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‘14 Losers Looking for Second Chance in ‘16

A dozen House candidates hoping to turn narrow losses into future victories

Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider is running against Rep. Robert Dold to reclaim his old seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In sports and in politics, losing by a little can be harder than losing by a lot. At least a dozen 2016 candidates are hoping that their close calls in 2014 were more than a mirage of a missed opportunity.  

California Republican Paul Chabot could barely get national GOP strategists to acknowledge his existence last cycle when he lost to Democrat Pete Aguilar, 52-48 percent, in the 31st District open-seat race.  

Even though he officially kicked off his second bid for Congress last week, he never really stopped running. He assumed that his narrow loss without outside help would catch the eye of GOP outside groups and translate into help this cycle. But that hasn’t happened yet.  

Chabot had just $62,000 in his campaign account on Dec. 31 and isn’t among the nearly 50 candidates on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program for aspiring candidates who have demonstrated a level of competency with their campaigns. He will likely struggle in a presidential year, when more minority and younger voters are likely to turn out to vote for Democratic candidates.  

Northern California farmer Johnny Tacherra is in a similar boat, likely rowing against a less-friendly presidential wave this time around. The farmer came close to knocking off Democratic Rep. Jim Costa in the 16th District last cycle, 51-49 percent, and is running again this year.  

Similar to Chabot, he had $59,000 on hand at the end of year, hasn’t cracked the NRCC’s Young Guns program yet, and likely scared Costa into running a better campaign this year.  

Candidate Mark Assini, N.Y.
Mark Assini finished fewer than 1,000 votes behind Rep. Louise Slaughter in 2014 but fund-raising has lagged this year. (Roll Call file photo)

New York Republican Mark Assini is in the same situation as Chabot. He finished fewer than a thousand votes (less than 1 percentage point) behind Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter in the 25th District in 2014, but doesn’t look poised for victory this year unless Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy floats all GOP boats. Assini finished December with less than $13,000 in his campaign account.  

Losing a race certainly doesn’t preclude a candidate from winning in the future. As I wrote after the last midterm elections, “Freshman Class Filled With Losers, ” more than 40 percent of the members elected in 2014 had a previous electoral loss on their record, sometimes in the very seat they were elected to represent.  

A handful of Democratic incumbents lost re-election in 2014 and believe the presidential cycle will push them back into office, as it did initially in 2012.

  • Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider is challenging GOP Rep. Robert J. Dold in the 10th District after losing re-election, 51-49 percent.
  • In Texas’ 23rd District, Democrat Pete Gallego is challenging GOP Rep. Will Hurd after falling short 50-48 percent.
  • Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter lost re-election to Republican Frank C. Guinta, 51-48 percent, in New Hampshire’s 1st District and is running again.
  • And in Florida’s 26th District, Democrat Joe Garcia is running again after losing to Republican Carlos Curbelo, 51.5-48.5 percent, in 2014, although Garcia has a competitive Democratic primary first.

Iowa Democrat Pat Murphy must also win a competitive primary against Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon in order to get a second shot at Republican Rod Blum in the 1st District. In 2014, Blum won 51-49 percent.  

A couple of candidates fell short in 2014 primaries and are trying to push through to general election victories in 2016.  

In Pennsylvania’s 8th District, chemist Shaughnessy Naughton lost the 2014 Democratic primary, 51-49 percent, without any outside help. This cycle, Naughton has another competitive Democratic primary but is getting support from EMILY’s List in order to win the GOP open seat in November.  

UNITED STATES - APRIL 29: Justin Fareed, Republican candidate for California's 24th congressional district, is interviewed in the CQ Roll Call offices on April 29, 2015. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call)
Justin Fareed finished a close third in 2014 and is running a stronger campaign this time around. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In California’s 24th District, Republican Justin Fareed finished a close third in the primary, just short of cracking the top two for the general election. He’s running a stronger campaign this cycle and is a contender for what is now the open seat.  

In Alabama’s 1st District, Republican Dean Young lost the 2013 special election primary to Bradley Byrne, 52.5-47.5 percent. He challenged the congressman again this year, but lost the March 1 primary by a much larger 60-40 percent.  

In 2014 in California’s 17th District, former Obama administration official Ro Khanna pushed his intra-party challenge to Democratic Rep. Michael M. Honda to November but lost 52-48 percent. Khanna is running again and appears to be well-positioned to take on the incumbent once again.  

Democrat Doug Owens and Republican Stewart Mills came close in 2014 but could face a more challenging 2016.  

Owens nearly defeated Republican Mia Love in Utah’s 4th District, losing 51-46 percent. Democrats don’t believe this presidential cycle will be as bad as the 2012 numbers suggest, considering Mormon Mitt Romney was at the top of the ticket. But Owens was not attacked by Republicans in 2014 the way he will be in 2016, making his rematch more difficult.  

Democrats relentlessly attacked Mills last cycle when he challenged DFL Rep. Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s 8th District, where the incumbent won narrowly, 49-47 percent. Mills is running again, and GOP strategists believe he has improved as a candidate. He will have more time to spend on the campaign trail after the family company was sold for over $1 billion. Mills and his Republican allies will have to do a better job of getting on the same page about who is responsible for defending the candidate when the Democratic attacks resume.  

It might be easy to dismiss losing candidates by saying they have been rejected by the voters, but a significant part of winning elections is timing and the nature of the national political environment. It’s not difficult to see some or many of these candidates coming to Congress next year.  

Correction March 23, 12 p.m. | An earlier version of the story misstated Chabot’s 2014 election percentage.

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