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.  Continue reading

Heaton, Truitt Falling Behind Late

Chamber-endorsed State House candidates Bob Heaton (R – HD46) and Randy Truitt (R – HD26) have fallen behind with few precincts yet to report. Michael Davis adds that Truitt had been strong during the campaign, but polling showed him trending down in the past two weeks leading up to the election.

"I think students (at Purdue) are a big part of that," Davis said. "I think this year we’ve seen the top of the ticket (Obama) having more impact on key house races than in the past. Usually, these races are more local."

Tight House Races to Highlight Evening

During the first analysis of the evening featuring Indiana Chamber political affairs director Michael Davis and Hoosier Access’ Josh Gillespie, Davis discussed several of the many key House races in this election.

He stressed the Chamber’s excitement that there are several small business owners up for election this year, labelling Randy Truitt (R), who’s vying for a seat in HD26, as "one of the best candidates we’ve come across." Davis explained Truitt’s race against John Polles (D) will be hotly contested, especially considering the college turnout on Purdue’s campus.

Davis also mentioned Mark Messmer in HD63 as a potential Republican pick-up. Messmer is battling John Burger (D) for the open seat.

Bob Heaton (R), former ISU hoops teammate of Larry Bird’s, is also in a tight contest against incumbent Vern Tincher (D) in HD46 in the Terre Haute area. The Chamber’s PAC (Indiana Business for Responsive Government) has been on the ground working to get Heaton elected.