If you’re a disgraced politician seeking redemption this week, get in line. From Mark Sanford to Anthony Weiner to Sharron Angle to Christine O’Donnell to Todd Akin, it’s been the week to clear your name of past scandal or controversy.
Beset by past scandals or marred within their own party, these pols may be headline grabbing, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful in their comeback efforts. The comeback chances for a few other pols, though, have much better odds. Here are our top five political comeback stories for 2014 that may be a bit under-the-radar, but are more likely to actually take place and should be on your radar.
1. Former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.)–Before the 1994 election, freshman Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky knew she was casting a risky vote for President Bill Clinton’s budget that raised taxes on high-income voters, and it cost her re-election in the 1994 Republican Revolution.
Two decades later, the Democrat is eyeing a political comeback with Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D), who now holds her old seat, running for governor. And she’ll likely have help from the president turned in-law whose budget caused her ouster. Margolies-Mezvinsky’s son Marc is now married to Chelsea Clinton.
While this safe Democratic suburban Philadelphia district is sure to attract ambitious local Democrats, Margolies-Mezvinsky would have the blessing and help of the Clinton machine. If she wins the primary, this will be a virtual slam dunk for her to take back her former House seat.
2. Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson–A former congressman and administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Hutchinson’s most recent notoriety has come as a head the National Rifle Association’s controversial push for more school security guards in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. But Hutchinson is eyeing his own political return to an office that’s eluded him before: governor of Arkansas. In 2006, Hutchinson lost to the now term-limited Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.
Hutchinson’s the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but he could face more of a fight depending on which Democrat he faces. Democrats have a better chance with former Rep. Mike Ross, a moderate Blue Dog, as their nominee, but he faces a challenge from former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who challenged now former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) from the left in the 2010 primary. Still, as Razorback state has shifted red over the past cycles, early polls show Hutchinson with a lead over both men, and he’s on a good path to flip the governor’s mansion to GOP hands.
3. Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist–Although once considered a potential Republican presidential prospect, an infamous hug with President Obama symbolically ended Crist’s future with the GOP. Instead of running for reelection in 2010, Crist chose to run for the state’s open Senate seat. But that was the same year the Tea Party wave crested, and the moderate Crist was one of its first primary victims. When it became apparent he wasn’t going to win the GOP Senate nomination over rising star Marco Rubio, he bolted the party and ran as an independent. That plan didn’t work out so well either, losing to Rubio by 19 points, and he became a pariah without a party.
In an effort to rehabilitate his political image, Crist officially became a Democrat late last year, endorsed and campaigned for President Obama, and even spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Now, with current Republican Gov. Rick Scott deeply unpopular and Obama coming off another victory in the Sunshine State, the time could be very ripe for a Crist comeback. He may face competition for the Democratic nomination, possibly from 2010 nominee Alex Sink or former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, but if he wins the nomination, Crist’s chances to return as governor–this time as a Democrat–look even brighter.
4. Utah’s Mia Love–As a black woman Mormon Republican, Love was heralded as a new face of the GOP and received a prime time speaking slot at last year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. She ran against Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson–a repeated source of frustration for Republicans as the Blue Dog seemed invincible despite sitting in a deeply red seat.
But while she should have won this seat in a walk (Romney won this district by more than 35 points), Love fell short by 768 votes. Leading up to her loss, there were murmurs that Love hadn’t connected with local voters, her campaign hadn’t built a robust ground game, and Matheson’s TV ads did a better job appealing to local rather than national constituencies.
Republicans know there are critical mistakes they must fix if they’re to be successful. Love’s beginning to retool her campaign team this time around though, bringing in longtime Utah political hand Dave Hansen, who helped guide Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to a successful convention victory last year. While Matheson, who has defied political odds time and time again, should never be counted out, if Love can right her missteps, she may be the rising star Republicans always hoped she would be.
5. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi–By all measures, Pelosi’s influence should have waned by now. Her party lost 63 seats in the 2010 midterms, Democrats have been marginalized in the House since, and despite declarations otherwise, they failed to win back control in 2012 from Republicans even as President Obama won and Senate Democrats picked up seats.
To be sure, the path back to the House majority is more difficult than that, with 2012 redistricting solidifying GOP held seats and decreasing the number of competitive ones. And we’re not saying Pelosi is a lock to regain the Speaker’s gavel. In fact, a Democratic majority is still well out of her grasp. But she remains the most powerful Democrat in the House and she surprised many by not ceding her leadership position at the start of the 113th Congress.
Pelosi possesses a better chance of rising back to power than Sanford has now of returning to Congress or Weiner, who she helped push out of the House after his embarrassing Twitter scandal, does to become the mayor of New York City. She continues to defy odds, and could have a surprise up her sleeve yet again.