This year’s contentious midterm elections have provided some clear hits and misses for politicians when it comes to mistakes and opportunities in key House, Senate and governors races.

Let’s explore some of the most critical hits and misses and determine if any of them will affect the ultimate outcome of races:

HIT: Kentucky Senate Race: Open seat vacated by Republican Jim Bunning. Contest pits Tea Party favorite Republican Dr. Rand Paul against Kentucky Democrat Attorney General Jack Conway.

Last week, at their first debate, Democrat Conway launched into a weird personal attack on the religious fitness of Republican Paul. Conway provided no proof for 30-year-old allegations that questioned Paul’s Christian faith and followed the attack with media ads parroting personal attacks on Paul’s religious beliefs.

As a result of Conway’s debate attack, Paul strongly denounced Conway’s sleazy attacks during the debate and upon conclusion of the debate stormed off the stage -- refusing to shake Conway’s hand.

Paul’s actions in response to Conway’s personal attacks were strong and effective. The decision by Paul to appear at the last agreed upon debate was a smart move.

In a tight race, I believe Kentucky voters will reject Conway’s personal non-issue attacks. Conway’s mistake and Paul’s response to it may very well turn this election for Paul.

MISS: Delaware Senate Race: Open seat vacated by Vice President Biden pits Tea Party favorite and perennial candidate Christine O’Donnell against New Castle County Executive Democrat Chris Coons.

When television footage surfaced of an ABC comedy show in the 1980s wherein O’Donnell admitted to dabbling in witchcraft as a teenager, O’Donnell chose to feed the story instead of squelching it.

The O’Donnell campaign quickly followed up with a statewide commercial in which O’Donnell appears on camera and professes not to be a witch. Although she said she was not a witch, she certainly looked like one, dressed in all black before a black, shadowy backdrop. The commercial was weird, disturbing and uncomfortable and dashed any hope for O’Donnell to win in a state where another Republican politician could have had a shot. Her ad garnered national, sustained and unflattering attention to her and questioned her fitness as a serious political candidate.

HIT: Massachusetts Fourth District House Race: Pits 30-year Democratic incumbent Barney Frank against Republican businessman and Marine veteran Sean Bielat. Ordinarily this would not even be a contested election but for Frank’s disastrous and arrogant performance with regard to his chairmanship of the House Banking Committee. Win, lose or draw the political novice Bielat looks like David taking on Goliath.

The Republican is vastly outnumbered in registered voters in the Fourth District and started his campaign with virtually no support. In spite of all the obstacles that Bielat is facing, he is gaining ground on Frank in the closing days of the campaign.

Frank only raised $315,000 while Bielat was able to raise $378,000. Frank, who professes to be one of the “poorest” members of Congress, just this past week took out a personal loan for $200,000 in a desperate effort to save his seat.

Bielat has run a textbook campaign by sticking to the issues and putting Frank’s feet to the fire on his Congressional record. Bielat also handled the personal attacks made by Frank’s male lover very well in a face-to-face confrontation that has received extensive press attention.

MISS: California Governor’s Race: Pits Democratic former Governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown against Republican businesswoman and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

When Whitman was hit with the allegation that she has knowingly hired and maintained in her employ for nine years an illegal housekeeper instead of hitting back hard as the victim of a fraud Whitman played it wrong. She sympathized with the housekeeper.

It is clear Whitman had used an employment agency for the hire and Whitman did not directly hire the housekeeper. The housekeeper is an admitted liar who lied on applications, produced fraudulent records and remains in this country illegally.

Whitman should have pushed back hard against the allegations, pointed to their political motivations. She should have went on the offense.

Instead, she looked weak by refusing to push back hard against being duped by a women she employed for nine years and against Gloria Allred, the Al Sharpton of “ambulance chasing” attorneys.

Since this incident, Whitman has been sliding in the polls. Her missed opportunity to stand up for herself may very well cost her the election.

Elections provide pivotal moments in time when candidates can either “seize the day” or let the sun go down on them. Candidates and their campaigns must be savvy and nimble enough to recognize opportunities and take them and recognize problems and squash them.

This election cycle will be no different. Many races will be won or lost on “Hits” and “Misses.”

Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.

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