Of the six races that have graced our list of the most competitive contests this year — the now-completed Wisconsin recall being the one no longer listed in our top five below — all but one feature a candidate who fell short in a previous campaign for governor.
* In North Carolina, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory (R) is the favorite after losing a hard-fought campaign to Bev Perdue (D) in 2008.
* In New Hampshire, attorney Ovide Lamontagne (R) is trying to win the state’s top post 16 years after his first try failed and two years after losing his party’s nomination for Senate.
* Businessman Bill Maloney (R) is giving it another shot after a near-miss loss to West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) in last year’s special election.
* And, in another rematch, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) came up short in last month’s Wisconsin recall just 19 months after losing to Gov. Scott Walker (R) the first time. It was actually the third try for Barrett, who lost in the Democratic primary in 2002.
As we’ve discussed on this blog before, it’s not unusual for big-name politicians to lose campaigns before hitting it big. In fact, President Obama and almost all of this year’s top GOP presidential candidates including Mitt Romney have lost previous campaigns. So have many recent presidents, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush and Obama, for example, lost congressional races early in their careers before winning the top job in the country.
The lesson: Sometimes politics is a try, try again exercise. And many of these candidates — Inslee and McCrory, in particular — appear to have much better odds this time around.
The question is whether their previous losses betrayed some kind of glaring weakness that will come back to bite them the second time around.
Time will tell.
To the line!
5. West Virginia (Democratic-controlled): If Tomblin’s survival depends on his ability to put daylight between himself and Obama, he’s doing a pretty good job. Not only is the coal-country Democrat not attending his party’s convention this September, he also won’t say whether he’ll vote for the president. This race will tighten, but for now Tomblin seems about as safe as he can be in a state where the president is deeply unpopular and on the ballot alongside Tomblin. (Previous ranking: 5)
4. Montana (D): Right now, state Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) is sitting on a pile of cash while former congressman Rick Hill (R) recovers from a rough, crowded primary. But that dynamic could shift soon. Hill won his primary by double-digits and is likely a stronger candidate for it. He’s also matching Bullock in fundraising now. And the Supreme Court shot down a Bullock-backed attempt to limit corporate spending in the state, which will likely be flooded with outside (read: mostly Republican) money. (Previous ranking: 4)
3. Washington (D): The good news for Democrats: For the first time, a poll shows their candidate leading in this open-seat race. An independent Elway Research poll showed Inslee leading state Attorney General Rob McKenna (R) by seven points. But we’re not sure how much stock to put into this one poll. It’s hard to see any reason why Inslee would have suddenly jumped out to such a lead after trailing in most other polling. If he did gain some ground, it’s likely because he was the first to go on the air, and now McKenna is up as well. (Previous ranking: 3)
2. New Hampshire (D): Game changer? Former state senator Maggie Hassan (D) this week announced the endorsement of Clinton in her primary with fellow former state senator Jackie Cilley. On the GOP side, the debates have begun, and both top GOP contenders, Lamontagne and Kevin Smith, are hitting each other for some pretty limited lobbying experience.
1. North Carolina (D): This is still the GOP’s race to lose. McCrory has a big cash advantage after a contested Democratic primary, $4.4 million to $700,000. He’s also leading in all recent polls of the race — mostly by a significant amount, though an NBC/Marist College poll in late June showed him up by just two points. And on top of it all, the GOP now has video of Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (D) declining to rule out a tax increase. Expect to see it in an ad this fall. (Previous ranking: 1)
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.