I have some quibbles with this analysis by Doug Brady , but the thrust of it's right -- Sarah Palin did not cost the GOP control of the Senate, as Spencer Baucus intimated last week.
First! The quibble. Brady says that exit polling proves no Republican would have defeated Chris Coons in Delaware.
Ian noted that exit polling data indicated Coons would have beaten [Mike] Castle too. The question here is which polls are more reliable: hypothetical pre-primary polls or exit polls of actual voters. I believe the latter has more predictive value, and that Coons would have defeated Castle
Actually, the original Palin analysis was based on an earlier round of exit polling. The
final exit poll
determined that the Delaware electorate would have voted for Castle; 44 percent called him their choice, to only 42 percent for Coons. Also,
what happened in Delaware
? A fluke. In a state with a largely Democratic electorate, the kind of state where Democratic enthusiasm slipped in 2010 (see Illinois, Pennsylvania), Democratic enthusiasm was incredibly strong. Forty-four percent of voters were Democrats. Fifty-seven percent of voters told exit pollsters they voted for Obama in 2008. Fifty-one percent said they had a favorable opinion of the Democrats. There is no way of avoiding the conclusion that having a meteoric conservative star -- the most-covered candidate of 2010! -- ginned up Democratic turnout, and helped the party retain control of the state legislature and easily elect a Democrat to replace Castle in the House. A Castle-Coons race, with more lackluster Democratic enthusiasm befitting a sure-thing GOP win, would not have turned out like this.
But that's really the only thing Palin cost Republicans in the Senate. Her other big endorsements were Carly Fiorina, Joe Miller, Rand Paul, John McCain, and Clint Didier, Didier lost his primary in Washington, and Miller did not clear a path to victory for Democrats.
Also, isn't a one-way argument. In Alaska, it's an open question whether the unpopular, imploding Miller campaign would have created the conditions for a Democratic pick-up. But what actually happened was that Lisa Murkowski lost to Miller, stayed in the race as a write-in candidate, and forced some money to be spent in this race instead of, say, Washington and Colorado. Blaming Palin for losing races for the GOP lets off the hook the moderates who played roles in screwing up those races.