June 9, 2015 — The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote a story at the end of last week that rated 2016 Senate Democratic candidate recruitment as “stellar”, but he omits some rather major analytical points in drawing that conclusion. Mainly, he fails to mention the large number of cumulative losses these individuals have recently absorbed.
He first starts with the Nevada race and says the Democrats recruited the top potential candidate, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto who outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) prompted to run and supports. He gives the party further points by citing that Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-1) will not challenge Masto. This is all true, and avoiding a primary does make things better for them during the general election, but Masto should not be considered to be a prohibitive favorite against what should be a strong Republican. She won her first AG race in 2006, a Democratic landslide year, with a solid 59.0 percent vote count. Four years later she significantly regressed, scoring 52.8 percent, though 2010 was clearly a better Republican year.
In Florida, he cites Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) as a strong recruitment, and we agree. As Cillizza correctly mentions, Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D-FL-9) potential candidacy certainly clouds the Democratic picture. The Florida seat is open because Sen. Marco Rubio (R) is running for president.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8) is mentioned next. While she, as a wounded Iraq War veteran, has a very attractive biography that should sell well with Illinois voters, her past electoral history does show some weakness. In the strong Democratic year of 2006, Duckworth lost a 51-49 percent race to then state legislator Peter Roskam (R). Six years later, in a seat that the Democratic legislature designed for her to unseat first-term Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL-8), she did so but with 55 percent of the vote, trailing President Obama’s total in this district by almost three full percentage points. Against a weak 2014 opponent who spent less than $350,000 and attracted no outside attention, Rep. Duckworth again scored under 56 percent in a strongly Democratic seat. While these numbers are good, it is arguable that she has somewhat under-performed in all of her congressional races.
And, finally, for what is considered the top-tier race category, Cillizza cites former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) as being one of the best Democratic recruitments. There’s no doubt Feingold is one of the best-known challengers in the nation, but one must remember the reason he carries the “former senator” title is that he lost his last race to now-Sen. Ron Johnson (R) by five full points. There is a clear school of thought that the Wisconsin Democrats might be in better position with a fresh candidate instead of one who Sen. Johnson already has beaten.
The political columnist then goes onto mention the strong recruits in the emerging contests, particularly Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1) in Arizona, ex- Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, and former Indiana Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN-9).
Rep. Kirkpatrick won her House seat in 2008, only to lose it in 2010. She re-captured it in 2012, and scored a better-than-expected 52.6 percent win last November. Is she stronger than Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9)? Probably not. Her career congressional percentages are: 52.6; 48.8 (win); 43.7 (loss); and 55.9.
Once again, the “former” in Gov. Ted Strickland’s title is because he was defeated for re-election in 2010. On top of that, Strickland lost his House seat as an incumbent (in 1994) but, like Kirkpatrick, re-claimed it two years later.
Missouri Sec of State Kander, at 34 years of age, was first elected in 2012 after spending two terms in the state House of Representatives. Though he has risen quickly, he is still largely untested and a major underdog to a veteran politician such as Sen. Roy Blunt (R).
Finally, Indiana former Rep. Hill is not even the party’s first choice in the open Senate race. That person is likely Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz (D), but she is now challenging Gov. Mike Pence (R). Baron Hill is actually a three-time loser. As a state legislator, he challenged Sen. Dan Coats (R) in 1990 and fell 46-54 percent. Elected to the US House in 1998, he lost to businessman Mike Sodrel (R) in 2004, only to return in 2006. He then lost the congressional seat for good to current Rep. Todd Young (R) in 2010.
While these candidates all have developed good name identification and clearly won their share of political campaigns, one should not overlook their aggregate losses. This is a good Democratic class of prospective open seat candidates and challengers, but they are far from “stellar”.