Defeated House Members Leave Door Cracked for 2018

More than a dozen incumbents lost in primaries or on Election Day.

Rep. Robert Dold campaigning in Chicago in 2012
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Ally Mutnick
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Ally Mutnick
Dec. 14, 2016, 8 p.m.

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.”

Kimberly Railey contributed to this article.
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