Repeat Candidates Tend to be Losing Candidates in Indiana (Unless You’re a Rock Star)

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.


0 thoughts on “Repeat Candidates Tend to be Losing Candidates in Indiana (Unless You’re a Rock Star)

  1. My perception of candidates not winning in a second run has been because he has two avenues: 1) If the message or leader weren’t right the first time, it’s not going to be right a second time (w/the dramatic outside circumstance you mentioned)so he will be defeated because he’s looked at as “Oh it’s that guy again”. 2) He can change his message, but then he will be considered “flip-floppy” or just trying to win with no real platform. This is an interesting post and it makes me wonder if anyone who could benefit from it will take it into consideration (was that too cynical?).

  2. Sonya,
    Good point about being perceived as “flip floppy” when a candidate changes their message in a repeat effort. I agree with you, it is a tricky proposition for a candidate to dramatically change their message because they will not be seen as genuine and only trying to tell voters what they want to hear. The fact is that repeat candidates do not perform well and rarely win. I hope that anyone running for office, first time or second time, will take a long, serious look at what it takes to win and if you are going to run for a second time, you had better have a real good reason that supports why you could win when you lost the first time. Thank you for your post and keeping checking back because we will have more to post on this topic in the near future.

  3. This post has some serious flaws. To begin, if the crux of your argument is that candidates that lose successive general elections have an improbable chance at winning, why do you muddy the waters with candidates that lose successive primaries, or lose a primary then lose a general? You base your low winning percentage on the eight candidates that lost a general election to return and win a general election. It seems specious to inflate your numbers if your categories do not have any logical cohesion.
    However, let’s assume for the moment that that one glaring point is irrelevant (if possible). There are four other holes in this theory that make it illogical. First, eight (8) of the candidates on this list of 81 re-filed for a different office altogether. That is, a candidate running for a state house seat then filed to run for the state senate seat the next cycle. According to your logic that the voters tend to make the right choice the first time, you are neglecting the fact that the voters are making a completely different choice for a completely different office.

    Second, two (2) of the candidates on this list–John Malan and Tyler Gough–moved and ran in completely different house seats. Malan ran one Primary cycle against Bob Kuzman then moved and ran against Myron Sutton; Tyler Gough ran against Ed Mahern then moved and ran against John Barnes. By the same logic as my first point, both instances present voters with a completely different choice and their second candidacies should not be treated as giving the voters a chance to give them a second look as you are supposing.

    Third, many of these candidates lost the race the day they chose to file their paperwork because they chose to run in unwinnable districts by the numbers alone. In fact, eighteen (18) candidates on this list of losing two generals ran in districts that no one could win given the candidate’s respective party affiliation. If you are going to use Democrats that ran in Carmel and Republicans that ran in East Chicago as the standard, then of course you are going to have an increased baseline. Many times these individuals are the only ones available to run.
    Another fourteen (14) were individuals that perennially run and either lose their primaries repeatedly such as Michael Batz against Larry Buell; or make it out of their primary to lose their general in a district where the numbers are insurmountably stacked against them such as Greg Turley (a Democrat in Johnson County) that lost to Woody Burton. You are also erroneously assuming institutional support in these primaries which most, if not all, did not have.

    Fourth, you are counting eleven (11) candidates multiple times. Individuals that have been the candidate in multiple successive cycles should, according to his logic that voters made the right choice the first time, not be counted more than once. It is redundant (thus inaccurate) to say that John Q. Candidate who ran and lost in 2002 and 2004 be counted as unique candidate again simply because he ran and lost in 2006 and 2008. Your point is that any time a loser resurfaces to run again the odds are against him winning, so it is illogical to assume the candidate starts over with a clean slate after two losses.

    If the ultimate point you are trying to make is that there is some misguided force in these district’s local parties that instigate these rematches, then say that. If you believe that local party leaders or party networks continually put these candidates up because they have “paid their dues,” think they have name ID, are well liked, they know or are related to someone in the party, or are the only ones with a pulse they could find then state that point. Dick Hamm, Ben Newell, Floyd Coates, Karen Buyer-Burkhart, etc. These individuals fall into that category of repeat candidates (in potentially winnable districts) that should probably not have been repeat candidates. However, when you subtract from your bottom line of 81 the number of campaigns I listed above, you’re left with 28 logical repeats, of which 8 won. However, to come full circle to my original point that when you base your entire argument on candidates that lose successive generals, that leaves only 20 campaigns—8 of which won—for a 40% winning percentage.

  4. We will have additional posts on this topic over the next few days with some new and more detailed analysis that continues to prove our theory. The bottom line of the argument – repeat candidates do not perform well the second time around unless there is something significantly different proves to be a very strong case. The only candidate who fits this description is Bruce Borders. All of the other repeat candidates who have won have a strong case that something (defined in original post) was different in their second attempt.

    No matter how you want to slice and dice the numbers, there is only one example over the last ten years and 81 repeat candidates that have gotten the job done. No matter how we parse down the larger set of 81, the original theory proves accurate. Counting any of the seven candidates that have won with something significantly different is attempting to count anomalies as normal when the norm clearly shows that repeat candidates are poor performers.