In increasing their Senate majority on Nov. 6, Democrats showed that the best offense may be a good defense.
Democrats won in 22 of 23 states where they were defending Senate seats. Their only blemish was Nebraska, where the party couldn’t hold retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat in a state where President Barack Obama won just 38 percent.
The 22 holds are the most by either party in a Senate election since 1964, when Democrats held 25 of the 26 seats they were defending amid President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide re-election.
In most cases, Democrats held those 22 seats by comfortable margins. Only Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota had winning margins of victory smaller than five percentage points. Tester was re-elected by four points in a state Obama lost by about 14 points, and Heitkamp won an open-seat race by one point in a state Obama lost by 20 points. (At last count, Democrats in New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin were ahead by between five and six points.)
Democrats had some closer calls back in 1964. Howard W. Cannon of Nevada was re-elected by 48 votes. Stephen Young of Ohio won a new term by four-tenths of one point. Fred Harris of Oklahoma prevailed by two points. The party’s only loss in a Democratic-defended state was in California, where Democratic incumbent Pierre Salinger fell to Republican George Murphy just three months after his appointment to the Senate.
Democrats were the incumbent party in 23 of 33 Senate contests on Nov. 6 ballots, the most lopsided seat-defense ratio in Senate elections since 1980. Democrats were defending so many more seats because they won most Senate races in 2006.
Republicans held seven of the 10 seats they were defending on Nov. 6, losing in Indiana, Maine and Massachusetts. If Maine independent Angus King caucuses with Democrats as expected, Democrats will have made a net gain of two Senate seats and will control 55 seats in January.