For a number of years, I have had a strong bias against challenger candidates who lose and then run again in the next election cycle. Some of you have probably heard me say this whenever one of these repeat candidates makes that second attempt. For a repeat candidate to be successful, there must be something significantly different the second time around for that candidate to have a chance to win. This difference must fit into one of these categories: 1) the second attempt occurred after redistricting and the district is now different; 2) the race was an open seat race during the second try (as opposed to challenging an incumbent); or 3) something major changes the perception of the incumbent before the rematch, such as a scandal or the incumbent being clearly out of step with the district due to votes cast.
Now, thanks to some excellent research by IBRG manager of political affairs Chase Downham, this theory, and my long-time bias, have some numbers to back it up. Over the last 10 years, there have been 81 candidates (we have only included Democratic and Republican candidates) who have lost and then made a second attempt for the General Assembly in the next election cycle.
From this group of 81 repeat candidates, only 8 (9.9%) were successful in their bid to become a state legislator. Let us take a look at these 8 successful repeat candidates and see how many had something significantly different in their second attempt:
- In 2000, Don Lehe narrowly lost to incumbent Claire Leuck in HD25. After the 2001 redistricting, Lehe defeated George Baranowski in the open HD15 contest of 2002.
- In 2000, Terri Austin lost to incumbent Jack Lutz in HD36. After the 2001 redistricting, Austin defeated Andy Kincaid in the open HD36 contest of 2002. Following the redistricting, HD36 changed significantly and incumbent Lutz was moved to HD35.
- In 2002, Joe Micon challenged incumbent Sue Scholer and lost in HD26. Following Scholer’s retirement, HD26 was an open seat in 2004 and Micon defeated Connie Basham.
- In 2002, incumbent Vern Tincher was defeated by Brooks LaPlante in HD46. In 2004, LaPlante initially did not seek re-election following a $10,000 fine from the Indiana Election Commission, but was placed on the ballot near general election day. Following a court case, Jeff Lee was removed from the ballot and LaPlante inserted. Tincher then defeated LaPlante.
- In 2004, appointed state senator Nancy Dembowski was defeated in the SD05 contest. In 2006, Dembowski ran for the House against incumbent Steve Heim in HD17 and won.
- In 2004, incumbent Ron Herrell was defeated by John Smith in HD30. In 2006, Ron Herrell defeated John Smith in a recount. The significant difference here is that labor unions played a major role in 2006 after helping the Kerry effort out of state in 2004.
- In 2006, John Barnes challenged incumbent Larry Buell in HD89. In 2008, following Buell’s retirement, Barnes won the HD89 open seat.
Now, for that one, lone exception among the group of 81 repeat candidates:
In 2002, Alan Chowning defeated the famous Elvis impersonating candidate Bruce Borders by 289 votes in HD45. This was an open seat race following the retirement of John Gregg. A rematch ensued in 2004 and Borders defeated the incumbent Chowning to become the only repeat candidate without something significantly different occurring in the second election to become a state legislator.
The main reason behind this bias has been — whether we like to admit this or not — that voters generally get it right when selecting who should represent them. Or, at least in the mind of the voters, they got it right the first time. So, unless you’re a rock star like “Elvis” or Paul McCartney, the chances of a repeat candidate winning are about as good as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series was during the last 100 years. In other words, the success rate for a repeat candidate without something significantly different is just 1.3%.
Please feel free to post a comment to this blog and start a conversation.
Click here to see the table of all 81 repeat candidates.