Few of the incumbents defeated this year are ready to definitively close the chapter on their House careers.
In interviews during their final votes last week under the recently restored Capitol dome, several of the members making involuntary exits declined to rule out a 2018 comeback bid, and none had decided to retire from politics altogether.
Thirteen incumbents lost reelection in 2016, with reasons ranging from redistricting to federal corruption charges to swing seats that usually change hands in presidential-election years. Eight came up short in the general election, and five fell to primary challengers. One of those who lost in a primary was Rep. Chaka Fattah, the Pennsylvania Democrat who later resigned and was sentenced this week to 10 years in prison.
“I’m sure that people would like me to run again,” said Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford of Nebraska, who narrowly lost his Omaha-based seat last month to Republican Don Bacon. “I would consider it. It’s something I enjoy doing too much to ever say never.”
Republican Rep. David Jolly of Florida said there is a “very good chance” he will run again for the St. Petersburg-based seat, but he acknowledged he was also looking at some statewide races. Asked how a 2018 run would be different, Jolly answered confidently: “We’d win.”
Jolly’s seat became significantly more Democratic after court-ordered redistricting, and he received no financial support from national Republicans after he criticized his colleagues’ fundraising practices in a controversial 60 Minutes segment that included hidden-camera footage from inside the National Republican Congressional Committee headquarters. Still, he lost to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist by just 4 points in a district President Obama would have carried by 11 in 2012.
“Had we had any outside help or had we had a few more weeks, we would have won it,” Jolly said.
In an interview earlier this month with National Journal, incoming NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers said he had been in contact with some fallen incumbents as he prepares for recruitment season. High on his wish list are Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, who vacated his seat for an unsuccessful Senate bid, and Rep. Robert Dold of Illinois, who lost in a rematch with former Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider.
Heck said he “sincerely” doubts he would run again for his seat, which will soon be filled by Democrat Jacky Rosen, but Dold said he hadn’t “closed any doors” or “made any decisions.”
“Bob Dold did everything right, and if this was an off-year election, if this wasn’t a presidential, Bob Dold would have won,” Stivers said. “And so the question is, how do you talk a guy into coming back for the third time?”
Dold lost by 5 points in a suburban Chicago district where Trump was so unpopular the NRCC ran an ad praising Dold for disavowing him. First elected in 2010, Dold was one of four Republican incumbents facing a challenge from the Democrat they unseated in 2014; only two prevailed.
Republican Rep. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire just barely lost his fourth matchup against former Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in the swingiest district in the nation.
Guinta faced unfavorable headwinds—he’s never won the seat in a presidential-election year—but his 1-point loss was surprisingly close after he nearly didn’t make it out of the September primary. He was saddled with a campaign finance scandal after the Federal Election Commission found he illegally accepted $355,000 in campaign funds from his parents.
“Where is this coming from?” Guinta responded when asked if he might run again in two years, just as he did after losing the seat in 2012. He brushed off questions about his future, repeating three times that he was focusing on finishing his term.
Other toppled incumbents would also face uphill battles returning to Congress. Rep. Mike Honda of California, who lost a contentious campaign against fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, was still being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for allegedly improperly mixing congressional and campaign activities when he lost on Election Day. In an interview, Honda said he hasn’t said no to running again but would wait to see “what kind of job Ro does” and how his constituents feel.
Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, who lost in the only member-vs.-member race of the cycle, said she had “no idea” if she would mount another bid. She fell in a June primary after court-ordered redistricting led to her and Republican Rep. George Holding running in the same district. Billing himself as the more conservative candidate, Holding won easily as antiestablishment forces united against Ellmers.
Democrats cut into the GOP’s historic majority by 6 seats, as Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and captured the White House. Of the eight incumbents who lost in November, six were Republicans.
The NRCC already plans to target the Florida and New Jersey districts that GOP Reps. John Mica and Scott Garrett lost. In an interview, Mica said he wouldn’t discuss his future until Jan. 3. Garrett said recently he was unsure what he would do next. It’s unlikely either will be recruited to run again after falling to well-funded, first-time Democratic candidates.
While the midterms provided favorable environments for Republicans under Obama, the dynamics of 2018 are inherently different, as the congressional races will be waged with a Republican in the White House.
That could affect whether someone like Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy of Nevada, who scored a 2014 upset because of low Democratic turnout in the Las Vegas-based district Obama carried by double digits two years earlier, runs again. After losing by 4 points last month, Hardy didn’t immediately reject the idea.
“I haven’t thought about it at all,” Hardy said. “You never say never.”
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