Congressional Democrats were caught in a bloodbath in the 2010 elections, when they lost more than 60 seats in the House and watched their dominant majority swept away by a tide of Tea Party anger and voter frustration with Washington.
Despite that resounding defeat—and President Obama’s lower-than-ever poll numbers—more than a dozen Democratic candidates who ran and lost in 2010, including seven former members of Congress, are running again in the 2012 elections.
They say that a combination of razor-thin margins in their own races, along with newly redrawn congressional districts and voters’ continued disgust with Washington, have convinced them that they can win this time around.
Are they just gluttons for punishment? Maybe not. Two recent polls have shown the same anger that voters felt for House Democrats in 2010 is now focused on the Republicans running the House. A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows voters would support a Democratic candidate over a Republican candidate in their district by 8 points, while an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that voters prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by 4 points.
Dan Maffei represented New York’s 25th district until 2010, when he lost to newcomer Ann Marie Buerkle by fewer than 600 votes. Now Maffei wants a rematch. “My opponent now has a record,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s easy to promise the stars and the planets when you don’t have a record. Now the proof is in the pudding.”
As for why he’s running again, Maffei said he could not sit on the sidelines while he watched the House achieve “absolutely no positive action” on jobs and the economy.
In addition to Maffei, half a dozen former Democratic members of Congress who lost their seats in 2010 are taking another shot at their old jobs, including former Reps. Alan Grayson (Fla.-8), Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio-3), Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.-1), Carol Shae-Porter (N.H.-1), Dina Titus (Nev.-3), and Bill Foster (Ill.-11).
Other 2010 candidates who lost, but are running again, include Tarryl Clark in Minnesota, Mike Oliverio in West Virginia, and Manan Trivedi in Pennsylvania.
Ann McLane Kuster lost to Rep. Charlie Bass in 2010 in New Hampshire’s Second District by fewer than 3,000 votes, and sums up the reason she’s running again in two words: “Buyer's remorse.”
“My race was incredibly close; I lost by 1 percent,” she says. “Once the Republican Congress was sworn in, it became very obvious, very quickly, that Congress is broken. That’s what I’m hearing on the campaign trail.”
The Second District is made up of 43 percent independent voters, who will determine the outcome of the race.
“They are much more focused on our economy moving forward, and they’re surprised and shocked by what they’re seeing and the lack of ideas on the Republican side,” Kuster says.
Gary McDowell, a hay farmer and former state representative in northern Michigan, also is looking for a rematch against his 2010 GOP opponent, Rep. Dan Benishek, in former representative Bart Stupak’s old district.
“It’s a totally different atmosphere now, a different situation than we had last fall,” McDowell says. He has focused his attacks on Benishek’s votes for the Paul Ryan budget and on a bill that subsidizes small and rural airports, many of which are in Michigan. He also calls the debt-ceiling impasse a “debacle.”
“It was a big deal to see our people in Washington not being able to work for the best interests of the country … People were very frustrated with that.”
Democrats aren’t the only 2010 contenders looking for a rematch. At least five Republicans, including Andy Barr in Kentucky and Jackie Walorski in Indiana, are running again—and in districts that have swung even further to the Republicans since 2010.
Republican aides point out that through state-level redistricting, they may have opened up a handful of seats to Democrats, but they have been able to significantly strengthen districts for many of the freshmen Republicans who could have been vulnerable to a challenge in 2012.
GOP strategists also point to the retirements of conservative Blue Dog Democrats, such as Rep. Dan Boren in Oklahoma, that are creating even more seats Republicans are almost certain to win.
As for the Democrats’ crop of reruns, Joanna Burgos, National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman, says that “voters fired these defeated Democrats once for their job-destroying agenda, and voters will reject them again for supporting these failed policies that have made our economy worse.”
But Rep. Steve Israel, the Democrat running the party’s House reelection efforts, says the legislative record of the House Republicans this year, including the government-shutdown crisis in March, has been enough to turn the momentum for the elections back to his candidates in less than nine months.
Polls show the anger voters felt for House Democrats in 2010 is now focused on the Republicans running the House.
Specifically, he points to the Paul Ryan budget proposal as the point when he knew Democrats would be competitive in 2012.
“That absolutely changed the terrain,” Israel says.
Not surprisingly, he also believes more than a few House Republican freshmen are vulnerable to defeat next November.
“Some of these Republicans are like baseball players who got walked on four pitches and think they hit a triple. They rode a wave.”