The results are in and the Republicans are holding on to control of the Senate. But there was an interesting trend that happened on Election Night.
The senators who disavowed Donald Trump during their campaigns ended up losing their races.
There were nine competitive Senate races going into Tuesday night — eight Republican-held seats and one Democratic-held seat: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Six of the Republican candidates in these states stood by Trump, though for Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, he waited until just before the polls closed to announce that. But three other candidates rejected him: Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Joe Heck of Nevada.
Those three candidates ended up losing their races, while everyone else won theirs.
But Jennifer Nicoll Victor, associate professor of political science at George Mason University, is cautious to say that because these candidates didn’t support Trump, they lost their races.
“I see where people want to make the correlation of candidates who disavowed Trump and who lost their race,” she told NH Journal in an interview. “But I’m hesitant about the causal reasoning because in those Senate races, there’s a lot of individual context.”
Nicoll Victor points to the Illinois race between Kirk and Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth became a Democratic champion in the state and was known for being outspoken. Kirk had an uphill race from the beginning.
“To say because Kirk disavowed Trump and then lost his seat is too simplistic,” she said. “There was thought to be an association with Trump that he would be costly on the ticket, but it turned out he was actually an asset.”
Ayotte and Heck did have a chance of winning though. Heck led throughout the summer, but after he withdrew his support for Trump when the video came out showing Republican presidential nominee making lewd comments about women, his support started to decline.
He ended up losing to Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto by more than 26,000 votes and had 17,000 fewer votes than Trump on Election Night.
Ayotte’s race was even closer. She and Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan were virtually tied since last year. But Ayotte was consistently running two points or more higher than Trump in the polls.
Trump ultimately lost New Hampshire by just 1,500 votes, but even though he lost, it would seem that Ayotte would be poised to win, even by a narrow margin. But she ended up losing by about 700 votes. There is clear evidence that Ayotte was correct to distance herself from Trump as she received 7,883 more votes than he did.
Ayotte could have called for a recount since the results were so close, but she conceded to Hassan on Wednesday.
Joseph Bafumi, associate professor of government at Dartmouth College, said it’s not necessarily surprising that these candidates lost.
“Keep in mind that a lot of candidates were in states that are leaning Democratic and someone like Ayotte and Kirk, they felt like they were in a really tough contest and they needed to appeal to the swing voter,” he said in an interview with NH Journal.
Bafumi has a point. Illinois, New Hampshire and Nevada’s electoral votes all ended up going to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. These Senate candidates needed to appeal to those independent voters in the state and after constantly getting called out by the left to disavow them, they saw no choice but to distance themselves from the president-elect.
Did that work for them? It’s hard to say that is the direct cause of their loss, but overall, it is an interesting dynamic that happened on Election Night.
There is one notable exception though: Incumbent Republican Sen. John McCain was also in a fierce fight with Democratic challenger Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. McCain never embraced Trump, and he held on to his Senate seat.
But then again, Arizona’s electoral votes went to Trump and he won the state by nearly 85,000 votes. McCain even garnered more votes than Trump by about 68,000.
Nicoll Victor said many people underestimated Trump’s victory and the effect it had on down-ballot races. Trump brought new voters to turnout for him who were not counted in previous polls.
This was evident in the other Senate races where Republicans had a long-shot at taking the seat.
Ron Johnson had a tough race in Wisconsin, but he ended up riding Trump’s coattails to a 3 point victory against Democrat Russ Feingold. Johnson received more votes than Trump too, by almost 70,000 proving that his support for Trump throughout the campaign didn’t hurt him at all.
Todd Young was barely favored to hold on to a Republican-controlled seat in Indiana, but he beat Democrat Evan Bayh by about 10 points. Although Young took fewer votes than Trump — about 133,000 — his wide margin win against Bayh showed that his support for the president-elect had little impact voters at the polls.
They all supported Trump and ended up winning. But keep in mind, all these states went to Trump as well.
Maybe if the three candidates who lost disavowed Trump earlier in the race, they might have won. Maybe not. Or maybe the Republicans always faced an uphill battle in their blue-leaning states.