1980 revisited: Are upstart Republicans ready to be US senators?

August 31, 2010 

Will Senate candidate Joe Miller be part of a 2010 Republican takeover in D.C. this fall? While we're waiting for absentee and questioned primary ballots to be counted in Alaska, Carl Hulse of The New York Times wonders whether the November midterm election will bring results resembling that of 1980, when Republicans riding Ronald Reagan's coattails -- including Frank Murkowski, father of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- surprised Democrats by taking over the U.S. Senate.

Writes Hulse:

They were labeled the "accidental senators," candidates who won only by virtue of an extraordinary political environment. The culture of the Senate - and party control - changed overnight.

"It was a very weird time," recalled Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who narrowly won a second term that year. "A lot of those people had no idea what they were doing."

Sour grapes? Maybe. But six years later, Democrats took back the Senate, and some of those "accidental" Republicans -- though not Murkowski -- were "unceremoniously discharged" by voters.

Facing the loss of seats just six years after the party's triumph, one Republican expressed a regret about 1980.

"Had we all known the Republicans were going to do so well," John Sears, a Republican consultant and Reagan adviser, recounted in 1985, "we would have run some different guys."

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