Now that the election is over, it's time to give some awards! Without further ado, the Decision '06 candidate superlatives.
Best campaign by a losing Republican Senate candidate: Michael Steele in Maryland. Actually, he got trounced by a surprisingly large (10 point margin). But it's hard to imagine him doing better in Maryland in this climate without actually being a Democrat (and he tried hard to call himself that too!). Certainly, his "puppies" ad was one of the most effective of the cycle.
Best campaign by a losing Democratic Senate candidate: Harold Ford, Tennessee. Let's be clear: A three point loss by a Black Democrat in a Southern red state is nothing short of amazing. That Ford was considered a threat the entire cycle is testament to his incredible political skill. He also seemed to negate the Bradley effect, as he actually out performed late polling in his race.
Best campaign by a losing Republican House candidate: Joe Negron, FL-16. Not only was Negron running for Mark Foley's seat, but to win it he had to convince voters to mark their ballot for Foley to have it counted for him. With the spectacular slogan "Punch Foley to vote Negron," the Republican came within one point of pulling it off, too.
Best campaign by a losing Democratic House candidate: Assuming that the Gary Trauner/Barbara Cubin race in the Wyoming at-large is still too close to call, the award goes to Scott Kleeb in the rural Nebraska 3rd. His ten point loss to Adrien Smith doesn't look that impressive until you realize that's a 20 point cut in the GOP candidate's support compared to 2004.
Best campaign by a losing Democratic gubernatorial candidate: Tony Knowles, Alaska. Knowles ran the best race he could, but he was doomed the moment "Murkowski" wasn't on the ballot.
Best campaign by a losing Republican gubernatorial candidate: Robert Ehrlich, Maryland. What do you do when you're an incumbent liked by a majority of voters who still can't get them to vote for you? I'm stumped too.
Best campaign by a winning Republican Senate candidate: Bob Corker, Tennessee. His campaign was flailing for awhile after the primary, and was under constant pressure from a smooth as silk Harold Ford. Corker righted his ship to move this race even below Arizona in some pundits eyes as a Democratic pickup opportunity. He also scores points for condemning the vile and racist NSCC ads that ran in his district.
Best campaign by a winning Democratic Senate candidate: James Webb's upset victory was great, but caused more by Allen's missteps than any strengths as a candidate. And Amy Klobuchar gets major points for obliterating Mark Kennedy in a race many Republicans thought (at the start of the cycle) they would win. But Jon Tester turning Montana deep blue while not shying away from his progressive background is nothing short of amazing. Democrats now have both Senate seats and the governor's mansion in Montana, and Tester is a rising Democratic star.
Best campaign by a winning Republican House candidate: Heather Wilson, NM-1. This race might still be too close to call, but it looks like Wilson will escape with another squeaker in her Democratic leaning district. Since it doesn't stop us from hearing Speaker Pelosi, I'm okay with that. Congress deserves more members with Oxford Philosophy doctorates.
Best campaign by a winning Democratic House candidate: Jim Marshall, GA-08. Republicans tried to pull a Texas on Marshall and mid-decade redistrict him to get his seat. Marshall was game and beat back a tough opponent in former Representative Mac Collins to keep his red-leaning seat.
Best campaign by a winning Republican gubernatorial candidate: Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota. Pawlenty dodges the Democratic wave and wins a tight race against Attorney General Mike Hatch, who was no cream-puff candidate.
Best campaign by a winning Democratic gubernatorial candidate: Bill Ritter, Colorado. This race was supposed to be close. Bob Beauprez was supposed to be a tough candidate. Neither turned out to be true, and that's kudos to Ritter.
Worst campaign by a losing Republican House candidate: John Hostettler, IN-08. Did he even try? The 6-term incumbent couldn't even break 40% in getting annihilated by Brad Ellsworth.
Worst campaign by a losing Democratic House candidate: Coleen Rowley, MN-02. Democrats were really excited when they recruited the 9/11 whistleblower to run against John Kline. Whoops. Rowley barely mustered 40% and underperformed compared to the 2004 candidate.
Worst campaign by a losing Republican Senate candidate: Mark Kennedy, Minnesota. Good lord, this was supposed to be a GOP rising star? He lost by 20 points Amy Klobuchar and never even made the Democrats sweat. (Katherine Harris is ineligible for this award, to make it fair for the other nominees).
Worst campaign by a losing Democratic Senate candidate: Jim Pederson, Arizona. The fact that Pederson actually finished tighter than expected only reinforces that he could have made this a race had done more than an air-wave attack prior to the last few weeks of the campaign. Moral of the story: retail politics still counts.
Worst campaign by a losing Republican gubernatorial candidate: Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas. I know that Arkansas has two Democratic senators and an 80% Democratic house delegation. But there is no way this race should have been the blow-out it is. No excuse. None.
Worst campaign by a losing Democratic gubernatorial candidate: Phil Angelides, California. The Terminator has approval ratings down in the 20s, and he still comes back to win? Had Angelides been able to focus half of the energy in the general election as he did in his uncommonly vicious primary fight, this blue state might actually have a Democratic governor again.
Worst campaign by a winning Democratic Senate candidate: Bob Menendez, New Jersey. He actually ended up winning comfortably in the end, but for giving me a slow heart attack throughout November and actually posing a credible threat to the Democrats taking back the Senate, he takes it.
Worst campaign by a winning Republican Senate candidate: Jon Kyl, Arizona. He's lucky his opponent ran such a lackluster campaign, because he wasn't much better. Incumbency carried Kyl through in a race he didn't take anywhere near as serious as he should have.
Worst campaign by a winning Republican House candidate: Bill Sali, ID-01. Your district is one of the reddest in the nation. But because you managed to piss off your entire party, you only win by 3 points over Larry Grant in Idaho. Idaho!
Worst campaign by a winning Democratic House candidate: No Democratic House member ran a particularly bad campaign in the general, so the award goes to Albert Wynn (MD-04) for nearly blowing his primary election to Donna Edwards, a total unknown who started campaigning late, in a district he is essentially a machine boss of. Personally, I hope Edwards takes him out in 2008. She'd be far more effective in Congress than a glorified local kingmaker.
Worst campaign by a winning Republican gubernatorial candidate: Jim Gibbons, Nevada. Assaulting cocktail waitresses that you were flirting with (when you're married) is not a good way to win votes, even in Las Vegas. A race he was dominating became a four-point dogfight as a result.
Worst campaign by a winning Democratic gubernatorial candidate: Elliot Spitzer can't crack 70% of the vote? What's up with that?
Biggest upset in the House: Three-way tie. Carol Shea-Porter in the NH-01 and Dave Loebsack in the IA-02 weren't on anyone's radar screen when they knocked off Republican incumbents (a 30 year veteran, in Loebsack's case). Nancy Boyda in the KS-02 did get some attention when the DNCC gave her a late ad buy, but most folks thought it was a headfake. Guess they were wrong, and now all three are going to congress.
Biggest upset in the Senate: Obviously, Jim Webb in Virginia. George Allen goes from lead '08 contender to '06 Senate pretender. Webb overcomes some of the nastiest campaigning seen this cycle to eke out a victory and avenge Chuck Robb.
What's the holdup?: Washington 8th, whose tight race between Darcy Burner (D) and Dave Reichert is still up in the air because less than half of the votes have been counted. Right now, it's 51-49 for Reichert.
Won't be missed in the Senate!: Rick "man-on-dog" Santorum, Pennsylvania. Good riddance. And take your 2008 ambitions with you.
Won't be missed in the House!: Curt Weldon, PA-07. He's got plenty of time to look for WMDs and support oppressive regimes now that he's no longer in office.
The one that got away: I really, really wanted to take out the virulently anti-gay Marilyn Musgrave in the CO-04. But she escaped with a 3 point victory (and only 46% of the vote).
Most likely to succeed: A Democratic congress in 2007, baby! Also, my Congressman, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-08). He was in charge of House candidate recruitment this year. Talk about a spectacular job! Chris is without a doubt the front-runner for the next open Maryland Senate seat (which may be only a few years out if Barbara Mikulski retires at the end of this term).