Republicans had excellent results in Tuesday’s high-stakes Senate races, winning numerous tough battles to preserve their majority in the chamber for the next two years.
But Tuesday’s results revealed an interesting dynamic: The Republican Senate candidates who rejected President-elect Donald Trump and tried to go it alone were the only ones who ended up losing their races.
Overall, there were eight Republican-held seats and one Democrat-held seat that were competitive going into Tuesday night: Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.
Of the nine Republicans in these competitive races, six of them stood by Trump or, in the case of Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, didn’t reject him. Three of them, though, explicitly rejected Trump: Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Mark Kirk in Illinois, and Joe Heck in Nevada.
The final results are telling: The three candidates who rejected Trump all lost, while the rest triumphed.
In the case of Kirk, this is unsurprising as winning was a long shot for him no matter what. But Ayotte and Heck were both in very winnable races, and even had a better chance of winning than many of their peers who ultimately triumphed. Heck led throughout the summer, but after withdrawing his support for Trump in early October he declined, and fell slightly behind Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto. On Election Day, Heck finished with about 17,000 fewer votes than Trump in the state.
Ayotte’s defeat is even more notable. On RealClearPolitics, Ayotte was running about two points ahead of Trump in the polls. Given that Trump managed to surprise in New Hampshire and lose by just 1,500 votes (two-tenths of a percent), Ayotte should have been in a strong position to win. But instead, she faltered by about 700 votes, costing her a new six-year term.
While Ayotte, Heck, and Kirk were going down in defeat, several very vulnerable senators who embraced Trump won upset victories. Ron Johnson’s seat in Wisconsin was considered the most likely Democratic pick-up besides Kirk’s seat, but he instead rode Trump’s coattails to a comfortable 3.5-point victory. Similarly-vulnerable Toomey pulled an upset as well, winning by 100,000 votes in a race Nate Silver’s 538 gave him only a 38% chance of winning.
In other states, a potentially close race turned into a massacre. Todd Young was only barely favored over Democrat Evan Bayh, but thrashed him by about 10 points in Indiana. A similarly-vulnerable Richard Burr in North Carolina ended up pounding Deborah Ross by six points.
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