Published 12/1/2014
Elizabeth Fassbender; Kristin Brackemyre

A Closer Look at Congressional Races

Winners, losers, and too-close-to-call

On midterm election night, Nov. 4, 2014, the most closely watched event of the evening was the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans won, sometimes with surprising leads.

In addition, the GOP extended its hold on the House with wins over several vulnerable “blue dog” (fiscally conservative) Democrats. Here’s a summary of some of the most interesting races.

North Carolina
Despite her best efforts to distance herself from President Obama while focusing on local issues, freshman Sen. Kay Hagan (D) lost her bid for reelection to Thom Tillis (R), state Speaker of the House. Sen. Hagan ran a very skilled campaign and continued to retain a slim lead in the polls heading into Election Day. But Rep. Tillis was able to capitalize on the national discontent with President Obama and the Democrats. The North Carolina loss was an especially bitter pill to swallow for the president, who had carried the state in 2008.

Sen. Mark Warner (D) barely held on against former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie. Mr. Gillespie trailed by just over 16,000 votes when he conceded on November 7, bringing the final margin to 48.4 percent to Sen. Warner’s 49.2 percent. Under Virginia law, a second-place finisher separated by a margin of less than 1 percent of the total vote can request a recount. Mr. Gillespie chose not to pursue this option in what became one of the most unexpectedly close races of 2014.

Two-term Republican Rep. Cory Gardner bested incumbent freshman Sen. Mark Udall, turning a state red that had been blue in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Another Democratic incumbent, Sen. Mark Pryor, was unseated by freshman Rep. Tom Cotton in a race that was called almost immediately after the polls closed. Sen.-elect Cotton, who is the first Iraq War and Afghanistan War veteran elected to the Senate, defeated the two-term incumbent by a margin of 17 percentage points.

State senator Joni Ernst’s victory officially gave Republicans the seat they needed to take control of the Senate on election night. Her victory in a crowded primary earlier in the year featured a memorable commercial about her days growing up on a hog farm, where, she said, she learned to cut pork. She will be the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress as well as the first female combat veteran ever elected to the Senate.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R) was one of the few incumbents to have a good night on Tuesday. Though his seat was simply a GOP hold and not a pickup, the Republican senator faced a serious challenge from Independent businessman Greg Orman. After a less-than-impressive primary finish against a weak opponent, the race became significantly more interesting in late summer when the Democratic nominee withdrew from the race and the state’s Supreme Court determined his name did not have to remain on the ballot. Mr. Orman, more than 30 years younger than Sen. Roberts, gained traction as a Washington outsider, going so far as refusing to state which party he would caucus with. Sen. Roberts, who was plagued by residency issues among other things, retooled his campaign in the fall and was able to manage 53.3 percent of the vote over Mr. Orman’s 42.5 percent.

House races
Two longtime and perpetually vulnerable Blue Dog Democrats, Reps. Nick J. Rahall (W.Va.) and John Barrow (Ga.), were some of the first casualties. In New York, Democratic Reps. Timothy H. Bishop and Dan Maffei also lost elections, joining defeated Reps. Brad Schneider of Illinois, Joe Garcia of Florida, and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire.

Mia Love, who will replace retiring Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), becomes the first Republican African-American woman elected to the House. Elise Stefanik, a former staff member for Pres. George W. Bush, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she won 55 percent of the vote in the traditionally Democratic 21st district in New York.

Although these pick-ups have long been key targets for the GOP, they also illustrate the degree of polarization in the House and how few House districts remain truly competitive. Additionally, these Republican gains will likely be needed to prepare for 2016, when Democrats could have key opportunities for another flip.

Orthopaedic PAC
To date, the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (Orthopaedic PAC) raised a combined $3.5 million (hard and soft dollars) during the 2014 election cycle. Hard dollars are individual contributions (maximum $5,000 per person) that can be distributed to candidates; soft dollars are corporate contributions used to pay administrative and other costs. In total, the Orthopaedic PAC disbursed $2.2 million across 22 Senate races and 213 House races. Of candidates supported by the Orthopaedic PAC, 20 Senators and 186 representatives were victorious.

For more information on the Orthopaedic PAC, visit www.aaos.org/pac

Elizabeth Fassbender is the communications specialist in the AAOS office of government relations; Kristin Brackemyre is the staff manager for the Orthopaedic PAC.