Close downballot races that could've changed history

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.
great one!
 
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 assassinated by Dan White, what would've happened to him?
.
This is an interesting one. I think it's reasonable to think Milk stays in the assembly (as opposed to going to the Bd. of Supervisors). When you butterfly away the assassination, you have a few interesting points:

1. Feinstein had already lost the Mayoral election twice at that point, and it was believed she would back Quentin Kopp in a race for Mayor in 1979. I think you likely see Moscone run for reelection and win in '79, beating Kopp. Unclear what this does to Feinstein's career. Perhaps she makes a bid for the US House of Representatives. Perhaps she tries for the Assembly herself. Perhaps she gets out of politics altogether.

2. Assuming Moscone wins in 1979, the 1983 Mayoral election would be a great chance for Milk to make a play for the top job in San Fran. Assuming that the Moral Majority is happening around the same as OTL, it's hard to see him winning. However, 1983 is the same year Phillip Burton died - the Castro's (and much of SF's) congressman. He was replaced by his wife, Sala, who held the seat until her own death in 1987. This triggered a special election in 1987, which was, of course, won by none other than Nancy Pelosi. She only narrowly beat (which also fits into our thread here) Harry Britt, an openly gay SF Supervisor who replaced Milk. Now, there are a few questions: First, does Milk's presence in Sacramento make him more or less of a standard bearer for gay rights? I could see it going either way, right? He has the chance to be advocating on state issues, but the lack of hyper localization may distance him from the Castro community. It seems safe that if he remains "the face" of gay rights in elected politics, Harry Britt (or whoever represents the Castro) will defer to Milk in the primary. That puts Milk up against Nancy Pelosi, which leads to my third question: What's happened to Dianne Feinstein? If she's hovered around in local politics, this is also her chance to get back into the game - running in a three-way primary that Milk almost certainly wins (though I'm less sure he wins if Feinstein isn't there to split Pelosi's vote with her). This makes him the first openly gay person to win a Congressional seat while out. (Gerry Studds was outed in 1983 and reelected in 1984, making him the first openly gay member of Congress to be reelected after outing).

If Milk gets to Congress, I see a few options...
• Run for Senate in 1992, assuming a special election. Without Feinstein, there is going to be a bitter primary. In a field of three, Milk has a good chance. In a field of four or more, I think my money's on him. He'd have to fight in the general, but I think he'd pull it off.
• Make a statement candidacy in the 1992 Democratic primaries. I could see Milk running a candidacy that resembles Jesse Jackson's in 1992, and he'd probably reassemble *some* of this coalition (though I imagine he will struggle with Black voters in the South while maintaining white liberal activists and some Black voters in the North), but obviously not come close to the nomination. Still, his presence could shake up the primary field.
• Simply choosing to serve in the House until he's ready to go. He was born in 1930, which means he would've been 85 at the time of Obergefell (and who knows how a longer life and more visible career would've impacted the marriage equality movement). It seems conceivable he'd hold the seat until 2000 or so. At which point, the seat becomes open - an interesting dynamic given that Pelosi has held it continuously for nearly 40 years.
 
This is an interesting one. I think it's reasonable to think Milk stays in the assembly (as opposed to going to the Bd. of Supervisors). When you butterfly away the assassination, you have a few interesting points:

1. Feinstein had already lost the Mayoral election twice at that point, and it was believed she would back Quentin Kopp in a race for Mayor in 1979. I think you likely see Moscone run for reelection and win in '79, beating Kopp. Unclear what this does to Feinstein's career. Perhaps she makes a bid for the US House of Representatives. Perhaps she tries for the Assembly herself. Perhaps she gets out of politics altogether.

2. Assuming Moscone wins in 1979, the 1983 Mayoral election would be a great chance for Milk to make a play for the top job in San Fran. Assuming that the Moral Majority is happening around the same as OTL, it's hard to see him winning. However, 1983 is the same year Phillip Burton died - the Castro's (and much of SF's) congressman. He was replaced by his wife, Sala, who held the seat until her own death in 1987. This triggered a special election in 1987, which was, of course, won by none other than Nancy Pelosi. She only narrowly beat (which also fits into our thread here) Harry Britt, an openly gay SF Supervisor who replaced Milk. Now, there are a few questions: First, does Milk's presence in Sacramento make him more or less of a standard bearer for gay rights? I could see it going either way, right? He has the chance to be advocating on state issues, but the lack of hyper localization may distance him from the Castro community. It seems safe that if he remains "the face" of gay rights in elected politics, Harry Britt (or whoever represents the Castro) will defer to Milk in the primary. That puts Milk up against Nancy Pelosi, which leads to my third question: What's happened to Dianne Feinstein? If she's hovered around in local politics, this is also her chance to get back into the game - running in a three-way primary that Milk almost certainly wins (though I'm less sure he wins if Feinstein isn't there to split Pelosi's vote with her). This makes him the first openly gay person to win a Congressional seat while out. (Gerry Studds was outed in 1983 and reelected in 1984, making him the first openly gay member of Congress to be reelected after outing).

If Milk gets to Congress, I see a few options...
• Run for Senate in 1992, assuming a special election. Without Feinstein, there is going to be a bitter primary. In a field of three, Milk has a good chance. In a field of four or more, I think my money's on him. He'd have to fight in the general, but I think he'd pull it off.
• Make a statement candidacy in the 1992 Democratic primaries. I could see Milk running a candidacy that resembles Jesse Jackson's in 1992, and he'd probably reassemble *some* of this coalition (though I imagine he will struggle with Black voters in the South while maintaining white liberal activists and some Black voters in the North), but obviously not come close to the nomination. Still, his presence could shake up the primary field.
• Simply choosing to serve in the House until he's ready to go. He was born in 1930, which means he would've been 85 at the time of Obergefell (and who knows how a longer life and more visible career would've impacted the marriage equality movement). It seems conceivable he'd hold the seat until 2000 or so. At which point, the seat becomes open - an interesting dynamic given that Pelosi has held it continuously for nearly 40 years.
I'd have loved to see Harvey Milk as a U.S. Senator from California and/or running for POTUS (even if it's very unlikely that he would've won the Democratic nomination). Also, I absolutely love your scenario although I've a few doubts:
  • Is there something that he could've done about AIDS?
  • What effect would've had having Milk hammering Pres. Reagan on a daily basis for his handling of the AIDS pandemic?
  • Considering how flamboyant he was and the district he would've represented (arguably the most liberal in the United States), what effect he would've had first in Sacramento and then in Washington? I mean, I can imagine that he probably wouldn't have wanted any leadership position and would've focused on constituency services and talking about issues that Democratic moderates (let alone Republicans) didn't want to touch, not even with a stick.
  • Could he have helped accelerate the national (and conversely, international) LGBTQ+ rights movement?
  • Could he have normalized the gay community? I ask this based on something that Joe Biden said. He basically argued (and he's probably right) that Will & Grace normalized gay people in the eyes of the American public, but could he have an early, probably more DeGeneres-like impact on the public?
  • I know that California is a very liberal state right now, but was the state ready for someone like him in 1992?
  • If Pelosi isn't the Speaker, then who's it? That could've had a huge impact in modern U.S. politics.
 
Important for three reasons: (1) The effect on Ford's own political career. (2) ... (3)...
And (4) the effect on the US automobile industry:
(A) Henry Ford would have to turn over operating control of Ford Motor Corporation to someone else, and might never take it back - perhaps substantially changing FMC's course in the next twenty years.

(B) The proprietor of Ford is now a very prominent and controversial Democrat. ISTM this would affect marketing and sales of Ford products; alienating and attracting buyers.
 
More related to sports, but in 2006, former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne was all but a shoe in for the Republican primary for governor, meaning he’d basically be governor, but lost to incumbent Dave Heinemann, who took over when Mike Johanns became Ag secretary. Heinemann won mostly because Osborne was okay with children of illegal immigrants being given in state tuition and was for reorganizing rural schools. Osborne lost 45% to 49 with Heinemann going on the serve as Governor until 2014. If Osborne wins it, it will have some tiny political butterflies like maybe Heineman tries for Senate in 2008 but otl he didn’t in 2014 when he could have had a good shot.
There would be sports butterflies too. Nebraska might not think about the Big Ten as much if Osborne isn’t Athletic Director for the Cornhuskers and you might see the Big Ten go with 3 eastern members instead of just Maryland and Rutgers ( Syracuse might be a decent choice) or Missouri gets in, or Nebraska, Missouri and either Rutgers or Maryland are added. Either way college sports could be quite different .
 
Kick
regarding Sen. Obama (D-Chicago Way). The real election was not the general but the Democratic Primary. Even without the 7 of 9 scandal Jack Ryan was at best competitive in the general election but no Republican could have won that election except the incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, who was dumped because he was too independent of the Chicago Way Combine. However, until a few weeks before that primary the clear favorite in the polls was one Blair Hull, an independent millionaire with no obligations to the Chicago or Illinois machines. Well guess what. Someone released previously sealed records from his divorce proceedings that indicated that Hull had abused his ex-wife. Immediately his standing in the polls collapsed to the benefit one of Barry Obama, who by this time was a fully made member of the Chicago machine complete with his own real estate fairy. Without this out of nowhere release of sealed records Barry remains an obscure member of the IL State Senate (BTW all members of that body are obscure except the majority leader). So lets look at this. Barry O is gifted in one election cycle with damaging divorce papers against both his primary and general election foes. Me thinks the fix was in. Of course, it is Illinois (i.e. Chicago machine).
 
  • 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.
Thune lost the 2002 general election by 18 votes, and there were serious irregularities. Thune decided not to challenge the outcome and immediately announced his candidacy for 2004. 2002 ended up being a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats.
 
I think you likely see Moscone run for reelection and win in '79, beating Kopp. Unclear what this does to Feinstein's career. Perhaps she makes a bid for the US House of Representatives. Perhaps she tries for the Assembly herself. Perhaps she gets out of politics altogether.

2. Assuming Moscone wins in 1979, the 1983 Mayoral election would be a great chance for Milk to make a play for the top job in San Fran.
Moscone still gets assassinated. Dan White didn't care about Milk's sexuality - he was targeting people he perceived as double-crossing him. Willie Brown was an intended target but was lucky enough to not be around.
 
Moscone still gets assassinated. Dan White didn't care about Milk's sexuality - he was targeting people he perceived as double-crossing him. Willie Brown was an intended target but was lucky enough to not be around.
Most of White's angst was resigning and not being allowed to re-join. It was Milk who pressured Moscone to not allow him to return. I assumed that without Milk urging for that, he would have let him back onto the Council and crisis averted. Also, while his death may not have been the typical definition of a "hate crime," I think it's wrong to imply that Dan White "didn't care about Milk's sexuality." I just finished Reaganland which pays a fair amount of attention to this as a subplot. White was conservative from a blue collar Irish district where Milk was loathed. Surely some of the animosity was fueled by his sexuality, even if White's premiere motive was revenge. Let's not forget he changed the bullets used between Moscone and Milk to make Milk's murder more certain and more painful.
 
Thune lost the 2002 general election by 18 votes, and there were serious irregularities. Thune decided not to challenge the outcome and immediately announced his candidacy for 2004. 2002 ended up being a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats.
Yes - I think this leads to Daschle getting reelected - though he's certainly toast come 2010
 
A weird one, but Howard "Bo" Callaway won the 1966 Georgia gubernatorial election - but by an extremely narrow margin and without a majority, and Georgia state law stipulated at the time that if there were no majority the legislature (which was dominated by Democrats) picked the Governor. If independent candidate Ellis Arnall had done a bit worse, could he have swung it for Callaway, either by getting him an outright majority or giving him enough of a margin to give Georgia Democrats second thoughts about selecting Maddox?
John Tower only narrowly won the 1978 Senate election in Texas, and if he had lost he would have been a solid SecDef candidate (esp. given his ties to Bush), although his drinking problems might have been a problem. John Warner won by an even narrower margin the same year.
Mel Carnahan posthumously won the 2000 Senate election by a pretty narrow margin - if he had lost (whether due to surviving and not getting a sympathy vote, or just shenanigans), John Ashcroft would have stayed in the Senate and probably not become AG.
More recently, in 2016, both Katie McGinty and Jason Kander were within three points of being elected to the Senate, which would have given the Republicans only a one-vote margin of error, probably undermining Betsy DeVos's and Mick Mulvaney's appointments and possibly changing a bunch of other appointments. If you get Russ Feingold (within four points) in as well that gives the Democrats an outright majority, and I don't even know where to begin to think about what happens there other than that Obama possibly confirms Garland in that 17-day window.
 

CalBear

Moderator
Donor
Monthly Donor
regarding Sen. Obama (D-Chicago Way). The real election was not the general but the Democratic Primary. Even without the 7 of 9 scandal Jack Ryan was at best competitive in the general election but no Republican could have won that election except the incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, who was dumped because he was too independent of the Chicago Way Combine. However, until a few weeks before that primary the clear favorite in the polls was one Blair Hull, an independent millionaire with no obligations to the Chicago or Illinois machines. Well guess what. Someone released previously sealed records from his divorce proceedings that indicated that Hull had abused his ex-wife. Immediately his standing in the polls collapsed to the benefit one of Barry Obama, who by this time was a fully made member of the Chicago machine complete with his own real estate fairy. Without this out of nowhere release of sealed records Barry remains an obscure member of the IL State Senate (BTW all members of that body are obscure except the majority leader). So lets look at this. Barry O is gifted in one election cycle with damaging divorce papers against both his primary and general election foes. Me thinks the fix was in. Of course, it is Illinois (i.e. Chicago machine).
Barry O?

Trolling much?

Current political trolling too?

Week on the Bench?

You Bet

Kicked for a week.
 
Most of White's angst was resigning and not being allowed to re-join. It was Milk who pressured Moscone to not allow him to return. I assumed that without Milk urging for that, he would have let him back onto the Council and crisis averted. Also, while his death may not have been the typical definition of a "hate crime," I think it's wrong to imply that Dan White "didn't care about Milk's sexuality." I just finished Reaganland which pays a fair amount of attention to this as a subplot. White was conservative from a blue collar Irish district where Milk was loathed. Surely some of the animosity was fueled by his sexuality, even if White's premiere motive was revenge. Let's not forget he changed the bullets used between Moscone and Milk to make Milk's murder more certain and more painful.
No Milk might have changed Moscone's decision. But Milk and White started out as allies. That changed when Milk supported an adolescent mental hospital in White's district.

I wouldn't expect them to be allies prior to that disagreement if White were strongly antigay.
 
The 2008 Minnesota US Senate election- Maybe Dean Barkley is more successful or the Minnesota Supreme Court accept Norm Coleman's appeals and you could have Senator Coleman or a longer court case.

Here are three other possibilities besides otl:

1. Coleman wins and Al Franken decides to quit politics.

2. Coleman wins and Al Franken tries again later.

3. Franken wins after a longer and tougher battle.

ITTL there may or may not be a scandal for Franken, but that's a story for another time...

The 1934 California gubernatorial election:

The closest Upton Sinclair got to winning an election!

If the California Progressives supported Sinclair instead fielding a candidate or the anti-Sinclair campaign fails....
 
Harry Truman nearly lost reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1940 since he was weakened by the fall of the Pendergast political machine. He narrowly won the Democratic primary, winning 40.9% of the vote to Governor Lloyd Stark's 39.7% (a difference of about 8,000 votes). Then he narrowly won the general election, winning 51.2% while his Republican opponent Manvel Davis won 48.7%. He could have easily lost either contest.

Had Truman lost his Senate seat, then FDR would not have picked him as his running mate in 1944. Someone else would have succeeded FDR upon his death. That person would have a significant impact on the end of World War II, the use (or potential non-use) of the atomic bomb against Japan, the beginning of the Cold War and confronting the Soviet Union, the post-WWII economic trouble and labor unrest in the U.S., the burgeoning civil rights movement, the post-WWII shrinking of the U.S. military, the formation of the State of Israel, the formulation of nuclear policy, and the Korean War (if that still happens).
 
Last edited:
Harry Truman nearly lost reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1940 since he was weakened by the fall of the Pendergast political machine. He narrowly won the Democratic primary, winning 40.9% of the vote to Governor Lloyd Stark's 39.7% (a difference of about 8,000 votes). Then he narrowly won the general election, winning 51.2% while his Republican opponent Manvel Davis won 48.7%. He could have easily lost either contest.

Had Truman lost his Senate seat, then FDR would not have picked him as his running mate in 1944. Someone else would have succeeded FDR upon his death. That person would have a significant impact on the end of World War II, the use (or potential non-use) of the atomic bomb against Japan, the beginning of the Cold War and confronting the Soviet Union, the post-WWII economic trouble and labor unrest in the U.S., the burgeoning civil rights movement, the post-WWII shrinking of the U.S. military, the formation of the State of Israel, the formulation of nuclear policy, and the Korean War (if that still happens).
Woah - I had no idea. Wallace and Byrnes would still have been unpopular with the establishment. Seems like FDR would have gone with William O. Douglas? Maybe Alben Barkley or Rayburn?
 
Top