2010 Democratic Losers Plot 2012 Comeback -- Can Dems Regain the House?

Former lawmakers are already plotting a comeback next year.

April 15, 2011, 4:46 PM

April 18, 2011— -- Democratic lawmakers who lost their seats in the 2010 midterm elections are already plotting a comeback next year in an election that they hope will reverse Republican gains.

Even though the election is still more than a year away, former lawmakers aren't bashful about their 2012 ambitions.

Carol Shea Porter, former congresswoman from New Hampshire, became the latest in the line of former lawmakers to announce last week she would seek back her lost seat. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona had already announced her intention to do the same. And a host of other former representatives, such as Bill Foster of Illinois and Frank Kratovil of Maryland, may do the same.

"We're seeing a lot of candidates who believe that they can tweak one aspect of their campaign strategy and produce a different result," said David Wasserman, a House analyst for the Cook Political Report. "On the Democratic side, the hope is that the environment is a lot better in 2012 than it is in 2010."

It's not unusual for the losing party to plan a comeback after a wave election, but the new Congress is barely under way and Republicans have yet to make any major policy move that will seal their fate.

Democrats do have the advantage of 2012 being a year of a presidential election and one that political analysts predict will keep President Obama in the White House. In such states as Illinois and Maryland, redistricting may also help open up opportunities for them. But overall, it's unlikely to change the landscape significantly for Democrats, observers say.

As was the case in 2008, the election is not expected to bring back new and young voters that helped get many Democrats elected. And the Tea Party's momentum and influence is expected to continue, if not grow stronger.

"I think the Tea Party movement, even though it gets disparaged ... will be around two years from now, like they were this past year, and I think it will be an important positive factor for conservatives running," Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who lost his House seat in 2008 but regained it in 2010, told ABC News. "It'll be a presidential election. There's always high interest, but I think this next time I expect it to be very different from 2008 when I wasn't able to hold the seat."

Though redistricting is not expected to be as huge of a bonanza for the GOP as had been predicted when Republicans swept into power in numerous state legislatures, it is expected to give them a slight edge.

It will make it harder for Democrats to target Republicans such as Chabot, who is expected to gain more suburban voters who lean mostly right.

"Democrats are very hopeful, but I still think it's going to be very difficult for Democrats to reclaim the House," Wasserman said. "We've gone through this very volatile period where the average seat change in the last three elections was 38 seats, and it makes Democrats' task of picking up 25 look deceptionally easy. [But] it's very difficult, especially when redistricting is likely to narrow the fielding plain."

The political environment during the last three elections has oscillated between two extremes.

In 2006, discontent with President Bush and a spiraling economy swept Democrats to power in both chambers of Congress, and in many state legislatures.

That momentum continued into 2008, when Obama's grassroots campaign brought a surge of independent voters and young Americans into the fray, helping keep Democrats buoyed and pushing out longtime Republican incumbents such as Chabot and Charlie Bass of New Hampshire.

Former Democratic Lawmakers Eyeing 2012 Landscape

But that trend shifted quickly in 2010, when growing discontent over the economy and rising budget deficit paved the way for the Tea Party movement's entrance into mainstream politics.

The changing electorate helped sweep Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives and in a record number of state legislatures throughout the country.

"2010 had just as much to do with the changing makeup of the electorate as it had to do with people's changing opinions," Wasserman said.

The political environment in the next election, experts say, is expected to fall between the last three elections. Democrats have jumped on the bandwagon early in the game hoping to stake their claim in what will likely be a crowded field of candidates.

Even though the new Congress is only four months into the session, Democratic planners are already seizing on Republican budget proposals to use as bait for 2012.

"All we have to do is use the ad Republicans used against Democrats," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Steve Israel said on "Top Line" Friday. "They ran these ads saying I'm going to come to Washington to protect Medicare, and we're going to remind the American people they lied about us, all we have to do is tell the truth about them. ... All we have to do is tell the truth and we'll win the House back."

That could be a challenging task for Democrats, as they not only have to deal with incumbents but also those who lost narrowly to Democrats and are plotting their own comebacks, such as Ilario Pantano in North Carolina and Randy Altschuler in New York.

"I don't think it will be quite the wave election at the congressional level that it was in the last three cycles," Chabot said. "I don't anticipate that you're going to see as big of a wave in one direction or another but it's really impossible to predict. We're just trying to do as well a job here in Congress as we can."

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