Democrats Trying House Race Reruns

Posted March 20, 2007 at 6:49pm

When a candidate gets outspent by $5 million and loses by only 373 votes, it isn’t surprising that she wants to try again.

Christine Jennings (D), who is still contesting her narrow loss to now-Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), is one of about a dozen Democratic House candidates who came close to winning in November and are either definitely running again or are seriously thinking about rematches next year.

Larry Kissell (D) is another.

He lost to Rep. Robin Hayes (R) in the Tar Heel State’s 8th district by just 329 votes. A school teacher, Kissell was a political novice, unknown to most voters, but managed to gain enough traction in a good year for Democrats to wind up in a recount.

Hayes spent $2.5 million to squeak past the former textile worker, who spent about $780,000.

Steve Elmendorf, a veteran Democratic strategist, said he is not surprised that so many near-miss candidates are going to try again in 2008.

“I think it’s going to be another bad year for Republicans,” he said. “If I came close last time, I’d do it again.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee certainly nudged a number of last year’s most highly touted challengers, as well as some unknowns who stunned themselves and their opponents by coming so close, to give it a second chance.

“Many really proved themselves to be really strong campaigners and the DCCC did encourage them to run again,” said one Democratic insider, who did not want to be named.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee accused the DCCC of being hypocritical in hyping many of the same candidates from last year.

“They’re playing a poorly managed game of misdirection,” said Ken Spain, an NRCC spokesman. “One day they’re talking about challenging safe Republican seats, the next they’re talking about competing in districts with the types of candidates they have already condemned as losers.”

Spain was referring to the DCCC’s “Republican ReRuns” campaign and Web site page.

The DCCC has mocked former GOP Congressmen who are committed to or considering rematches with the Democrats who ousted them last year.

“They’re over-playing their hand,” Spain said. “They’re recruiting repeat candidates who couldn’t win in the most Democratic-friendly environment in a generation.”

Doug Thornell, a DCCC spokesman, said there is a big difference between challengers who came close and want to try again and incumbents who were tossed out of office.

“Rerunning Republican rubberstampers who were part of the problem is different than Democratic challengers who have new ideas and are committed to change,” he said.

Certainly the number of almost-Congressmen who try again is greater after wave elections, such as 1994 when Republicans swept Democrats out of power for the first time in 40 years. But it is not uncommon for people to try again, even when their party did not make big gains the previous cycle.

“A lot of people get elected to Congress on their second or third try,” Elmendorf said.

So many Democrats came so close in 2006.

Consider Darcy Burner (D), a Microsoft manager-turned-suburban mom who built a grass-roots campaign in Washington’s 8th district after Democrats couldn’t find a more prominent candidate to run. She lost to Rep. Dave Reichert (R), a popular former sheriff, by only 2 percentage points in the suburban Seattle district.

While many political observers believe Burner earned a second shot, she may have to fight for the nomination.

Ross Hunter (D), a wealthy state Representative whom national Democrats recruited last cycle, is seriously weighing a 2008 bid, he confirmed Tuesday.

Democrats say candidates such as former military pilot Charlie Brown, who lost to long-time Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) — 49 percent to 46 percent — despite being outspent by almost $1 million, are attractive for several reasons.

Voters already know their name — name identification is one of the biggest factors in Congressional races — and they have run a campaign before so they know what to expect and can avoid amateur mistakes.

And many wounded GOP incumbents who should have been shoo-ins for re-election.

A good example is Gary Trauner (D), who came from nowhere to almost unseat Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) for the Gem State’s lone House seat despite its overwhelming Republican tilt.

Trauner ultimately lost by 1,012 votes.

DCCC officials are confident in many of these “retreads” because they believe the environment still favors Democrats.

They think Democrats can harness voter dissatisfaction with President Bush and the Iraq War a second time, but are listening to consultants who warn them about reading too much into last year’s gains.

Democratic pollster Al Quinlan told Members assembled at the Democratic National Committee headquarters Tuesday night for a DCCC “Members Dinner” that a majority of voters do not have confidence in their government.

“The 2006 election pointed to the public’s deep dissatisfaction with the status quo in Washington and with government,” Quinlan wrote in a memo. “Republicans are clearly responsible for much of this disillusionment with government, but it would be delusional and dangerous to assume the public will hold only them accountable and give Democrats a pass [in 2008].

“Democrats have a big opportunity to advance an agenda here, but only if they are bold advocates for change and accountability,” he added.

Certainly Eric Massa (D), who narrowly lost to Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.) in the Empire State’s 29th district, Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who came within 1,055 votes of unseating Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) in the Buckeye State’s 15th district, and many of the other Democrats seeking a rematch will make the argument that they are the agents of change that voters want.

Other possible repeat candidates include former Capitol Hill aide Dan Maffei (D), who narrowly lost to Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), New Jersey Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D), who almost beat Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.), and Paul Aronsohn (D), a former top aide to ex-New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D), who finished 11 points behind Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) in 2006.