Who doesn’t like a good comeback story?
That’s a question voters will answer come November in some of the most competitive House races in the country. For Democrats, who need to net 25 seats to seize back the majority, a handful of pickup opportunities rest with former members trying to win their old jobs back.
In the Northeast, a pair of rematches presents Democrats with strong opportunities to turn the clock back to the 111th Congress. In upstate New York, Democrat Dan Maffei, who lost his job by the slimmest of margins in 2010, is hopeful that a more Democratic district will propel him back into office. New Hampshire Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who was unseated in 2010 by Republican Frank Guinta, holds a small lead in the rematch, according to a recent Democratic poll.
And in the Midwest, a pair of former Democratic members with tenures three decades apart — Illinois’s Bill Foster and Minnesota’s Rick Nolan — are waging comeback bids against Republicans they haven’t faced before.
Democrats’ loss of 63 seats in the 2010 Republican landslide meant a lot of Democratic politicians were suddenly looking for jobs. Comeback attempts haven’t worked for all who have tried them. Just ask former Democratic congresswomen Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio) and Debbie Halvorson (Ill.), and Democratic-turned-Republican former congressman Parker Griffith (Ala.). All three lost in primaries earlier this year.
Long odds, though, haven’t deterred former Hawaii Republican congressman Charles Djou. For Djou, one of only two House Republicans to lose a seat in 2010, getting his old job back will require a substantial upset in the deep blue Aloha State during a presidential year.
On the other end of the spectrum is Democrat Dina Titus, who is virtually assured of a spot in the 113th Congress. And she’s got company from a few others running in safe or partisan-drawn districts.
Below, we rank the top 10 potential comebackers, in order of likelihood. Note that eight of the 10 are Democrats — reflecting both the Republican wave of 2010 and the fact that Democrats need former members to avenge their losses if they want a shot at regaining the majority.
Now, without further ado, to the Line!
10. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio): The two-term representative — immortalized on this blog for the jingle used during his successful write-in primary campaign in 2006 — has a tougher road to Congress this time. After he lost to now-Rep. Bill Johnson (R) by 5 points in 2010, Republicans in the state drew the state’s 6th district to be more Republican.
9. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.): In perhaps the most interesting comeback story of them all, Nolan is attempting a return to Congress more than three decades after retiring. He won a competitive primary earlier this month and faces freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack (R) in a Democratic-leaning district long held by Democrat Jim Oberstar. Republicans have been attaching the L-word to Nolan, though, noting that he told The Washington Post in 1980, “I’ve become more liberal and radicalized” while in Congress.
8. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.): Shea-Porter is hoping she will fare better in New Hampshire’s 1st district in 2012 than she did in 2010, when she was unseated by now-Rep. Frank Guinta (R). And there are emerging signs of Democratic gains. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll conducted earlier this month showed Shea-Porter with a slight lead over Guinta, whose efforts to call the Democrat “congresswoman” in a robocall without mentioning his own title brought him recent some negative attention.
7. Bill Foster (D-Ill.): The former congressman is challenging ex-colleague Rep. Judy Biggert (R) in a competitively drawn new district two years after losing his old seat. This seat is one of five in the state that Democrats hope to pick up after drawing an ambitious new map that also imperiled Republican Reps. Bobby Schilling, Robert Dold and Joe Walsh. The race was recently featured in our colleague Ed O’Keefe’s “5 in 5″ series.
6. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.): After being unseated in 2010 by Rep. Paul Gosar (R), Kirkpatrick is running on friendlier terrain this time around thanks to redistricting. And she isn’t taking on Gosar, who opted for a run in the re-configured 4th district. After Tuesday’s primary, Kirkpatrick’s likely GOP opponent is Jonathan Paton, an Iraq war veteran who lost in the 8th district Republican primary in 2010. Gosar’s decision not to run in the 1st district speaks volumes about the fundamentals there, which favor Kirkpatrick.
5. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.): Roughly 600 votes separated Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) from Maffei in 2010, making the Republican’s victory in New York’s 25th district one of the slimmest in the nation. A repeat victory will be a tall task for Buerkle, whose support for the Ryan budget plan and opposition to the federal health-care law handed Maffei fodder for attacks in the state’s new 24th district. Obama carried the district with about 56 percent of the vote in 2008, which, paired with Buerkle’s voting record, makes the race a top pickup opportunity for Democrats.
4. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.): Salmon is expected to win his primary against former state House speaker Kirk Adams (a Salmon internal poll recently released to the Arizona Republic showed him up by 28 points) in Arizona’s open 5th district on Tuesday. If he does, he would start the general election with a heavy advantage in what is a very conservative district. Salmon left the House after his third term in 2000, adhering to a self-imposed term limit pledge.
3. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.): Florida Republicans were forced to draw a new Democratic-leaning district near Orlando, and Grayson’s stature and personal wealth scared off a challenge in the primary. He caught another break when the national GOP’s favored candidate, Osceola County Commission Chairman John Quinones, fell in the primary to radio host Todd Long. The GOP had hoped Grayson’s controversial style (think: “Die quickly“) would cost him, but Long is viewed as a … well, long shot.
2. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): Stockman, who served just one term in Congress during the 1990s and was once homeless, won a runoff in Texas’s new 36th district in late July. But that’s about the only drama Stockman is likely to face in a heavily Republican district east of Houston that is nearly certain to give the former representative a return ticket to Congress in November.
1. Dina Titus (D-Nev.): Titus lucked out even more than Grayson. After losing her more suburban 3rd district seat after just one term in 2010, the new map presented an open-seat opportunity in Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley’s (D-Nev.) safe Democratic seat in Las Vegas. Then Titus’s top primary opposition opted out of the race, leaving her uncontested in a primary race that essentially decided who will win the seat.