It is not unusual for a defeated candidate to run again. From Presidential races to Congress and Governorships numerous candidates have successfully made their case to voters given another try. But 2016 could see such tries on steroids. From the House to the Senate and all the way to the Presidency candidates who lost before will try again to regain their lost seats, acquire new seats or the highest office in the land.
Let’s start with the Presidential contest. Hillary Clinton, likely to win her party’s nod for the White House, was defeated by the man she is trying to succeed. The Republican field is not immune to this phenomenon either. 2008 Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has thrown his hat in the ring as has 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum. The only difference between them and Clinton is she is likely to win her party’s nod and they are not.
Now, we move on down to the Senate. Three of the highest profile Senate races in the country feature “retreads” and two will feature reruns of high profile 2010 contests. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Joe Sestak is the favorite to face off against Senator Pat Toomey. Toomey defeated Sestak for the open seat in 2010. In Wisconsin, former Senator Russ Feingold is fighting to take back his former Senate seat from Ron Johnson. Feingold will be fighting history though. Since 1913, only one former Senator has gone on to serve another term by defeating the Senator who unseated him six years before. That was Rhode Island Democrat Peter Gerry in 1934. Finally, we head over to Ohio. Senator Rob Portman will square off against former Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland was defeated by John Kasich, the state’s sitting governor, in a close 2010 contest.
The House features a whos-who of race reduxs and if Democrats had gotten their way there would be more. Former Reps. Stevens Horsford (D-NV) and former CO State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff will not engage in a campaign this cycle. Democrats that have made clear they will run against their conquerors this cycle are former Maine State Senator Emily Cain, former Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Pete Gallego (D-TX) and former IA State Senator Staci Appel. Former Congressman Carol Shea Porter (D-NH) and Jerry Cannon (D-MI) are mulling bids against their 2014 opponents.
These races are all in competitive districts. But they behave differently in Presidential and midterm years. Consider that in 2012 Obama carried ME-2 by nine points, IA-3 by four points, IL-10 by 16 points and only narrowly lost TX-23. Yet witness their behavior in recent midterms. In 2010 IL-10 voted for Republican Senator Mark Kirk and in 2014 for GOP Governor Bruce Rauner. In 2012 IA-2 backed Obama for President but Joni Ernst for Senate in 2014. TX -23 narrowly backed Romney in 2012 and overwhelmingly backed Republican Senator Jon Cornyn in 2014.
Democrats see such results primarily due to a drop in turnout. To a certain extent its true. In a heavily Hispanic district like the 23rd it is true turnout drops in midterms. But in IA-3 and IL-10 while turnout does drop it does not do so by a large margin. It is clear why these former officials and candidates want to run again. They believe a Presidential year will yield better results. Ditto for Feingold, Strickland and Sestak.
But this logic runs into issues. For the Senate, Feingold is a particularly weak candidate. He leads in polls now and has vowed to take big money but his 2010 performance was weak. He failed to raise money, was off-message multiple times and seemed lost in trying to connect to the state’s swing, rural voters. Sestak has his own issues. Neither Sestak nor the Democratic machine see eye to eye and as a result they did not bless his 2010 campaign. This cycle they are actively recruiting somebody to challenge the unorthodox candidate. Strickland, for his part, presided over a recession in his state that took over 1 million jobs. Like Feingold, he has led in early polls, but his work for Democratic firms in the meantime will give his Portman’s camp ample campaign fodder.
Every candidate who runs for office multiple times invites the “retread” label. Some candidates are able to deftly dodge this attack. In 1983 Bill Clinton was able to avenge his 1981 loss for Governor of Arkansas. Mike Huckabee, his successor, did the same after losing in 1991. But neither Clinton or Huckabee resembles the current crop. Clinton had served only one two-year term (soon after the legislature made terms four years). Huckabee had lost his first race for Governor but he did hold another office at the time.
Clinton is a former two-term New York Senator. Santorum is an ex-Pennsylvania Senator. We know about the Senate candidates. The House “retreads” have all held either legislative or Congressional offices. Some of these races will be not just re-runs but re-re-runs. Former Rep. Brad Schneider running in IL-10 defeated Bob Dold in 2012 only to lose in 2014. In New Hampshire, if Porter gets in and faces Guinta it will be the fourth time in four elections the two will have squared off (2010, 2012, 2014).
Inevitably, with the “retread” label will come attack ads. Feingold and Strickland are particularly susceptible to these attacks. Strickland held some sort of political office from 1994-2010 and this was after he ran for Congress three times in 1976, 78 and 80. Feingold has been in politics even longer. He was first elected to the state legislature in 1984 and held some sort of office until 2010. And while it is true that neither Johnson or Portman cannot say they are not politicians they can attack their opponents on the naked ambition their runs, um, excuse me, I meant re-runs, showcase. How candidates such as Feingold and Strickland handle such attacks will tell us a lot about Democratic chances to retake the Senate. Unfortunately for Democrats, even if we assume all their “retreads” win their races the GOP would still dominate the House.