BACKGROUND: Most politicos know Claire McCaskill as a fixture on national talk shows and as a world-class Twitter user. But back in 2006, she was just one of many politicians trying to break into the World's Foremost Deliberative Body.
McCaskill decided to forgo another term as a state auditor and instead challenge Sen. Jim Talent's bid for a second term. Talent was smart, politically wonkish and had a pretty long tenure in Missouri politics. And after a close loss for the Missouri governorship in 2000, he managed to beat Sen. Jean Carnahan in a surprisingly good mid-term election for the Republican Party.
Thus, McCaskill's venture in national politics was not without risk. Talent didn't have any discernible scandal or flaw that made him easily beatable. He didn't have an abrasive personality like Conrad Burns or create a "Macaca" moment like George Allen. But he was weakened when the public became disenchanted with the Republican Party. And it didn't help that McCaskill was a fairly energetic campaigner who wasn't afraid to aim for votes in Republican strongholds outstate.
In the end, McCaskill was victorious. And her win helped the Democrats take over the U.S. Senate - a feat that was not expected by many pundits at the beginning of the election cycle. It was the start of what would be a full collapse of the Republican Party in Congress.
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: I think my blog post from 2006 said it best:
This choice is about as surprising as the outcome of the 25th District state House race. But the clash of the two well-honed, statewide personalities was about as exciting as any contest in recent memory. Staying close up until the final moments, the contest ended with McCaskill emerging triumphant and Talent being ousted from the Senate.
Although Virginia Sen. George Allen’s spectacular fall ultimately gave the U.S. Senate to the Democratic Party, McCaskill victory was a crucial piece in the party’s jaunt to take back Congress. Now that the campaign is over, the state — and the country — will be watching to see what the 110th Congress accomplishes.
Even today, the Senate race between McCaskill and Talent still sticks out. It featured two candidates that were relatively evenly-matched in terms of experience and campaign savvy. The race eventually resulted in McCaskill becoming a rather high-profile national political figure, thanks in part to her decision to endorse Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Talent made a political comeback. Few of the state's Republicans have the experience of running three statewide campaigns. And even though he lost two of them, they weren't exactly by landslide margins. Who knows? Maybe a 2012 re-match could end up differently. Stranger things have happened.
FUN FACT: When McCaskill was declared the winner, I watched her victory speech with Rep. Steve Hobbs and future House Speaker Ron Richard at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia. Needless to say, the atmosphere in the room was not exactly cheerful.