Leading Dem House recruits returning

Many leading Democratic House recruits from 2010 have decided to make another run for it next year.

At least five Democrats who ran for open seats or challenged incumbents and lost last year will run again in 2012: Ami Bera in California, Denny Heck in Washington state, Ann Kuster in New Hampshire, Mike Oliverio in West Virginia and Manan Trivedi in Pennsylvania. All ran solid campaigns but were unable to fight through 2010’s strong Republican headwinds to victory.

While it is too early to tell what this year’s political climate will be, these candidates have some key advantages: They are battle-tested and have built up name recognition in the district, but unlike the former House members Democrats have recruited to run again, these contenders have no voting-record baggage for their opponents to pick through.

And no matter how bad things get for Democrats, it’s unlikely next year’s election will be as bad as 2010, when they lost more House seats than they have at any point since World War II.

Heck, who lost an open-seat race to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), is planning to run for an open seat that is likely to be created by redistricting (Washington state is gaining a congressional seat). He told The Hill that having run before “helps a lot.”

“It removes most of the surprises — you go into it knowing what to expect,” he said. “To some degree this is a marathon, and no ones knows what it’s like to run the marathon until you’ve run one, and I’ve now run one.”

Not being an incumbent has other advantages. Candidates can more easily put space between themselves and unpopular policies their parties espouse. Oliverio, who announced he would seek a rematch against Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), took a shot at President Obama.

Oliverio, a conservative Democrat in a conservative district who lost to McKinley by just 1 percentage point, said he was “very concerned” about Obama’s job performance and described the president’s leadership abilities as “lacking.” That charge would have been harder to make if he had been in Congress and forced to vote on some of Obama’s priority legislation.

Not every dynamic is helping these candidates. Trivedi is planning to run against Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) again, but the Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s redistricting are likely to make Gerlach’s seat a little safer for the incumbent.

Bera lost to Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) in a close race, and is running again in a district made a bit more Democratic by redistricting. He pointed to the large turnout operation the campaign built in 2010 as one advantage he has heading into the rematch that he didn’t have before, and said that because he has proven himself as a candidate, donations and other support have come much more easily for him so far this election.

“We start out with a volunteer base that is already engaged, a donor base that is already engaged and a strong grassroots network of folks who gave it their all in a bad year,” Bera told The Hill. “That allows us to engage and build on momentum, and start reaching out to folks we weren’t able to last time.”

An anti-incumbent wave could also help these Democrats’ campaigns — a benefit they would not have enjoyed had they won in 2010. 

“Where the last cycle had an anti-incumbent feel to it, this one is even more so,” Bera said.