Democrats faced an uphill climb to win back the House last year, down 25 seats after their 2010 drubbing. While they didn’t accomplish that goal, they picked up a better than expected eight seats, thanks in part to several former members launching comeback bids in a better, or at least more neutral, political climate and a boost from President Obama atop the ticket.
Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick, Carol Shea Porter, Dan Maffei, and Bill Foster all won back competitive seats that were similar to their old districts they’d lost the year before. Also defeated in 2010, Democrats Alan Grayson and Dina Titus ran in new, safer seats. Meanwhile, Republicans Matt Salmon and Steve Stockman, out of Congress for more than a decade, saw opportunities in new districts in Arizona and Texas, respectively. And in a special election this year, former congressman Mark Sanford also made an unlikely, but successful, comeback.
Now in 2014, several former members are also eyeing returns–some sensing a better political climate, especially for Republicans. As the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman pointed out on Thursday’s The Daily Rundown, midterm elections typically draw an older, whiter electorate, giving Republicans a built-in turnout advantage.
Here’s our rundown of the “comeback kids” who may have lost their House seats last year, but could benefit from different, more favorable dynamics, in 2014:
Former Rep. Bob Dold, Illinois’ 10th District. Dold is very much cut from the mold of his similarly moderate predecessor, now-Sen. Mark Kirk (R), who vexed Democrats for cycles and kept winning this suburban Chicago district time and again. Dold won the open seat in 2010, but fell in 2012 to Democrat Brad Schneider by just 3,326 votes even as Obama carried the district with 57%. But Dold wasn’t out of the game for long. Heavily lobbied by national Republicans to try again, he quickly announced in May he would run in 2014. A Harper Polling (IVR) survey for the NRCC last month showed the former congressman with a slim lead over Schneider, 44%-39%.
Former Rep. Bobby Schilling, Illinois’ 17th District. Much like Dold, Schilling was a surprise victor in 2010, but the pizza shop owner and father of 10 kids impressed Republicans soon after getting to Washington as a thoughtful legislator and hardworking politician. His district was one targeted by Democrats in redistricting and he saw his already uphill turf become even harder. Still, he managed a closer-than-expected race. While Obama won the district by 17 points, he lost to Democrat Cheri Bustos by just under 7 points.
Now, GOP operatives expect him to run again, hoping that a more favorable electorate can flip this seat back. Schilling isn’t officially in yet, but Republicans anticipate an announcement in just a few weeks. Schilling, too, told the Quad City Times he believed the contest could be an easier lift in a non-presidential year. “There was no way it was winnable with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. It was an impossible task,” Schilling told the local paper.
Former Rep. Frank Guinta, New Hampshire’s 1st District. A former Manchester mayor, Guinta’s hardly lacked political options since he lost in 2012 to Shea Porter, herself winning back her old congressional seat she’d lost two years earlier. Guinta’s been floated for both a Senate and a gubernatorial bid, but GOP strategists now believe a rematch with the Democrat who edged him out by less than 2% last November is the most likely option. The Granite State’s been a bellwether in recent years, and both the state’s congressional seats especially look to be top races yet again.
Former Rep. Quico Canseco, Texas’ 23rd District. What Canseco, another one-term congressman, decides to do likely depends greatly on what’s currently happening in the Texas legislature. Lawmakers are again debating the Lone Star state’s always controversial congressional maps, after the GOP legislature’s maps last year were overturned and drawn instead by a San Antonio court. Republicans now want to adopt the interim map, but Democrats are pushing for more minority districts, which could impact the 23rd District, really the only truly competitive district in the state. Canseco lost to Democrat Pete Gallego in November by just under 5%, but this is a district Romney actually won by three points.
Former Rep. Mark Critz, Pennsylvania’s 12th District. Critz is not just the sole Democrat who lost in 2012 on the list with the best chance to win again, but he needs to hope the inverse is true – that in the Keystone State, it’s GOP votes that will drop off, or that the GOP brand could struggle in the state, especially with Gov. Tom Corbett severely lagging in re-election polls.
Critz was long the definition of a political survivor. A longtime district director for the late Rep. John Murtha, he won an unlikely special election and subsequent regular race to succeed his former boss in 2010 against a GOP wave. In 2012, he was drawn into the same district as fellow Democrat Jason Altmire, and despite representing only 30% of the territory, won the primary. But his luck ran out in November, when he lost to Republican Keith Rothfus by four points – but Rothfus underperformed Romney, who won the district by 17 points. Now, Critz says he’s also among those wanting a re-match and has already met with the DCCC.
Former Rep. Nan Hayworth, New York’s 18th District. Hayworth was another 2010 surprise winner, but after redistricting saw her competitive seat get even more competitive with the addition of many voters in the New York City media market that leaned Democratic. Former Clinton aide Sean Patrick Maloney won by just over 3%, while Obama won this district by just four points. It’s another prime place where Republicans hope Democratic drop-off in 2014 could help them, and Hayworth, if she runs again.
Former Rep. Joe Baca, California’s 31st District. Baca is one name most Democrats wish wasn’t on this list. A victim of California’s new quirky jungle primary and a radical new map in 2012, Baca lost on Election Day to fellow Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod, who got a big boost from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose super PAC spent over $2.35 million to hit him on gun control.
Now, Baca’s eyeing the 31st District, where Democrats royally screwed up in 2012. Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar didn’t even make it through the top-two primary, and Democrats were left without a candidate on the ballot in November. Barack Obama won the district by 17 points, while Republican Rep. Gary Miller, who had represented none of the district previously and was assumed a goner, pulled off an unlikely victory. Miller now sits in the most Democratic district held by a Republican in the country.
Democrats made early moves to prevent that nightmare scenario from happening again, with the DCCC backing Aguilar in early and making sure he ran a better primary campaign. But Baca threw a wrench in their plans, and other Democrats haven’t stayed out of the race either, much to the glee of Republicans. To get locked off the ballot again, there probably needs to be a GOP challenger to Miller though. It’s still more likely can not Democrats will win back this seat they should have had in the first place, but it’s turning into a soap opera to get there, and there’s still another full year to go before the primary.
Others to watch: Other members may follow more in the footsteps of Salmon and Stockman, eyeing safer seats after longer hiatuses from Capitol Hill. Former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a one-term Democrat defeated in the 1994 Republican Revolution after casting a risky vote for President Bill Clinton’s budget that raised taxes on high-income voters. Now she’s related to the former president (her son is married to Chelsea Clinton) and she’s running for her old House seat in Pennsylvania’s 13th District, a safe Democratic seat left vacant with Rep. Allyson Schwartz running for governor.
Former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) took a term limits pledge, much like Sanford and Salmon, and stepped aside in 2004. But he too had second thoughts, and ran again in 2008 but lost the GOP primary to Tom McClintock. Now, he’s been weighing a bid in a more competitive district against freshman Rep. Ami Bera, who beat Republican Dan Lungren last year, in the 7th District.