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The biggest political upsets of the decade

When President TrumpDonald TrumpUS gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House passes bill aimed at stopping future Trump travel ban MORE descended the escalator into a lobby of screaming fans in 2015, few believed it marked the beginning of an ascent to the White House. But Trump’s upset victory the following year shows why we hold elections, rather than base our leaders on the polls.

Most of those elections turn out to meet what the political class expects. But occasionally, there are surprise results — and each of those upsets carve a special niche in history. Here are the greatest upsets of the last decade:

Massachusetts Previews a Bad Year for Democrats

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Massachusetts voters had not sent a Republican senator to Washington since Edward Brooke lost reelection in 1972. But Bay State voters weren’t feeling so blue in 2010, when they elected state Sen. Scott Brown (R) to finish the remainder of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D) term.

Even national Republicans didn’t put a lot of stock in Brown’s chances. But a late wave of grassroots donations let Brown capitalize on anger building over the stagnant economy and the Affordable Care Act, and on his lackluster opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley. He won 52 percent of the vote, edging Coakley by about 108,000 votes in what proved to be a preview of the Tea Party wave building across the country.

The Tea Party Stunners

Republicans picked up 63 seats in the 2010 midterm elections as pent-up frustrations with President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden inaugural committee raised M with big sums from billionaires, corporations To confront corporate power, President Biden needs Jonathan Kanter Minneapolis mayor on Floyd: 'Ultimately his life will have bettered our city' MORE spilled over to his party. From his office on Capitol Hill, Guy Harrison, the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, knew most of them. But he didn’t know Joe WalshJoe WalshGOP lawmakers mourn death of Rush Limbaugh Sacha Baron Cohen pens op-ed on the dangers of conspiracy theories Sunday shows preview: Protests continue over shooting of Blake; coronavirus legislation talks remain at impasse MORE, a Tea Party activist waging a long-shot challenge against Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.).

On Election Night, Walsh led Bean by only a handful of votes. Republicans spent two days tracking him down, because Walsh was living in his car after a bank foreclosed on his condo. He spent a term in Congress before losing to Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthTrump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Lawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE, and now he’s running a quixotic bid to challenge President Trump.

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Farther south, a conservative radio host launched an equally improbable campaign against Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), an 18-year veteran of Congress. Republican Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE bested Ortiz by just 799 votes. He lasted longer in Congress thanks to a redistricting cycle in which Republicans added more conservative voters to his district, but he resigned in 2018 after using public money to settle sexual harassment allegations. 

Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban On The Money: Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl | Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term | Left-leaning group raises concerns about SALT cap repeal MORE, Giant-Slayer

When Sen. Mel Martinez (R) opted to retire in 2010 after a single term, Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) announced he would run for the seat. He may not have counted on Gov. Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP draws line on taxes; nation braces for Chauvin verdict The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax MORE, then a fellow Republican, jumping into the race as well. The first polls in the race showed Crist crushing Rubio by a huge margin.

But the Tea Party wave that built across the country helped vault Rubio to prominence over Crist, and almost a year after he jumped into the race those same polls showed Rubio wiping the floor with the sitting governor. Crist bolted the Republican Party to run as an independent, splitting the vote with Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee. Rubio took 49 percent of the vote, a million more votes than Crist — and with it, a seat in the Senate.

A Republican in Maryland

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Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) wrapped up two terms in office in 2014 with the hopes that his lieutenant, Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownBottom line House panel to take up 2002 war authorization repeal in 'coming weeks' Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief to press for Manchin's support on Colin Kahl | House Dems seek to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police MORE (D), would take his place. Brown only had to defeat Larry Hogan, a businessman who ran an anti-tax organization who had lost his two previous bids for public office. Polls showed Brown leading Hogan by double digits virtually from the beginning.

Brown’s lead started to slip in September and October, after his role in Maryland’s botched rollout of its Affordable Care Act health care exchange. Hogan positioned himself as a centrist who would not fight gun control or abortion laws, and he promised to roll back some of the tax increases the O’Malley administration had implemented. He won election by about 65,000 votes — and four years later he skated to reelection by a double-digit margin. Hogan became the first Republican to serve two consecutive terms in office since Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin in the 1950s.

Outsiders Show Candidates Matter

Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhen it comes to Georgia's voting law, keep politics out of business Pelosi to offer even split on 9/11-style commission to probe Capitol riot Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal MORE in the 2014 primary election and got walloped. So when Bevin decided to run for governor in 2015, he seemed an unlikely candidate to win the blessing of the state’s most senior Republican. Most of the state’s political establishment lined up behind James ComerJames (Jamie) R. ComerTop House Republicans ask Harris for meeting on border House committee approves DC statehood bill Overnight Energy: EPA pledges new focus on environmental justice | Republicans probe EPA firing of Trump-appointed science advisers | Biden administration asks court to toss kids' climate lawsuit MORE, then the state agriculture commissioner, or Hal Heiner, a former Louisville council member. 

Bevin spent heavily from his own bank account, and narrowly edged Comer by just 83 votes, two-hundredths of a percentage point. General election polling showed him losing to Jack Conway, the state attorney general, until the last minute, when Bevin pulled into a tie. The polls were most definitely wrong — and Bevin won election by 9 percentage points.

In Louisiana, sitting Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (R) had decided to return home at the end of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) two terms in office. Vitter faced competition from two other Republicans, and a growing bevy of scandals that dogged his campaign. 

After Vitter and state Rep. John Bel Edwards (D), the only prominent Democrat to enter the race, advanced to the runoff election, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne (R) — a Republican who finished fourth in the primary — backed Edwards, and the third-place finisher stayed mum. Edwards led the public polls, but his big 12-point win shocked Louisiana politicos. Vitter retired from the Senate the next year.

The Leadership Losers

When Virginia voters went to the polls on June 10, 2014, House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorCantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' White House says bills are bipartisan even if GOP doesn't vote for them Trump the X-factor in Virginia governor race MORE (R) was in Washington, confident he would win the GOP primary in his Richmond-area district. Voters had other ideas, and little-known Randolph-Macon College professor Dave Brat scored a shocking win that reverberated around Washington. Brat went on to represent the district until 2018, when he lost to Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerLawmakers say companies need to play key role in sustainability On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to lowest level since lockdowns | Retail sales surge in March | Dow, S&P hit new records Democrats brace for new 'defund the police' attacks MORE (D).

One of Spanberger’s freshmen colleagues was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezKerry: China described climate change as 'crisis' for the first time Left feels empowered after Biden backtracks on refugees Ocasio-Cortez: Chauvin 'verdict is not a substitute for policy change' MORE (D-N.Y.), a young former bartender and Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Yellen touts 'whole-of-economy' plan to fight climate change | Senate GOP adopts symbolic earmark ban, digs in on debt limit GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package MORE backer who had upset House Democratic Caucus chairman Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyNY Democratic chair blasts primary challenge against Maloney Carolyn Maloney will face Justice Democrats-backed primary challenger Marjorie Taylor Greene rakes in over .2M in first quarter MORE in her own stunning primary upset. Ocasio-Cortez and her Justice Democrats had canvassed a district that looked very different than the one Crowley had first won in 1998, and the young Democrat painted her older rival as deeply out of touch.

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Members of Congress almost never lose their bids for their own party’s nomination. Members of leadership are virtually invincible. But both Brat and Ocasio-Cortez proved that districts can change, and that keeping an ear to the ground can make the difference between a graceful retirement and an ignominious end.

Two Upsets for One

When Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) chose Attorney General Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE (R) to fill a Senate seat left vacant when President Trump elevated Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ to probe Minneapolis police Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies MORE to head the Department of Justice, Republicans were confident that Strange could hold a seat in a state Trump won easily.

But lurking in the background was Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be MORE, the arch-conservative former state Supreme Court chief justice who had lost his office when he refused to move a monument to the Ten Commandments from government property. Moore had a strong following in Alabama Republican circles, and he led the initial round of voting in August 2017. Moore trampled Strange in a September runoff, even after Trump weighed in on Strange’s behalf.

Moore, though, had some unpleasant press to come. On Nov. 9, The Washington Post reported allegations that Moore had been accused of sexual conduct with four women who were teenagers at the time. Prominent Republicans including Sessions asked Moore to drop out, but Moore insisted the allegations were made up. 

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Moore’s opponent, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, might have started the race as a sacrificial lamb. After all, the last Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate was Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Biden dispatches Cabinet members to sell infrastructure plan Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl MORE — who changed parties a quarter century ago. The allegations against Moore, and big turnout among Alabama’s large black electorate, were just enough to let Jones slip into the Senate, the second upset Alabama had delivered in just the space of a few months.

The Blue Wave Babies

Just as the 2010 Tea Party wave sent some unexpected contenders to Congress, so too did the Democratic wave in 2018 deliver its share of upsets. A well-to-do South Carolina district elected its first Democratic congressman, Rep. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamRepublicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' Lobbying world We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money MORE (D), since the 1970s. Rep. Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it What should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? MORE (D) became the first Democrat to represent Oklahoma in Congress since Dan Boren left office in 2013, and the first Democrat to represent Oklahoma City since John Jarman switched parties in 1975.

In Utah, Ben McAdams beat Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveVoters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican Democrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains McAdams concedes to Owens in competitive Utah district MORE (R) by a quarter of a percentage point, or about 700 votes. Rep. T.J. Cox (D-Calif.) had to wait a few weeks as slow-counting California elections officials declared him the winner over Rep. David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Valadao gives Gaetz donation to victims of abuse House Republicans who backed Trump impeachment warn Democrats on Iowa election challenge MORE (R). And in Pennsylvania, Rep. Susan WildSusan WildTime to prioritize the mental health of our frontline health care heroes Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions House Democrats push Biden's Pentagon pick on civilian control of military MORE (D) won the right to replace retired Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder Dent22 retired GOP members of Congress call for Trump's impeachment Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 The magnificent moderation of Susan Collins MORE (R) by just under three-tenths of a percentage point.