Close downballot races that could've changed history

One thing I've tried to be better about in my scenario writing is digging into close races down the ballot, particularly primaries, that may have gone differently and could have drastically changed events. Here are a few I think about, what are yours?

Democratic primaries
The NY Senate Democratic primary in 1976, where Bella Abzug narrowly lost to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. While Moynihan was a force on some issues, Abzug was clearly more feminist-driven and more progressive than DMP. Her presence in the Senate could have had a massive effect on public sentiment around certain issues. She was also a lawyer and could have made her way onto the Judiciary Committee. Of course, there's plenty of room for butterflies, but it would be interesting to see a Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing with a woman on the panel.

I also think about the 1992 and 1998 Senate primaries. Ferraro came extremely close to winning in 1992, which would've been a major turn had she gone on to defeat D'Amato. In 1998, when she tried again, she was the frontrunner and few thought Schumer had a shot. She wasn't feeling her usual energetic self (later revealed to be cancer) and when combined with the low expectations for Schumer until a month or two out, she was a lazy campaigner and lost by a strong margin. Had she run a more focused campaign in the vain of her 1992 race, Schumer may have lost.

And the NYC Mayoral primary in 1977, where Cuomo lost to Ed Koch by 10,000 votes. Had he won that race, his career trajectory would likely have changed significantly. Winning statewide in the race for governor may have become more difficult. It would also have had broad changes on NYC - Koch was to Cuomo's right and his administration coincided with a time of great change within the City.

General elections
George W. Bush ran for Congress in 1978. He lost by about 6,500 votes, or ~5%. There were some forced errors that Bush made that could have cost him the race, perhaps most noticeably the "Bush Bash." If he comes up with enough votes to win, the seat is likely his for as long as he wants it. The district was trending red already and a good Republican year in 1980 would probably have been enough for him as an incumbent, even if it wasn't enough for a challenger. The effects on his father's political career as well as his own are intriguing. There are three possibilities: 1) He gets bored of Washington after a couple of terms and leaves politics for good; 2) He enters the House with Dick Cheney and the two go on to work their way up through House leadership with Cheney becoming Speaker and Bush as his right-hand man; 3) He runs for the Senate in 1984, beating Gramm in the primary, and then serving in the Senate. And, of course, each broad scenario carries a number of butterflies with them.

A similar scenario involves Bill Clinton, who ran and barely lost in 1974. This may have been a blessing for him as he went on to become AG in the next election, then governor, and then president. It seems likely to me that had Clinton won, he would have challenged Pryor for the Senate nomination in 1978, as some in the state party wanted him to do. He states in My Life he ran for governor instead because he'd developed a preference for state politics (which may not have happened had he been in Washington). It's definitely possible he would've been able to eek out a victory over Pryor, who was to Clinton's left, and gone on to win. Who knows how this would've affected his presidential ambitions. It may have made him more formidable in 1988, inspiring him to enter the race.
 
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A close downballot race, especially a primary, is also a good place to introduce an "unknown," ie a fictional character if you know that you'll need him or her a few years down the road.
 
Another one I just thought of: If Yarborough holds off his Senate challenge from Bentsen in 1970 but goes on to lose the GE to HW Bush...
 
Arizona's 1st congressional district, 1982 (Republican primary):
John McCain - 15,363 (31.83%)
Ray Russell - 12,500 (25.89%)
James A. Mack - 10,675 (22.11%)
Donna Carlson-West - 9,736 (20.17%)


If McCain had lost that primary, would he ever have become senator from AZ--or a presidential candidate?
 
Jimmy Carter ran a close race in a primary for a GA congressional seat before he became governor. Representative Carter would have compiled a respectably moderate(for a deep south congressman) record and would never have been considered as a Presidential contender.
 
William Randolph Hearst, of Citizen Kane fame, almost became governor of New York in 1906. It shouldn't be too hard for him to get the 1912 Democratic nomination and then the presidency in Wilson's place.

In the same state, Teddy Roosevelt won the NY governorship by an extremely thin margin. If he loses this race, his career is significantly altered to say the least.

Emil Seidel, the first socialist mayor of Milwaukee, almost got elected two years earlier than OTL. Assuming he isn't defeated by a fusion candidate in the next election (which was what happened to him in 1912 IOTL) could he maybe be elected governor of Wisconsin in, say, 1918, becoming the first member of the Socialist Party to hold a statewide office?

Dennis Kucinich, known today as a liberal gadfly, almost became a congressman more than two decades before he did IOTL. Assuming he wins this race, would he still run for (and become) mayor of Cleveland? Should he still become mayor, could the additional experience he has in Washington perhaps keep him from doing something stupid (such as firing Richard Hongisto, which caused an attempt to recall him) and save his tenure?
 
Arizona's 1st congressional district, 1982 (Republican primary):
John McCain - 15,363 (31.83%)
Ray Russell - 12,500 (25.89%)
James A. Mack - 10,675 (22.11%)
Donna Carlson-West - 9,736 (20.17%)


If McCain had lost that primary, would he ever have become senator from AZ--or a presidential candidate?
He did have clout from his war service. It wasn’t until I read The Invisible Bridge that I realized McCain had burst onto the stage so early. It seems likely to me that he enters politics in some other way. Reagan could make him an Undersecretary of Defense. Perhaps Russell wins the 86 Senate election and McCain goes on to run in 88.

A different entry to the Senate could butterfly away Keating Five, which would have major repercussions on his career and brand, pretty much eliminating his trademark concern for campaign finance reform. It may also motivate him to enter the presidential race in 96.
 
This one is close to home (I live in Chicago) but the 2004 Illinois Senate election is a fun one to play with. I think Obama beats Jack Ryan if Ryan's divorce records stay sealed but we'll obviously never know for sure.
 
. . Abzug was clearly more feminist-driven and more progressive . .
Bella was also a big advocate of labor unions.

Now, the importance of the American middle class gets plenty of lip service. But I’m not sure near enough attention is paid, Hey, we’re in the midst of a long slide and a slow-motion crisis. And once that’s pointed out to a person, his or her reaction is likely to be, yeah, yeah, that’s important. Certainly it’s important.

And, Bella could have potentially added to a national conversation in which some good medium-scale reforms come up.
 
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This one is close to home (I live in Chicago) but the 2004 Illinois Senate election is a fun one to play with. I think Obama beats Jack Ryan if Ryan's divorce records stay sealed but we'll obviously never know for sure.
FWIW, Rasmussen, generally a Republican-friendly poll, showed Obama leading Ryan 48-40 before the scandal broke. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2004/illinois_senate_obama_48_ryan_40 The Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll gave Obama an even bigger lead: 52-30. https://web.archive.org/web/20110511201548/http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-95073532.html

The easiest way to keep Obama out of the US Senate in 2004 is to have Carol Mosely Braun decide she wanted her old Senate seat back. In that event, Obama would almost certainly have deferred to her in order not to split the African American vote.
 
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Lowell Weicker is re-elected to the US Senate in 1988, defeating Joe Lieberman. I think this may have been one of the very few elections where William F. Buckley, Jr. actually made the difference. Buckley (who was of course a resident of CT) had a special disdain for liberal Republicans like Weicker; he backed Lieberman and very likely persuaded enough conservatives to vote for Lieberman to enable Lieberman to win that very close race. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate_election_in_Connecticut,_1988

Without Lieberman Al Gore might choose Bob Graham or Jeanne Shaheen as his running mate--and might therefore win FL or NH, either of which would be sufficient for an Electoral College victory.
 
This one is close to home (I live in Chicago) but the 2004 Illinois Senate election is a fun one to play with. I think Obama beats Jack Ryan if Ryan's divorce records stay sealed but we'll obviously never know for sure.
FWIW, Rasmussen, generally a Republican-friendly poll, showed Obama leading Ryan 48-40 before the scandal broke. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2004/illinois_senate_obama_48_ryan_40 The Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll gave Obama an even bigger lead: 52-30. https://web.archive.org/web/20110511201548/http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-95073532.html

The easiest way to keep Obama out of the US Senate in 2004 is to have Carol Mosely Braun decide she wanted her old Senate seat back. In that event, Obama would almost certainly have deferred to her in order not to split the African American vote.
....or an even more fun way of keeping Obama from the senate: Make Star Trek Voyager S1 good. (Whether Ryan would actually beat Obama without the scandal is maybe not certain)
 
Surely we all remember "Landslide Lyndon"'s 87-vote triumph in the 1948 Texas Democrat Senate primary runoff (out of 988,295 votes cast).

But this is a really easy vein to mine: most major political figures won or lost several elections before becoming top-ballot candidates.

What might be more interesting is downballot outcomes that were important in themselves. Lyndon's landslide was one such - if he lost, some one else would be Senate Majority Leader in the 1950s.
 
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I also think about the 1992 and 1998 Senate primaries. Ferraro came extremely close to winning in 1992, which would've been a major turn had she gone on to defeat D'Amato. In 1998, when she tried again, she was the frontrunner and few thought Schumer had a shot. She wasn't feeling her usual energetic self (later revealed to be cancer) and when combined with the low expectations for Schumer until a month or two out, she was a lazy campaigner and lost by a strong margin. Had she run a more focused campaign in the vain of her 1992 race, Schumer may have lost.
Schumer losing to Ferraro in 1998 keeps him in the House, which means that his protege Anthony Weiner doesn't succeed him in the House yet (presumably staying on the city council). That could have significant ripple effects to both his mayoral ambitions and Hillary Clinton's Presidential runs, especially 2016.
 
Surely we all remember "Landslide Lyndon"'s 87-vote triumph in the 1948 Texas Democrat Senate primary runoff (out of 988,295 votes cast).

But this is a really easy vein to mine most major political figures won or lost several elections before becoming top-ballot candidates.

What might be more interesting is downballot outcomes that were important in themselves. Lyndon's landslide was one such - if he lost, some one else would be Senate Majority Leader in the 1950ss.
Lyndon's an interesting case considering that all of .13% separated him from being in the Senate 8 years earlier, which absolutely would have had an impact on him.
 
Surely we all remember "Landslide Lyndon"'s 87-vote triumph in the 1948 Texas Democrat Senate primary runoff (out of 988,295 votes cast).

But this is a really easy vein to mine most major political figures won or lost several elections before becoming top-ballot candidates.

What might be more interesting is downballot outcomes that were important in themselves. Lyndon's landslide was one such - if he lost, some one else would be Senate Majority Leader in the 1950ss.
Henry Ford (D) defeats Truman Newberry (R) in the infamous 1918 Michigan Senate race. Important for three reasons: (1) The effect on Ford's own political career. (2) "Newberryism" becoming a synonym for corrupt electioneering. (3) If Ford, had won, Democrats would have controlled the Senate---and pro-League Gilbert Hitchcock (D-NE) rather than Henry Cabot Lodge would chair the Foreign Relations Committee.
 
One thing I've tried to be better about in my scenario writing is digging into close races down the ballot, particularly primaries, that may have gone differently and could have drastically changed events. Here are a few I think about, what are yours?

Democratic primaries
The NY Senate Democratic primary in 1976, where Bella Abzug narrowly lost to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. While Moynihan was a force on some issues, Abzug was clearly more feminist-driven and more progressive than DMP. Her presence in the Senate could have had a massive effect on public sentiment around certain issues. She was also a lawyer and could have made her way onto the Judiciary Committee. Of course, there's plenty of room for butterflies, but it would be interesting to see a Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing with a woman on the panel.

I also think about the 1992 and 1998 Senate primaries. Ferraro came extremely close to winning in 1992, which would've been a major turn had she gone on to defeat D'Amato. In 1998, when she tried again, she was the frontrunner and few thought Schumer had a shot. She wasn't feeling her usual energetic self (later revealed to be cancer) and when combined with the low expectations for Schumer until a month or two out, she was a lazy campaigner and lost by a strong margin. Had she run a more focused campaign in the vain of her 1992 race, Schumer may have lost.

And the NYC Mayoral primary in 1977, where Cuomo lost to Ed Koch by 10,000 votes. Had he won that race, his career trajectory would likely have changed significantly. Winning statewide in the race for governor may have become more difficult. It would also have had broad changes on NYC - Koch was to Cuomo's right and his administration coincided with a time of great change within the City.

General elections
George W. Bush ran for Congress in 1978. He lost by about 6,500 votes, or ~5%. There were some forced errors that Bush made that could have cost him the race, perhaps most noticeably the "Bush Bash." If he comes up with enough votes to win, the seat is likely his for as long as he wants it. The district was trending red already and a good Republican year in 1980 would probably have been enough for him as an incumbent, even if it wasn't enough for a challenger. The effects on his father's political career as well as his own are intriguing. There are three possibilities: 1) He gets bored of Washington after a couple of terms and leaves politics for good; 2) He enters the House with Dick Cheney and the two go on to work their way up through House leadership with Cheney becoming Speaker and Bush as his right-hand man; 3) He runs for the Senate in 1984, beating Gramm in the primary, and then serving in the Senate. And, of course, each broad scenario carries a number of butterflies with them.

A similar scenario involves Bill Clinton, who ran and barely lost in 1974. This may have been a blessing for him as he went on to become AG in the next election, then governor, and then president. It seems likely to me that had Clinton won, he would have challenged Pryor for the Senate nomination in 1978, as some in the state party wanted him to do. He states in My Life he ran for governor instead because he'd developed a preference for state politics (which may not have happened had he been in Washington). It's definitely possible he would've been able to eek out a victory over Pryor, who was to Clinton's left, and gone on to win. Who knows how this would've affected his presidential ambitions. It may have made him more formidable in 1988, inspiring him to enter the race.
These are some of my ideas:
  • U.S. Senate election in New York, 1980: This was the election in which Al D'Amato (R-NY) defeated Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) and incumbent Sen. Jacob Javits (L-NY). If Holtzman had won, it's very likely that Fmr. VP Walter Mondale would've asked her to be his running mate in the 1984 U.S. presidential election. And since Holztman didn't have a husband involved with the mafia (or a husband at all), she wouldn't have damaged the ticket and the idea of a woman serving as Vice President or even President of the United States.
  • California gubernatorial election, 1982: This was the election that created the theory of the Bradley effect. IOTL, California AG George Deukmejian (R-CA) defeated LA Mayor Tom Bradley (D-CA and an African American) by a 1.2-point margin in a huge upset, since Bradley was leading in pretty much all the polls. IATL, Gov. Bradley probably would've been re-elected in 1986 and then he probably would've retired because of his age (he was 70 years old in 1990). I think that if Bradley had won in 1982 (in the most populated state of the United States), many people would've thought that minorities can actually win political power in the United States. That would've encouraged many people to run for public office or to support those who're running for public office. The first person that I can think of is Colin Powell, who IOTL was warned about the Bradley effect and decided against running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 or 2000.
  • Texas gubernatorial election, 1994: This a pretty obvious one. If George W. Bush (R-TX) had been defeated by incumbent Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX), the 2000 Republican presidential primary would've been free-for-all.
  • U.S. Senate election in North Carolina, 2004: IOTL, Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) declined to run for re-election after his failed presidential bid. What if he had run?
  • U.S. Senate election in South Dakota, 2004: IOTL, Fmr. Rep. John Thune (R-SD) barely defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) by a 1.2-point margin. I can think of one or two things that would've changed because of this race.
I'm not sure about what to make of this one, but here it goes: In 1976, Art Agnos barely defeated Harvey Milk in a race for a seat in the California State Assembly by just 4,000 votes. Aside from the fact that he clearly wouldn't have been assasinated by Dan White, what would've happened to him?

Schumer losing to Ferraro in 1998 keeps him in the House, which means that his protege Anthony Weiner doesn't succeed him in the House yet (presumably staying on the city council). That could have significant ripple effects to both his mayoral ambitions and Hillary Clinton's Presidential runs, especially 2016.
Good morning, Pres. Clinton.

EDIT: I thought that Ferraro's husband was linked to the mafia. I totally forgot that his problems were related to his taxes.
 
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