Blue Dogs shutter their campaign committees

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) was seen as a rising Democratic star, the party's own "mama grizzly." (Eric Landwehr/AP)

And for good reason: Herseth Sandlin, much like many Democrats in tough districts, was popular in her home area before falling victim to a tough 2010 election year. Israel, recognizing the rough terrain for Democrats in South Dakota, would obviously love having someone like Herseth Sandlin trying to reclaim her seat in 2012.

Unfortunately for Israel, she may have other plans. After joining a Washington law firm earlier this month, Herseth Sandlin on Thursday dissolved her campaign committee – a move that generally means a candidate has no plans to make a quick return to politics.

In fact, Herseth Sandlin is just the latest 2010 loser to close down his or her committee; she joins a host of former Democratic members from conservative-leaning districts who have done the same.

Former Blue Dog Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Bobby Bright (D-Ala.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.), Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) and Travis Childers (D-Miss.) have also shuttered their campaign committees in the aftermath of the 2010 election.

Those five candidates, along with Herseth Sandlin, represent six of the most conservative districts that Democrats lost in 2010. And that’s not good news for their party, which may find it hard to replace those candidates’ prowess on the ballot.

While closing one’s campaign committee does not disqualify a candidate from opening up a new committee and running at some point down the line, it would be an unusual move for a candidate who is considering a run in the near future. In fact, members who lost years ago – even decades ago – will often keep their campaign committees open in perpetuity.

“The far more common practice is for an individual to keep a committee if they have any inclination whatsoever of running again,” said Paul Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the Campaign Legal Center. “Even some individuals who don’t plan to run again in the future and who might plan to (lobby on) K Street – they’ll keep their committee open.”

Ryan noted that maintaining a campaign committee is not an onerous process.

“The cost is quite low, and the reporting requirements are pretty modest when there’s not much money,” Ryan said. “There’s very little disincentive to keeping the committee open.”

Herseth Sandlin said in December that the odds of her seeking her old seat in 2012 were less than 50-50. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other former Democratic incumbents who have closed down their committees include former Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.), who lost his seat by six points in 2010, and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), whose seat went to Republicans in November while Sestak lost Pennsylvania’s open Senate race.

Three-time former congressional candidate Dan Seals (D) has also closed his campaign committee after losing an open seat to Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), as has former Nebraska state Sen. Tom White (D), a top recruit against Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) who ran in the wrong year.

On the GOP side, former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) has closed his committee after losing a primary in 2010. And former Oregon state Rep. Scott Bruun closed his committee after a loss to Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) – one of the more disappointing losses for the GOP in 2010.

Former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who left his seat to run for governor last year, is now considering a run against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). But he closed his House campaign committee – which he could easily have turned into a Senate campaign committee – in late January.

Again, closing a campaign committee doesn’t foreclose a future run. But it does offer hints about where a candidate’s head is at regarding the next campaign.

As Democrats recruit a number of candidates who lost in 2010, don’t expect many of these names to pop up.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.


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