The Biggest Surprises of the 2014 Midterm Elections

Updated on November 13, 2014

In any wave election, there are major upsets that shock the entire political world and stun even the most respected political forecasters. The 2014 midterm elections featured a number of conservatives who surprisingly won elections few predicted would be even close.

The Biggest Upsets

How do we know 2014 was the biggest Republican wave election? Look at West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district. Incumbent Democrat Nick Rahall, a Blue Dog Democrat, was in congress since he was first elected in 1976, riding Jimmy Carter’s coattails. He survived the wave elections of 1980, 1994, and 2010 each time by a double digit margin of victory. Yet, state Senator Evan Jenkins finally put an end to Rahall’s thirty-eight year congressional career in 2014.

The most notable major upset was Maryland’s gubernatorial election in which Republican businessman Larry Hogan defeated Democrat Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown in the deep blue state of Maryland. While the state elected a Republican for governor as recently as 2002, no political handicapper thought this election was competitive. The reason why is because no nonpartisan poll found the election to be competitive. Moreover, 2016 presidential candidate and ultra-liberal Governor Martin O’Malley won re-election in the Republican wave election of 2010 by doubling his margin from his victory in the 2006 Democratic wave election.

In Nevada’s 4th congressional district, Republican Assemblyman Cresent Hardy defeated one-term incumbent Stephen Horsford in what everyone is calling an upset. Few saw this election as competitive as almost all the political forecasters had the incumbent favored. Hardy made a number of gaffes over the past year. In February, he criticized the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which protects members of the LGBT community against discrimination, by comparing it to the Jim Crow laws. Respected political pundit Jon Ralston wrote off Hardy immediately saying:

“He probably needs 100 percent turnout in rural Nevada to have any chance against Rep. Steven Horsford. And even if he enhanced his candidacy in the primary against Niger Innis, who happens to be African-American —  and even the most inveterately cynical can’t believe that — Hardy’s campaign unveiling was the most comically offensive show since ‘Springtime for Hitler.'”

In September, he defended Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment in a district Barack Obama twice won by double digits. The left-leaning website Salon criticized Hardy as a “wingnut” who will become one of the new “ultraconservative loons.”

In the 114th Congress, no Republican will hold a more Democratic seat than Bob Dold, who will once again represent the 10th congressional district of Illinois after losing his seat in 2012. Obama carried this district in 2008 with 63 percent of the vote. The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index rated the district as a D+8.

The Most Shocking Near-Upsets

Notably, some came came up just short. Most political junkies are aware of Ed Gillespie’s near upset of United States Senator Mark Warner, a formerly potential 2016 candidate. Warner was an extremely popular governor and won the 2008 election by a massive 31-point landslide. This time, Warner won by just 17,000 votes.

In addition, former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino nearly defeated Democrat John Delaney in a blue district (Maryland’s 6th congressional district). He said that he had “a very libertarian streak,” and was criticized by elite D.C. insiders. Delaney won re-election to second term by just one percentage point.

Few thought longtime incumbent Democrat Louis Slaughter would have a problem winning re-election to a 15th term in the Syracuse-based New York’s 25th congressional district. All of the political handicappers thought she was safe. After all, Obama won her district by twenty percentage points. On Wednesday, Republican candidate Mark Assini conceded after being down by 869 votes.

One Last Upset?

As of November 12 afternoon, Republican candidate Johnny Tacherra is leading five term incumbent Democrat Jim Costa of Fresno, California by 741 votes. According to the Fresno Bee, the incumbent was a Blue Dog Democrat who was endorsed by the conservative-leaning United States Chamber of Commerce. The National Review reported that Tacherra is in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for Freshmen orientation, even though the election isn’t finalized yet.

None of the political forecasters had the race as competitive, except for the Cook Political Report who labeled the race as “likely Democrat” only a few days before Election Day. California’s 16th congressional district is on paper a safe Democratic district. Obama received 57 percent of the vote in 2008.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post explained:

“Sure, liberals are reciting the canard that the election was not about anything. Right-wingers are convinced that this proves the shutdown right (the recovery for the GOP began, of course, as soon as the shutdown ended and McConnell reasserted control over his caucus). In the reality-based community, however, the GOP establishment, the donors, the voters and the party operatives put quality candidates on the ballot, who ran disciplined races, tapped into public’s anger toward a failing president and got their voters out. The GOP will need to do all that and more to win back the White House.”



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