The rebels haven’t been this hot in Massachusetts since days of Concord and Lexington. Republican Scott Brown—state senator, JAG lawyer, former jeans model, American Idol dad—thoroughly trounced Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the late Massachusetts Sen. Teddy Kennedy’s seat—bringing down the curtain on a family’s dynastic hold on the state and sending Democrats across the country scrambling.
Of course, this plays big in conservative circles. If a Republican can win in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, anything is possible.
Nicolle Wallace: The GOP’s New Roadmap
• Lloyd Grove: The Kennedys React to Coakley’s Loss
• Benjamin Sarlin: Palin-Brown 2012?So is this the tip of a tidal wave? Here’s what we know: Midterms are rarely a pretty thing for the president’s party. According to Congressional Quarterly, the party that holds the White House has lost seats in 14 of the 16 midterm elections since the Second World War. That party loses two dozen seats on average in the House. In 1994, the year of Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, the out-of-party Republicans won 54 seats. Over at the Cook Political Report, they’re projecting Democratic losses to be closer to the average number—20 to 30—than to the 1994 shellacking, but that could change in the post-Brown climate. The Rothenberg Political Report is predicting a more conservative 15- to 20-seat gain in the House for the Republicans. In the Senate, the Democrats are likely to maintain their majority but unlikely to keep it filibuster-proof at 60. The likeliest Republican Senate pickups? Seats in Nevada, Colorado, Arkansas, North Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Looking back at Brown’s victory, Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, couldn’t help look ahead.
"As we look forward to the midterm elections this November, Democrats nationwide should be on notice: Americans are ready to hold the party in power accountable,” said Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
But to actually change the party in power, the Republicans would need to net 40 seats in the House. Cornyn would need to add 10 more colleagues. Neither are likely results, but here are the races that should give Republicans the most hope.
There’s no joy for a minority party like knocking off their opponent’s leader. In 2004, the Republicans were able to retire South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle, and they are aiming for a repeat in Nevada with the state’s senior senator, Harry Reid, a former boxer, very much on the ropes. Reid’s popularity at home is abysmal. He’s losing in recent Public Policy Polling surveys against two potential opponents: Sue Lowden, the state RNC chair, and Danny Tarkanian, the son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
When Barack Obama went looking for a secretary of the Interior, he plucked Ken Salazar from his Senate perch in Colorado, and in doing so, giving Republicans a more than decent shot at winning the seat. Salazar’s successor, Michael Bennet, the former superintendent of Denver public schools, is in a dead heat with Republican Jane Norton, formerly Colorado’s lieutenant governor. Norton is already trying to hitch her wagon to Scott Brown’s star. In a statement Wednesday, she said: “The voters in Massachusetts have shown Martha Coakley where that kind of partisan politics gets you, and Michael Bennet is due for a similar rude awakening come November."
Recent Rasmussen polls in Arkansas say little about Democrat Blanche Lincoln’s opponents. But they say a lot about Lincoln, and it isn’t good. The incumbent Democrat trails four different potential challengers, including Tom Cox, the head of the Arkansas T.E.A. Party. Lincoln’s position at the heart of the health-care debate hasn’t warmed her to conservatives back home.
The Republicans won’t have much anti-incumbent aggression at their disposal in Bismarck, but they have one thing better: an empty seat. Longtime Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan’s recent announcement that he will retire opened up the way for Republican John Hoeven, who is America’s longest-serving governor (he was elected in 2000). The GOP is so confident that Hoeven will win that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced which committee assignments he would get upon his arrival in Washington.
Illinois Republicans have Scott Brown fever, too. Said state party Chairman Pat Brady: "Like Massachusetts, Illinois is under control of the single-party rule Democrats who have had unbridled control of the state of Illinois for the last eight years and have brought us to the brink of financial collapse.” The GOP’s best hope may be the Brown-like moderate Mark Kirk, but he will have to fight off a contingent of more conservative candidates to secure the party’s nod. With the field very much divided, Kirk has pulled abreast in the polls of the leading Democrat candidate, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
Sen. Arlen Specter’s seat belonged to the Republicans for decades, and it may become theirs again—despite Specter’s decision to join the Democrats’ ranks last spring. In the latest polls, Specter has pulled ahead of his liberal challenger Rep. Joe Sestak. Republican Pat Toomey, the former head of Club for Growth, continues to trouble him though. The conservative Toomey is also reaching for a little of Scott Brown’s magic, emailing supporters Wednesday, “Scott Brown's win last evening demonstrates that we can win in Pennsylvania, but I need your help to do it.”
Rep. Mike Castle has $1.7 million in his campaign war chest ready to take on whichever Democrat seeks Vice President Joe Biden’s seat. Seat-warmer Ted Kaufman, Biden’s former chief of staff, has said he won’t run. But someone closer to Biden, his son Beau, the state’s attorney general, likely will. An early poll had Castle up 45 to 39 in a potential matchup with the young Biden.
Tennessee 6th Congressional District
The retirement of Blue Dog Democrat Bart Gordon has opened the floodgates for Republican candidates in this middle Tennessee district. The real competition this time around won’t be between Democrat and Republican but between Republican and Tea Party, as candidates vie to see who has the most conservative credentials. It’s an historical about-face for the region, which has been in the Democrats’ pocket since days of Andrew Jackson. State Senator Jim Tracy was beating Gordon in the polls before the 13-term Democrat decided to retire. Tea Party activist Lou Ann Zelnick has also thrown her hat into the ring.
Kansas 3rd Congressional District
Another Blue Dog retirement has the GOP circling hungrily. Rep. Dennis Moore’s exit has opened the way for Republican State Senator Nick Jordan. With former Kansas City Mayor Carol Marinovich balking, the Democrats are left searching for a top-flight candidate for the seat. Jordan ran the Republican race for the seat in 2008. At that point, he was considered the toughest challenger that Moore had faced.
Louisiana 3rd Congressional District
It’s open season for Republicans in this district, left vacant when Democrat Charlie Melancon decided to challenge David Vitter for his Senate seat. So far, the chance to compete in the August primary has brought out State Senator Nickie Monica, businessman Kristian Magar, and lawyer Jeff Landry to compete for the Republican nod. The seat is the last one to rest in Democratic hands in Louisiana’s House delegation, and Republicans see this as a great opportunity to remove a blue spot from their ranks.
New Mexico 2nd Congressional District
Freshman Democrat Harry Teague has had a target on his back since he won this open seat in 2008. Three-term Republican Steve Pearce gave up the position in an unsuccessful run for the Senate. Before Teague, the 2nd District had been in Republican hands since 1980. Now, Pearce wants his seat back.
Virginia 5th Congressional District
Like Teague in New Mexico, Virginia’s Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello has been a favorite Republican target since his election in 2008. In a district carried by John McCain, Perriello eked out a win over Republican incumbent Virgil Goode (winning by 700 votes in a campaign that brought more than 300,000 voters to the polls). Perriello’s main Republican rival, State Senator Robert Hurt, announced this week that he had raised $293,000 in the final two months of 2009.
Ohio 15th Congressional District
Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy bested Republican Steve Stivers by 1 percent in the 2008 campaign, which saw conservative third-party candidates take 9 percent of the vote. Stivers is back and courting conservative voters, whose support could put him over the top.
Maryland 1st Congressional District
In 2008, Frank Kratovil became the first Democrat to win the congressional seat in Maryland’s 1st District in 18 years. Now, his opponent from 2008, State Senator Andrew Harris—whom Kratovil beat by a mere 0.8 percent—is in the race again, and without Obama’s coattails, Kratovil is in for a fight.
Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District
Republicans were surprised when they lost Mississippi’s 1st District to Democrat Travis Childers in 2008 after holding the seat for 10 years, and they hope to regain it in 2010. They’re hoping State Senator Alan Nunnelee can turn the district red again in 2010. So far, Childers has outraised Nunnelee by almost a half-million dollars.
Washington’s 3rd Congressional District
Democrat Brian Baird held Washington’s 3rd District for over 10 years without ever really facing much of a challenge. But now that Baird’s retiring, Republicans are optimistic. In 2009, the 3rd District was one of only three districts in Washington to vote against Referendum 71, which extended the rights of domestic partnership to gay couples; the other two districts were the state’s most conservative.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.