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To run or not to run again? Failed 2018 candidates weigh 2020 options

House nominees who fell short consider repeat bids

Arizona Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, who lost two elections in the 8th District last year, is leaning toward running in the 6th District in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Carolyn Bourdeaux was at a thank-you party for her supporters in December when she decided she was running for Congress again in 2020. 

She’d just lost a recount in Georgia’s 7th District to Republican incumbent Rob Woodall — by 419 votes. 

“We were obviously quite tired. We had gone for three weeks after Election Day, and there was a huge outpouring of support, and I was just like, ‘Of course, we’re going to do this again,’” the Democrat said Tuesday after officially announcing her candidacy.

Bourdeaux may have jumped into 2020 earlier than some candidates — and given Woodall’s recent retirement announcement, her race has already received more national attention. But she’s not alone in her thought process, as other failed 2018 candidates ponder reruns in the same districts in which they lost, or in neighboring seats, like Arizona’s Hiral Tipirneni.

Also watch: First 2020 Senate race ratings are here

A presidential snag?

The 2020 cycle won’t necessarily look like last year’s midterms.

For starters, House races won’t receive nearly the national attention they did in 2018, when they were often the only outlets for Democratic donors to channel their resistance to President Donald Trump.

Bourdeaux isn’t worried about that, arguing that much of her money in 2018 came from her own networks rather than a national list. “It was friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends,” she said.

As an open seat in demographically evolving Georgia, the 7th District may attract more attention than last year, when the race emerged late on the national radar. Bourdeaux has already been the target of GOP attacks. “They’re great for fundraising,” she said. 

Presidential-year elections also generally mean higher turnout, a factor that could help either party depending on the district. 

Republicans are optimistic their base will turn out with Trump on the ballot. Democrats are excited about the possibility of turning out more younger voters than in 2018. They’re also hopeful that attention on battleground states could help in districts in Ohio and Florida, for example, where there wasn’t the same enthusiasm gap that helped Democrats topple GOP incumbents in other places. 

The margin matters

Bourdeaux isn’t sure she’d be running again if the margin hadn’t been so close last fall. 

“People come up and congratulate me like we won this race,” she said.

Narrowly losing or significantly improving Democratic performance in the district goes a long way with donors and national operatives.

In Minnesota, Democrat Dan Feehan is being encouraged to run again after GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn defeated him by less than half a point in a Trump district. Texas Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones is considering a rematch against Republican incumbent Will Hurd after he beat her by less than half a point. Iowa Democrat J.D. Scholten recently launched a nonprofit after narrowly losing to controversial GOP Rep. Steve King, but he could also be interested in running for Senate. And in Michigan, Democrat Matt Longjohn is being encouraged to run again in the 6th District, where he lost by fewer than 5 points to GOP Rep. Fred Upton, whom Democrats hope will retire before 2020. 

Republican incumbents who narrowly lost are looking at running again, too, although fewer of them were ready to speak about their decision-making on the record.

Former Georgia Rep. Karen Handel, who lost her suburban Atlanta seat by just 1 point, is likely to run and will make a decision soon. Former California Rep. David Valadao, who lost to Democrat TJ Cox by less than a point, is being encouraged to run again for the 21st District. New Mexico Republican Yvette Herrell has already said she’s challenging Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, who beat her by less than 2 points in the 2nd District. 

Wait or run elsewhere?

With new congressional district lines just around the corner, some candidates may be biding their time to see how the maps change.

North Carolina could have a new congressional map before 2020, and many other states will have new lines after the 2020 census.

Having run, and lost, twice in Arizona’s 8th District in one year, Tipirneni said bidding for the seat again wasn’t an option. She lost both a special election and last fall’s general election to Republican Debbie Lesko.

“It’s a deeply red district, and we turned over every stone,” Tipirneni said Tuesday. 

But national groups and local activists started reaching out to her in December about challenging GOP Rep. David Schweikert, who faces an ethics investigation. Trump won his 6th District by 10 points — potentially friendlier territory for a Democrat than the 8th District, which Trump carried by 21 points.

Tipirneni lives in the eastern edge of the 8th, and says she can throw a rock into the 6th District from her yard. She is leaning toward running for the 6th and will make a final decision in the next few weeks. 

Personal costs 

Many candidates last cycle spoke about their children as their motivation for running for Congress. But after two long years on the trail, some of those same parents may feel their children need them at home.

“I do think he bears the brunt of this, to a certain level,” Bourdeaux said of her 7-year-old son. She asked him what he thought about her running again.

“He said, ‘I understand, mom, and I think it’s very important.’ I didn’t expect those kinds of words to come out of a 7-year-old’s mouth,” Bourdeaux said. 

She also talked finances with her husband. As a professor of public finance at Georgia State, Bourdeaux had to take an unpaid leave of absence last cycle. She’s teaching this year, but plans to go on unpaid leave in 2020. 

Tipernini, a former emergency room physician, is making similar considerations about whether she’s willing to put the day job she loves — cancer research advocacy — on hold for another two years for the chance to work on the issue in Congress — if she wins.  

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