Monday, December 01, 2008

Congressional Rematches


In yesterday's look at how Blue America's 2006 candidates fared in 2008, we mentioned that three of our unsuccessful 2006 House candidates, came back roaring this year and beat their opponents. Turns out they were the only House candidates who did. For Donna Edwards, Larry Kissell and Eric Massa the second time was indeed the charm.

This morning's CQPolitics published a study showing that it rarely is. They don't count Donna in their study because her pathway to Congress was via a primary, where she defeated a corrupt hack who had been voting with the GOP on bread and butter issues, making him anathema to Maryland voters. And they brought the one Senate rematch into it, where Jeanne Shaheen bested rubber stamp incumbent John Sununu this year, after Karl Rove's White House black bag operation had helped him steal their original match-up in 2002. They also don't take into account how close calls in 2006 helped persuade endangered incumbents to retire in 2008. Vote counting in still proceeding in Ohio and California races where Democrats Charlie Brown and Mary Jo Kilroy frightened off Republican incumbents and are in 50/50 races with Republicans. Meanwhile Dan Maffei (D-NY) is now a congressman-elect for that very reason.
Eighteen races in which the same major-party candidates faced off for the second consecutive election were rated as at least somewhat competitive by CQPolitics. And in 15 of those 18 contests, the same candidate won both elections.

In fact, the defeated challenger candidates in a dozen of those races actually lost ground, with the incumbents winning more handily in the second round.

Of the three exceptions to the rule, the one with the highest profile came in New Hampshire's race for the U.S. Senate. In this year's only Senate rematch, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor (1997-2003), defeated one-term Republican Sen. John E. Sununu, reversing the outcome of their first showdown in a 2002 open-seat race. Shaheen, who lost in 2002 by 4 percentage points, this time won by 6 points.

Shaheen benefited from a political environment that had greatly shifted in the six years since her first Senate try. It was the Republican Party that had national political momentum in 2002, and a tradition of "Yankee Republicanism" still was strong in Shaheen's home state of New Hampshire. But the national surge favoring the Democrats over the past couple of election cycles took hold in New Hampshire, which has joined in the longer-running Democratic trend throughout the New England region.

In the two House rematches in which the outcomes flipped this year-- also both Democratic pickups-- the challengers were political newcomers when they first ran in 2006, and both benefited greatly from the familiarity they had built among voters.

Larry Kissell, a social studies teacher and former factory worker from North Carolina's 8th District, defeated five-term Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, to whom he had lost by just 329 votes in the nation's second-closest House race of 2006. Eric Massa, a Navy veteran and former Pentagon aide from New York's 29th District, defeated two-term Republican Rep. John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr. by 2 percentage points two years after Kuhl won their first matchup by 3.

Second time challengers often have to overcome a perception that they are perpetual challengers and should step aside and let someone else run. Kissell's and Massa's crusade-like grassroots campaign never ended. Neither was viewed as Democratic Party Establishment insiders but as legitimate representatives of a movement seeking real change.

The Republican incumbents who tried making comebacks this year all failed dismally. Republican Melissa Hart lost to reactionary Democrat Jason Altmire in 2006 by 4 points. This year she stupidly tried painting him as a liberal, and voters laughed in her face and slapped her down with a 12 point loss. In Louisville, Anne Northup tried a similar tactics against John Yarmuth, who beat her in '06 by 2 points. In Yarmuth's case he is a bona fide progressive and the district gave him a landslide 20 point margin this year. And, as we saw yesterday, another outspoken progressive, Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) was pounded by right-wing front groups but she still managed to increase her margin of victory of sad-sack Republican Jeb Bradley.
In two cases, the same Republican who lost a special election earlier this year tried again in November and lost even more decisively.

In March, Democrat Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis, a dairy executive and frequent office-seeker, for the seat in Illinois’ historically Republican 14th District that former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert vacated when he resigned the previous November. Though Republican officials criticized Oberweis as a flawed candidate after his March loss, he was again the party’s nominee for the Nov. 4 election, and Foster coasted to a 15-point win.

More surprising was the size of Democrat Travis W. Childers ’ November victory over Republican Greg Davis, a mayor, in northern Mississippi’s strongly conservative-leaning 1st District.

Childers extended to a 10-point margin after edging Davis by eight points in a May special election to fill the seat vacated the previous December, when seven-term Republican Rep. Roger Wicker was appointed to fill a vacant Senate seat. Childers built his November cushion even though Wicker ran and won for the Senate on the same ballot, in a special election to fill out the remaining four years of the term that Republican Trent Lott had quit to go into lobbying.

Among first-time Democratic challengers who are well-positioned to run and win in 2010 are Doug Tudor, Annette Taddeo, and Joe Garcia in Florida, Bill Durston, Debbie Cook and Bill Hedrick in California, Larry Joe Doherty in Texas and Dennis Shulman in New Jersey.



At 1:17 PM, Blogger Malacandra said...

I don't think Bill Durston counts as a "first time challenger": he ran against Lungren in 2006 as well.


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