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The Best Senate Campaign of 2008

DALLAS, Texas -- As the new year approaches (and the Fix vacation continues), we have begun to reflect on 2008 and the campaign that was.

Over the next few days, we will roll out our choices for the best Senate, House and gubernatorial campaigns of the 2008 election cycle. These picks are, by their very nature, subjective but are based on conversations with smart political operatives as well as our close observation of all of these races.

Agree or disagree with our picks? Did we miss an obvious race? Feel free to use the comments section to offer your thoughts.

Today we tackle the best Senate campaign. Tomorrow we'll do governors and on New Years Eve (a.k.a. Wednesday) we'll finish up with the House races.

Drumroll please.... And the best Senate campaign of 2008 is:

Kay Hagan of North Carolina -- Hagan, a state senator, got into the race against Sen. Elizabeth Dole after a number of better known candidates including Gov. Mike Easley and Rep. Brad Miller took a pass on the contest.

Hagan got into the race as a virtually unknown candidate both in North Carolina and nationally, but quickly showed a capacity to raise money that opened the eyes of many people in Washington. On her first trips to the nation's capital, she wowed even the most cynical of party operatives with a charisma about campaigning and a no-nonsense approach to what needed to be done to beat Dole.

Hagan got a major boost in her efforts by a significant amount of spending by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's independent expenditure arm -- including an ad featuring two men on rocking chairs debating Dole's effectiveness and closeness to President George W. Bush.

But, she proved a strong -- and on-message -- candidate in her own right. When Dole went after Hagan in an ad for attending a fundraiser with the Godless Americans political action committee, Hagan was quick to respond with an effective (and cutting) response.

In the end, the race wasn't close. Hagan beat the seemingly unbeatable Dole 53 percent to 44 percent.

Honorable Mention

• Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine): In an election cycle where Republican senators in blue states were an endangered species (John Sununu in New Hampshire, Gordon Smith in Oregon, Norm Coleman -- maybe -- in Minnesota), Collins was never seriously challenged by Rep. Tom Allen.

Allen did everything a challenger should do in an anti-incumbent year -- try to tie Collins to Bush, hammer her for past votes -- but nothing stuck. The simple fact was that Maine voters liked and trusted Collins and saw no reason to fire her. Her campaign deftly took advantage of her high personal and job approval numbers by using their campaign ads to remind voters of why the liked Collins.

Her 23-point victory in a year where Republicans across the country were scrambling for their political lives speaks to the kind of candidate Collins is (wildly underestimated) and the quality of campaign she ran.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 29, 2008; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: The Best Gubernatorial Campaign of 2008

Comments

I was leaning towards the nose-to-nose Franken/Coleman (MN) race.

But, the one I really like the best is the Caroline Kennedy vs. Governor of NY race.

Posted by: newbeeboy | January 1, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I live in Virginia's 5th District, an odd district which includes liberal Charlottesville and Albemarle County, as well as extremely conservative southwest Virginia. We are so thrilled that Virgil Goode finally lost! Tom worked very hard to win, we all worked very hard for Obama, Warner and Tom Perriello's win! Obama may not have carried the district, but he did carry Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Gilmore was a dreadful governor, leaving office with the Commonwealth in a fiscal mess. There was absolutely no way for Warner to lose, liberal or conservative, everyone here believes in Warner! Tom's campaign was without fault.

Posted by: w4npx2 | December 30, 2008 10:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm an NYC Dem, but I gotta say that I've long admired Susan Collins. The GOP would be wise to nominate her for Prez or VP in '12.

Posted by: dognabbit | December 30, 2008 6:46 PM | Report abuse

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OH WAIT - THE BEST SENATE CAMPAIGN OF 2008 IS............. ROLAND BURRIS.

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Posted by: Yes37thandORulesForever | December 30, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

"The Clintons PUSHED THROUGH THE DE-REGULATION OF WALL STREET - THIS IS A DEMOCRATIC SCANDAL."

- As jasperanselm noted, the president can't "push through" legislation - he can only sign or veto it. Both houses of Congress at the time this was passed were firmly under GOP control.

"Trying to put the blame on Bush and Cheney who were fighting two wars to keep you SAFE is beyond silly."

- According to recent reports, the Taliban has gotten steadily STRONGER since Bush chose to withdraw US troops and re-focus on Iraq. Afghanistan is deteriorating. And Iraq, while it is now less dangerous than it was before the surge, is that way only after @4000 US dead, extensive and inefficient government subsidy of private contractors who in many cases did not perform, ABU GHRAIB! and the attendant damage to the U.S.' worldwide reputation, and the removal of the main rival keeping Iran in check in the Middle East. And the blame HAS to be assigned first to Bush and Cheney (and Rumsfeld), who 1) ignored REAL intelligence which could have prevented the 09.11 attack; 2) responded to 09.11 first by thinking how it could be blamed on Iraq, 3) determinedly pushed the Iraq war in the face of inconclusive and even contradictory intelligence, and 4) executed it without planning, and without getting traditional U.S. allies on board before the invasion .


"THE DEMOCRATS CAN NOT ESCAPE RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT THE CLINTONS DID."

-That's fair, as long as you allow Democrats to forever brand the Republicans as the party who ignored "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.", prematurely and inaccurately claimed "Mission Accomplished," invented Swift Boat advertising, allowed New Orleans to drown, ignored climate change for as long as they could (and a bit longer), killed thousands of U.S. soldiers through their refusal to properly train/arm/equip them for the kind of Iraq war they HAD to have known was coming, shoot friends in the face on duck hunting trips, etc.
Deal?

"You can not blame Bush for everything."

-Watch me.

Posted by: bokonon13 | December 30, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

"And I think an argument could be made that his campaign was also a part-Obama campaign that helped tilt the state to a Democrat for the first time in a generation."

Yeah, I suspect Warner had his own coattails, particularly for candidates like Glenn Nye (who he cut an ad for) and Tom Periello.

Posted by: scurley1 | December 30, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Somebody needs to explain to 37thandmoron that no president passes legislation. Congress passes legislation and the president either signs it into law or vetoes it.

The republicans owned congress from 1995 through 2006; that's where the blame lies.

Look in the mirror 37th; you ARE the problem!

Clueless is, as clueless does.

Posted by: jasperanselm | December 30, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Since I am from N.C. couldn't agree more on Kay Hagan.She ran a great campaign.Makes me proud to know that we in N.C. have finally broke away from the deep South philosophy of ignorance.

Posted by: bushwacker1 | December 30, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

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The Clintons PUSHED THROUGH THE DE-REGULATION OF WALL STREET - THIS IS A DEMOCRATIC SCANDAL.


Trying to put the blame on Bush and Cheney who were fighting two wars to keep you SAFE is beyond silly.


THE DEMOCRATS CAN NOT ESCAPE RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT THE CLINTONS DID.


You can not blame Bush for everything.

What is wrong with you????

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Posted by: Yes37thandORulesForever | December 30, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I think Mark Warner also deserves an honorable mention. Even though it's was a Democratic year, he still crushed Jim Gilmore by 30 points. And I think an argument could be made that his campaign was also a part-Obama campaign that helped tilt the state to a Democrat for the first time in a generation.

Any chance we'll see a list of the worst-run election campaigns? While Dole was caught flat-footed, Gilmore's was just disastrous. He barely eked out a primary convention (!) win over a lesser-known Bob Marshall and could only win 5 counties in VA.

Posted by: Blue02dude | December 30, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

"Do I have to say more??"

No, please don't.

Posted by: scurley1 | December 30, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Republicans controlled Congress from 1995-2006 and the White House from 2001-2008, so if anyone wants to blame a party for lobbyists and special interests running rampant over Washington, it's easy to see who is responsible.

Posted by: Pupster | December 30, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

To Yes 37.What country have you been living in for the past 8 years? Remember Tom Delay and Rick Santorum? K-Street ring a bell? Lobbyists were not ALLOWED to HIRE DEMOCRATS!! Why is it that you right wingers are ALL delusional and fail to take responsibility for GIVING US THE WORST ADMINISTRATION IN HISTORY!!!.Your not part of the problem, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!!

Posted by: hughsie48 | December 30, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

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The Destruction of the Campaign Finance System is an extremely important development: Let's make clear now the REPUBLICANS have a green light to do whatever they want now too.


Obama is at fault - he is an inexperienced person who refuses to think two moves down the chess board.


This country needs Campaign Finance Reform. This nation can not afford to have the lobbyists run wild and the public interest trampled on a daily basis.


This is the future Obama signaled in his campaign.


Obama is too inexperienced to realize how the balance between the lobbyists and the public interest has to shift back toward the public interest. The imbalance has led to the Wall Street DISASTER - BECAUSE THE DEMOCRATS SOLD THE COUNTRY OUT TO THE LOBBYISTS IN THE 90s.


By the time 2005 rolled around, there was no constraints on the lobbyists.


There is a system of checks and balances in this nation which was upset by the sell-outs of Bill Clinton and the DNC. We now are stuck with the trade deals which have destroyed Main Street and set off an internal migration in this nation from small towns to urban centers.


The lobbyists took advantage of the Democrats' sell-out of this nation by arranging for the Wall Street firms to run wild for years.


AND in 2005 when things had to be fixed, they prevented the fix.


Coincidence that Hillary was running for a New York Senate seat in the late 1990s - and then for President - raising cash from 2005 until this year ???


The democrats' raising cash in New York - selling out this nation as they went along with everything the Wall Street guys asked for and had the lobbyists set up.


Do I have to say more???


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Posted by: Yes37thandORulesForever | December 30, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

My vote for best U.S. House campaign: Tom Perriello (D) vs. Virgil Goode (R) in Virginia's 5th district. Goode was a 6-term fixture in this conservative district, a wealthy tobacco farmer and career pol (but House back-bencher) made infamous for his 2006 xenophobic tirades against immigrants and Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN). Goode's challenger, Perriello, is a do-gooder political neophyte, a 34-year old Yale-educated lawyer who prosecuted war crimes in global hot spots like Darfur and who founded religiously progressive NGOs.

Democrats had tried, in previous elections, to challenge Goode in VA-5, but the Republican incumbant won by 20+ points. Perriello seemed like this year's Democratic sacrificial lamb, and in August, polling showed him down by 30+ points. But Perriello ran a positive campaign, with funny ads that punctured the GOP incumbant's veneer of inevitability (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSflvrpi2y4). Perriello gathered a dedicated crew of campaign vounteers whom he required to "tithe" 10% of their hours to district charities, which built up a share of political good will along the way. Goode didn't help himself by skipping a previously-scheduled candidate debate that was to have been televised.

Although Virginia's 5th district was carried (just barely) by John McCain, Perriello still (just barely) managed to prevail. After a recount of some 320,000 votes cast in VA-5, on Dec. 17 the Virginia State Board of Elections certified Perriello's victory by a margin of 727 votes. Virginia's U.S. House delegation now has a 6-5 Democratic majority.

Posted by: VirginiaMom | December 30, 2008 8:35 AM | Report abuse

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Hagan's win is rooted in one sin: they turned off the credit card verification software at the Obama campaign. The Obama people could have easily verified that all the credit cards were coming from this country.


The extra money is what did it.


Obama had $210 million dollar advertising budget vs. $70 million for McCain. Without that disparity, Obama would have never been working North Carolina.

It is that simple.

Say what you what - this win means that trend or whatever - it is not rocket science to know who was cheating and who was not.


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Posted by: Yes37thandORulesForever | December 30, 2008 8:23 AM | Report abuse

ARE ANY POLITICOS AMONG THE VICTIMS OF THIS?

Domestic Torture via Radiation Weaponry:
America's Horrific Shame

http://www.nowpublic.com/world/domestic-torture-radiation-weaponry-americas-horrific-shame

OR

http://Members.NowPublic.com/scrivener

Posted by: scrivener50 | December 30, 2008 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Hagan gets the nod simply because she was up against crazy long odds. And the way that she and her campaign handled the last-minute "godless" flap was pitch-perfect. They get the big prize...

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | December 29, 2008 7:57 PM | Report abuse

I'd definitely agree on North Carolina as the campaign of the year; pretty much a textbook campaign for how to topple an incumbent with a little-known candidate.

Posted by: scurley1 | December 29, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Here’s a bit from an AP report: “Before leaving for the holidays, President Bush commuted one prison sentence and granted 19 pardons . . . With this latest batch, Bush has granted a total of 191 pardons and nine commutations. That’s fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their two terms.”

The article continued, “Included in the latest list is Charles Winters, who died in the 1980s in Florida. Winters helped ship arms and aircraft to Jews trying to found their own state in the Middle East. He was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act and served 18 months in prison.”

Yup, that’s Bush — his kind of pardon.

Example of a Dem pardon - whoever, just be sure to pay in cash!!

Posted by: king_of_zouk | December 29, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I agree that those were the top two Senate campaigns this year. Afghanistan War veteran Grier Martin also passed on the race before Hagan was recruited, meaning she wasn't any higher than the fourth choice for national Democrats.
Maine was on all of the initial lists as a probable takeover opportunity. Even with our best candidate in the race (a popular Congressman who opposed the war from the start) she proved to be unbeatable.
Now we know we don't have to spend much money there in six years. I may actually put Collins first as I think any of the above-mentioned Democrats would have beaten Dole. Collins led from the start of the year to the finish, usually leading by no less than 10 points, and never once trailing.

Posted by: jdunph1 | December 29, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Silly Chris, you know Dallas is a dateline city... :) Thanks for the post on your vacation! Hope Mrs. Fix isn't too upset with your spending time on the job.

Posted by: lgn8r54 | December 29, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

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