The 2010s was a decade marked by significant political shifts, not only in the United States but around the world. Among the many memorable events of the era, the closest Senate elections of the 2010s stand out as dramatic illustrations of America’s deeply divided electorate. Some of these states remain electoral battlegrounds to this day, while others have shifted to the wayside due to political trends.
#5 – Nevada (2012)
The 2012 Nevada Senate race was a high-profile battle between incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and Democratic challenger Shelley Berkley, a House Representative. Unusually, both candidates in the race proved to be somewhat unpopular; 9.4% of the vote was split between a third-party candidate and “None of These Candidates”, an option unique to Nevada.
When the dust settled on election night, Heller managed to secure his seat by a slim margin of 11,576 votes, or 1.2%. This was one of the few Republican bright spots in an otherwise miserable election night. For comparison, Barack Obama easily carried the state by a margin of 6.7%. This election also marks the last time Republicans have won a Senate election in the state.
#4 – North Dakota (2012)
The 2012 North Dakota Senate race saw an open contest due to the retirement of incumbent Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. As a safely Republican state at the federal level, it was widely anticipated to be one of the top pickup opportunities for Republicans. The election pitted Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, a former state Attorney General, against Republican Rick Berg, the state’s House representative.
Ultimately, the race defied expectations. While Republican Mitt Romney carried the state by nearly 20 points at the presidential level, Heitkamp managed to secure a narrow victory by just 2,994 votes, or 0.9%, the closest Senate election of the cycle. Heiktamp’s surprise win was pivotal in expanding the Democratic Senate majority. It showcased the power of local issues in swaying election outcomes.
#3 – Virginia (2014)
The 2014 Virginia Senate race was a high-stakes showdown between incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie, a former lobbyist and Republican National Committee Chairman. The election was a low-profile contest; pre-election polls showed Warner, a popular ex-Governor, with a comfortable lead.
However, election night results told a different story. Gillespie proved to be an effective campaigner, clawing back margins in the state’s urban and suburban regions. Gillespie even managed to win wealthy, suburban Loudon County, the last time a Republican has carried it statewide since.
However, Warner also overperformed in his own way, securing better-than-expected margins in the state’s rural counties – areas he performed well in during his gubernatorial election and his 2008 Senate victory. Ultimately, this ancestral support was enough for Warner to scrape by with a win – but only by a margin of 17,748 votes, or 0.8%.
#2 – New Hampshire (2016)
The stakes were high in the 2016 New Hampshire Senate race, which saw incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte face off against Democratic challenger and then-governor Maggie Hassan. Both candidates had a strong track record of electoral success; Ayotte had won by 23.3% in 2010, while Hassan had survived the red wave of 2014. With control of the Senate on the line, New Hampshire emerged as one of the most important battleground states.
Throughout the campaign, polls showed a competitive race, with a slight but consistent edge to Hassan. When the election results rolled in, Hassan narrowly clinched the win by a mere 1,017 votes, or 0.14%, making it one of the closest Senate elections in recent memory. The razor-thin margin emphasizes the significance of every ballot cast.
#1 – Florida (2018)
The 2018 Florida Senate race threw the state’s politics into a frenzy, with incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson battling Republican challenger and incumbent governor Rick Scott.
Both candidates were wildly popular among Florida voters, but the national environment suggested the incumbent had great odds to win another term.
As the nation watched a blue wave emerge nationwide, Florida proved to be an exception. With all the results counted, Scott held a paper-thin lead, prompting a nail-biting recount. In the end, Scott emerged victorious by a minuscule 10,033 votes, or 0.12%. This was not only the closest Senate election of the cycle, but the closest federal race of the cycle, period.