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Top 10 what-ifs of the midterm elections

By ALEXANDER BURNS, Politico

Primary season is all but over. The 2010 candidate field is nearly set. The strongest and most vulnerable members of both parties know who they are.

But the campaign didn’t have to look like this. It’s not just the big-picture inflection points – like the White House’s decision to pursue health care reform or the congressional GOP’s lockstep vote against the stimulus – that have determined the course of the election year. It was also the personal choices or screw-ups of individual candidates.

As Labor Day launches the traditional start of the fall general election campaign, here’s POLITICO’s look back at the midterm cycle’s most influential roads not taken – the unlikely, avoidable or just plain weird contingencies that helped make this campaign what it is.

What if Doug Hoffman had been a team player?

The 2009 off-year elections were almost a total wipe-out for Democrats: Republicans won the New Jersey governor’s mansion and swept Virginia’s statewide offices, winning independent voters by strong margins in the process. The one exception was a House special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, where Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman forced Republican state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava out of the race, leaving an opening for now-Rep. Bill Owens to add a seat to the Democrats’ majority.

If Hoffman hadn’t run as a third-party candidate, Scozzafava might be comfortably ensconced in that seat by now. Or if Republicans had nominated Hoffman to begin with, it might be him holding office.

In either of those scenarios, the 2009 special election would have lost the distinction of being the first race where a tea party-backed candidate took on the Republican establishment and won. Most importantly, if Hoffman’s rogue bid hadn’t allowed Democrats to call November 2009 a split decision, they might have realized sooner that a wave was on the way.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0910/41800.html#ixzz0ymJwr64M

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