As Democrats stare down the prospect of a bruising midterm election next year, in some races they are turning toward retread candidates — even if they failed before.
Stacey Abrams, who in 2018 narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race, announced this week that she would run again to challenge Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
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Her gubernatorial announcement followed that of Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and who launched a failed presidential bid ahead of 2020. O’Rourke said earlier this month he would challenge Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
Their forays into high-profile races come after another retread candidate, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, lost the gubernatorial contest in Virginia last month to Republican Glenn Youngkin despite the state’s decidedly Democratic tilt.
Charles Lipson, political science professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, said there are still advantages for candidates launching campaigns in places where they’ve already lost.
“One of the advantages of retread candidates ... is that they already have high name recognition,” Lipson told the Washington Examiner. “That’s what they, in effect, bought and paid for in previous campaigns or elections.”
“The downside of that is that the name recognition may be associated with a negative attitude,” Lipson added.
The ability of voters to recognize the names of candidates is often thought to be a valuable quality, in part because building it is expensive and in part because name ID can prove especially helpful in crowded primaries in which challengers are relatively unknown to voters.
Repeat candidates such as Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat seeking his party’s nomination for governor in Florida next year, may rely heavily on their name value to prevail in primaries.
Crist ran unsuccessfully for Florida governor in 2014, losing narrowly to now-Sen. Rick Scott. Formerly a Republican himself before switching parties, Crist was governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011.
Before losing the governor’s race, Crist also lost an independent bid for Senate when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took the party’s nomination and beat both Crist and the Democratic nominee in 2010.
In previous cycles, the efforts of repeat Democratic candidates have failed despite national fanfare as well.
MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran turned Democratic politician, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Texas in 2018, losing to incumbent GOP Rep. John Carter. A viral political ad telling her life story helped propel her to national fame, although it was not enough to put her over the edge in Texas’s 3rd Congressional District.
Even so, two years later, she launched a challenge to Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the 2020 race, ultimately losing to him by nearly 10 points.
Amy McGrath, a fellow military veteran, drew the attention of political observers when she challenged Republican Rep. Andy Barr in a Kentucky congressional race in 2018 that was, at the time, considered a highly competitive contest. McGrath lost to Barr by less than four points.
She went on to launch an even more high-profile bid to unseat then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, exciting figures on the Left who wanted to see the longtime leader dethroned.
McGrath raised millions of dollars more than McConnell from Democratic donors in the 2020 race. However, she ended up losing to McConnell by a double-digit margin.
“The other advantage that sometimes these candidates have is that they’re plugged into a fundraising network,” Lipson said of repeat Democratic candidates. “That was the case with Terry McAuliffe. He was very much an experienced fundraiser.”
Celebrated Democratic candidates who have failed previously are not always doomed for defeat when they try a second or third time, however.
Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff won a statewide contest to flip one of Georgia’s Republican-held Senate seats in 2020 after losing a marquee special election to fill Georgia’s 6th congressional seat in 2017.
Democrats are facing what appear to be increasingly desperate odds heading into 2022, however.
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Republicans have a 3-point advantage in so-called generic ballot polls, or polls that ask voters whether they’d vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate to represent them in Congress, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
President Joe Biden’s plummeting approval ratings, rising inflation, and voters’ growing skepticism of Democratic policy priorities have deepened the perception that, no matter the star power Democrats put on the ballot, the party is in for a stinging rebuke in 2022.