid, in a race where you need all that you can muster to knock out the very leader of the Senate Democrats, and who can summon large amounts of money at the drop of a hat. The Tea Party, despite a couple of oddball candidates, has also proven to be a large, enthusiatic voting force, and their endorsements of candidates have been make or break across the country, as well as the ability to go to the polls in large numbers. Come November, this will definately prove to be a huge advantage for conservative candidates, who can count on the Tea Party’s overwhelming support, monetarilly and in terms of votes, assuming the GOP can get their guns pointed in the right direction.
What also has surfaced has been the wide playing field the GOP has been able to muster for November. In the beginning of the cycle, it seemed like the only way the GOP could contest for the Senate would be to make competitive races out of very safe, and very blue, states like Washington and Wisconsin. This they have done, as there are now close races against fairly liberal Democrats like Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, and Russ Feingold, and even Kirsten Gillibrand in New York is now only up by single digits by some surveys. These races are in relatively reliable Democrat states like California, Washington, Wisconsin, and New York, with the Republican candidate actually leading by 5 in Wisconsin. Also, with the death of Senator Robert Byrd, there is a special election to fill out the rest of his term in West Virginia. Initially, it seemed like it was a forgone conclusion that Governor Joe Manchin (D) was virtually guaranteed the seat. He’s a popular governor with high approval ratings, and a good disposition, and the GOP opponent is John Raese, a wealthy businessman who got trounced the last time he ran for Senate against Byrd. However, the anti-Democrat wave seems to be stronger than Manchin’s likeability, and the race is now a Tossup by many sources. Tallied together, there are close to 12 Democrat held seats that are in play, with 3 of them expected to fall into GOP hands (Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Arkansas), as the Republican candidates have large leads. While it is still very difficult to see the GOP winning 10 seats in one go, getting 6-8 seats is still a huge accomplishment, and its enough, with a potential GOP house, to make the next Congress very interesting.