The best and the worst of the midterms

The best and the worst of the midterms
© Greg Nash

The 2014 elections are (mostly) in the rearview mirror. But with the political world already turning its attention 2016, it’s worth taking a moment to remember what a long, strange trip the midterm battle really was.

The campaign cycle was a roller coaster ride, with memorable ads, gaffes galore and enough humorous and groan-worthy moments to satisfy the appetite of any political junkie.

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Here’s a look at the best and worst in a campaign cycle to remember.

BEST SENATE CANDIDATE: Sen.-elect Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans jockey for position on immigration Bipartisan bill would toughen North Korea sanctions, require Trump's strategy GOP senators push for delay of ObamaCare insurer tax MORE (R-Colo.)

Republicans never would have had a shot at winning the Colorado seat, if the Gardner hadn’t reversed course and run against Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (D).

Gardner ran a savvy campaign, downplaying his socially conservative record while appealing to independents in the purple state. Expect to see more of the telegenic freshman senator.

BEST HOUSE CANDIDATE: Rep.-elect Gwen Graham (D-Fla.)

Politics runs in Graham’s blood. She is the daughter of Bob Graham (D), a popular former governor and senator in Florida.

In a bad climate, she managed to beat the tide and win in a swing district, becoming one of the few Southern Democrats to survive on Election Day. She had help from her opponent Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), whose remarks about women took heat.

THE WORST “MARK”: Sen. Mark “Uterus” Udall (D-Colo.)

It was a bad year to be a Senate candidate named Mark — Sens. Udall, Pryor (D-Ark.) and Begich (D-Alaska) all lost, and Warner (D-Va.) survived narrowly.

Udall, however, was widely derided in his home state for focusing relentlessly on social issues, hammering Gardner on personhood, abortion and contraception. One newspaper dubbed him “Mark Uterus,” a nickname that became so prevalent the senator was asked about it in a debate. In the end, it didn’t prove to be a winning strategy.

BEST QUOTE: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm,” Iowa Sen.-elect Joni Ernst

Ernst’s ad not only introduced “hog castration” to the political lexicon, it catapulted the little-known state senator to stardom.

The now famous ad touting her farm background — telling voters “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork” — was impeccably timed. The spot coincided with Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyOPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer MORE’s (D) damaging gaffe deriding Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding MORE as a “farmer from Iowa.” She leapt to the top of the field in the primary and rode the momentum all the way to Washington.

MOST OVERRATED CANDIDATE: Democrat Wendy Davis, Texas governor’s race

Democrats crowed that Davis, fresh off her famous filibuster and clad in pink tennis shoes, was about to turn Texas blue. She wasn’t. Her campaign was plagued with missteps, including an ad hitting wheelchair-bound Greg Abbott (R). She lost by more than 20 points. 

MOST UNDERRATED CANDIDATE: Rep.-elect Rick Allen (R-Ga.)

Rep. John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowOur democracy can’t afford to cut legal aid services from the budget Dem files Ethics complaint on Benghazi panel Barrow thanks staff in farewell speech MORE (D-Ga.) had seemed unbeatable, winning year after year in a red district.

 In 2014, his luck ran out.

Allen, who finally beat him, didn’t fare well in 2012, and GOP operatives privately worried the wealthy businessman would be seen as out of touch with the rural district. But he won the primary outright in 2014, retooling his campaign team and message.

Allen hammered Barrow as voting too often with the president en route to a 10-point win.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorEric Cantor offering advice to end ‘immigration wars’ Trump's olive branch differs from the golden eras of bipartisanship After divisive rally, Trump calls for unity MORE (R-Va.) loses

No one in politics is untouchable, and June 10 proved that.

Even though Cantor spent millions of dollars to vanquish his little-known primary foe, college professor Dave Brat proved to be the David to his Goliath.

Cantor’s shocking defeat shook the Republican House power structure, caused many candidates to re-evaluate their own primary plans and removed from Congress a would-be Speaker.

STRANGEST RACE: Mississippi Senate primary

The bizarre Mississippi primary is bound to live on in political lore for years to come.

It had it all: a nursing home break-in in which an alleged participant commit suicide, an ad with Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranWhite House requests B for disaster relief GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers Whatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong MORE (R) joking that he enjoyed doing “all sorts of indecent things with animals” growing up, challenger Chris McDaniel joking about a woman’s breasts, and supporters locked in courthouses on election night.

The strangest twist was that Cochran somehow came back to win the runoff with the help of black voters — although not according to McDaniel, who filed a series of legal challenges asking the state GOP to “declare me the winner” and taking the fight into October.

BIGGEST 2016 WINNER: Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework MORE (R-Ky.)

No candidate toes the line between the Tea Party and the establishment better than the Kentucky senator and would-be presidential candidate.

He was everywhere in the final days of the campaign, even jumping in with ad buys from his own PAC to help out. The friends and allies Paul won in the midterm campaign — not to mention his crucial support for Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) — could pay major dividends in a White House bid.

BONUS! Freshman Most Likely to be on The Hill’s “50 Most Beautiful”: There’s plenty of time to make a first impression, but Rep.-elect Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) is turning heads.

--This report was updated at 9:27 a.m.