How partisanship matters in political comeback attempts

Anthony Weiner announced his resignation from Congress during a news conference in Brooklyn, New York, Thursday, June 16, 2011. Weiner resigned after a...
Anthony Weiner announced his resignation from Congress during a news conference in Brooklyn, New York, Thursday, June 16, 2011. Weiner resigned after a...
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

It’s been the month of comebacks, and Anthony Weiner is the latest disgraced politician to try to resurrect his career just two years after his resignation from Congress.

The former Democratic congressman’s rising stock in New York and national politics seemed over after he sent lewd pictures over social media to several women – and his nascent comeback for New York City mayor has already gotten off to a rocky start this week: Weiner admitted there could be more damning photos to surface, and he was caught with the wrong city skyline on his campaign website.

Weiner’s attempted rehabilitation comes just weeks after former Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., was elected in a congressional special election four years after he admitted he disappeared from the state and revealed he had been having an affair with an Argentinian woman.

There are big differences between the two men’s comeback attempts, but one common thread—partisanship is often the biggest factor in determining whether politicians survive or fail. Sanford’s biggest hurdle was winning the GOP primary, and even against a vaunted Democratic rival, he still won a bigger than expected victory.

Similarly, Weiner’s toughest challenge will be in the Big Apple race’s Democratic primary, where New York City Council President Christine Quinn is still the frontrunner, albeit a fragile one. But if he does manage to win the Democratic nod, his chances skyrocket.

Weiner was forced from office when it became clear Democratic leadership had abandoned him– but it was also the subsequent coverup and his initial lies that his Twitter account had been hacked that may have sealed his fate. While Sanford had initially told his staff he was “hiking the Appalachian trail,” he did fully admit to the affair – maybe in more detail than some had wished at the time – and he managed to stay in office.

While not all sex-scandal related, there are a few other races to keep an eye on in the next election cycle, and how partisanship could – and sometimes has already been – chief in these ongoing stories already

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., was a surprise winner in the 2010 GOP wave, defeating Blue Dog Democrat Lincoln Davis. This seat was one Democrats weren’t hopeful at gaining back, especially given that President Obama had gotten just 36% there in 2008. Then, testimony from DesJarlias’ divorce surfaced showing that the physician had inappropriate relationships with several patients and co-workers and that the anti-abortion doctor had supported his ex-wife’s decision to terminate two pregnancies.

That behavior would seem like a cardinal sin within the GOP and in the conservative state. But, even as that part of his past dripped out, DesJarlais went on to defeat his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Eric Stewart, by 12 points as Romney won the district by 32 points. This week, DesJarlais received a fine and admonishment for the past relationships from the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.

But the statewide GOP knives are already coming out for the two-term congressman, who has remained defiant that he’s running for a third term regardless. He’s gotten at least two primary challengers so far in state Sen. Jim Tracy and state Rep. Joe Carr – but a crowded primary could be the best thing for DesJarlais. Tennessee doesn’t have a runoff, and DesJarlais could win with even a small plurality if his opponents split the anti-DesJarlais vote. If that’s the case, he’d likely defeat any Democratic sacrificial lamb in the fall again.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., survived a spirited primary challenge last year amid investigations into his finances and taxes, leading to his censure by the House in 2010. The longtime Harlem pol had a significant chunk of new territory thanks to redistricting, and with an increasingly Hispanic electorate, had an energetic challenge from state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, but other challengers also helped split the vote. In the heavily Democratic seat, Rangel won easily in November.

The scandals seem to have passed for the 22-term congressman, but there’s questions as to whether the 82-year-old Democrat will seek another term in 2014. Rangel spokeswoman Hannah Kim told The Daily Rundown in a statement that Rangel “has just been reelected” and was “extremely busy holding numerous events in the newly-drawn district” but didn’t elaborate on his plans for next year. But other pols are already eyeing his seat, including Espaillat and even former Gov. David Paterson, who had his own scandals in office too.

Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., was a surprise winner in 2012 – even though he sits in a heavily Democratic seat in Massachusetts. The congressman weathered bad press after his brothers-in-law were convicted in an illegal gambling ring, and his wife was even convicted of of tax fraud. While Tierney continually denied any wrongdoing despite his brother-in-laws’ statement otherwise, Republicans saw a prime chance, and even recruited moderate Republican Richard Tisei, an openly gay, pro-choice former nominee for lieutenant governor, to challenge him. In the race’s waning days even Democrats thought this was a lost cause, but Democratic turnout was too much for Tisei to overcome, and Tierney won by one point, 48%-47%, with a libertarian candidate getting nearly 5%, as Obama won the district by 11 points. Republicans think this seat is still within their grasp, maybe in a midterm year with dropoff turnout and without a third-party candidate. Tisei is weighing another run, but Democrats think Tierney may have survived the worst.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., seems to be the political anomaly among sex scandals. In 2007, the conservative Republican senator admitted he was was a client of the “D.C. madam” prostitution ring, but stood up at a press conference with his wife by his side and asked for forgiveness. Both his party, and the voters, gave it. In 2010, he won re-election with 57% of the vote. Vitter’s past may be behind him, but as the senator now seems to be weighing a gubernatorial bid in 2015, Democrats will surely bring up his past sins again.

How partisanship matters in political comeback attempts