Top House Dem Recruit Backs Out of Race—Again

Decision to drop out most tangible sign yet of Democrats’ changing political fortunes.

Rep. Steve Israel, DCCC Chairman Interview Goldmacher
National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Dec. 9, 2013, 1:07 p.m.

In mid-Oc­to­ber, at the height of the gov­ern­ment shut­down, House Demo­crats cel­eb­rated the de­cision of Omaha politi­cian Pete Festersen to re­start his can­did­acy against Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Lee Terry—a move, they said, that showed the toll the weeks-long im­broglio had taken on Re­pub­lic­ans. Festersen, who earli­er has op­ted out of a cam­paign, cited the shut­down as a primary reas­on he was reen­ter­ing the race.

As it hap­pens, what goes around comes around.

Festersen said Monday that, for the second time, he was no longer run­ning for Neb­raska’s 2nd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict seat. Al­though he cited fam­ily ob­lig­a­tions, Re­pub­lic­ans im­me­di­ately jumped on the news as evid­ence that polit­ic­al for­tunes had once again changed—this time thanks to the health care law’s dis­astrous rol­lout.

“This is the biggest and most hu­mi­li­at­ing re­cruit­ment fail of the year for House Demo­crats, and they don’t have any­one to blame but them­selves,” said An­drea Bozek, a Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee spokes­wo­man. “Their con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to Obama­care is not only cost­ing them votes, it is now cost­ing them their star can­did­ates.”

The Af­ford­able Care Act, plagued by mal­func­tion­ing web­sites and people los­ing their health care cov­er­age, has been a ma­jor polit­ic­al prob­lem for Demo­crats since the site de­b­uted Oct. 1—so much so that the party’s once prodi­gious lead in the gen­er­ic-bal­lot match­up has been re­versed in a mat­ter of months, as Charlie Cook ob­served last week.

Festersen’s de­cision to drop out doesn’t tan­gibly af­fect House Demo­crats’ ef­forts next year much. It’s only one seat among 435, and they can still find an­oth­er can­did­ate to take his place. Oth­er Demo­crat­ic re­cruits con­tin­ue to line up to run in oth­er battle­ground dis­tricts.

But na­tion­al Demo­crats had touted the City Coun­cil mem­ber’s ori­gin­al re­versal as a sign they had cap­it­al­ized on the cur­rent polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment to make a last­ing dif­fer­ence in House cam­paigns. Festersen’s de­cision Monday is the most tan­gible mani­fest­a­tion yet that Re­pub­lic­ans are now do­ing the same. 

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