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The Ones that Got Away

Three Senate seats the GOP coulda shoulda won, but didn't.

12:07 PM, Nov 5, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Colorado: DeMint's endorsement of Ken Buck over Jane Norton probably made the difference in Colorado's primary (Buck beat Norton 51% to 49%). 

Colorado was arguably the most bitter defeat for Republicans on Tuesday: Democratic senator Michael Bennet beat Ken Buck by about 15,000 votes out of nearly 1.6 million votes cast. It's such a small margin that it's easy to imagine that if any number of small things had gone differently, Buck might have won.

What if the Colorado Democratic machine hadn't trumped up the false claim that Buck failed to prosecute a confessed rapist?

What if Buck hadn't compared homosexuality to alcoholism on Meet the Press?

What if Buck had gone after Bennet for raiding Medicare to pay for a new entitlement, rather than criticize Republicans for attacking Obamacare's Medicare cuts? 

Early Buck supporter Erick Erickson points the finger back at the NRSC, writing that "the NRSC did not fund a ground game operation, nor did the RNC. They either left it to Karl Rove or Haley Barbour." A Republican source tells me that the RNC typically funds get out the vote operations, but because their finances suffered this year, "the NRSC directly transferred $500,000 to the Colorado GOP and also transferred another $73,000 from our Target State joint victory fund. This was a fund set-up to raise even more GOTV funds when the RNC’s finance problems became increasingly apparent. All of this money was used to fund mail, phones, and other GOTV activities, and it was in addition to the over $6 million the NRSC spent on TV.  Similar situation in Nevada for example where the NRSC spent roughly $700,000 just for GOTV."

The final PPP poll that showed Buck leading Bennet 49% to 48% also showed Jane Norton leading Bennet 47% to 43% in a hypothetical matchup. Norton had the advantages over Buck of having already served in a statewide office (lieutenant governor), being able to appeal more to women voters (whom Buck lost badly), and being a somewhat better fit for the state ideologically--she opposes abortion, but not in the case of rape. But is the PPP poll proof Norton would have won? Not necessarily. There's no way to know if Norton would have withstood Democratic attacks better than Buck did, but there's a case to be made that she would have.

As Philip Klein notes, Republican losses in close Senate races make it more difficult to get the votes needed to repeal Obamacare. Looking forward, if repealing Obamacare is a priority, conservatives ought to consider whether they're willing to tolerate Senate candidates who are more likely to win but not 100 percent pure. Looking back, it's not entirely clear that Norton would have won in Colorado, and DeMint didn't endorse Angle in Nevada. And of course, if the South Carolina senator deserves any blame for Delaware, then he also deserves credit for supporting conservatives like Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey early on, when the NRSC was backing Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter.

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