Congressional Rematches: Will a Different Environment Change the Outcome?

Facing the same opponent time and again can lead to some heated words. Muhammad Ali promised Joe Frazier before their third fight that he would "embarrass (him) for life."

Rematches in the House of Representatives happen every cycle. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., thought he was going to have to face off against Indiana Republican Mike Sodrel for a fifth time this year (so far he's 3-1), before Sodrel came up short in the primary.

And while the rules of the sport stay the same (get the most votes, win the election), the field of battle can change drastically in two years.

"The dynamic is very different in the last twelve months from where it was last time," says coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics Michael Barone, "It gives people an incentive to say ‘well I couldn't do it last time but this time could be different.'"

Anger over votes on the stimulus, health care, and financial overhaul legislation, coupled with large deficits and high unemployment have led some folks to think that when a rematch goes to the judges' scorecard, they'll come out on top.

Former Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, is trying to reclaim the seat he held in Ohio's 1st congressional district for fourteen years until he lost to Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio, in 2008. The seat is listed as a tossup by most major political prognosticators.

Chabot's campaign manager Jamie Schwartz says Driehaus' incumbency will be what sinks his re-election campaign. "Voters have a better understanding of who Steve Driehaus is," notes Schwartz, "he campaigned as a fiscal conservative. His record has not been." Schwartz says that people in his Cincinnati district are upset that Driehaus voted for the health care bill in 2010 and the stimulus shortly after assuming office.

Driehaus parries those jabs by saying that he has a campaign infrastructure to get past negative attacks. "We have a great operation on the ground and we've got the right message about moving forward versus going back," he replied. Driehaus added that his opponent's service in Congress during the presidency of George W. Bush should only serve to sharpen the focus on his party's message.

"We know how to beat these candidates," says one Democratic strategist, "They've been fired by voters before. They're promoting the same agenda." But Republicans counter that the public has soured on Democrats, and that they are ready to lead again.

"I think people have reached a point where they know a lot of people in office only care about one thing, which is their own reelection," says Keith Fimian, a Republican businessman running against Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. Fimian, who had never run for elective office before challenging Connolly, a former county legislator, says his mistake last time was not playing up his outsider status. "I know how to create jobs," asserts Fimian, "We need people like me who have financial backgrounds and small business backgrounds to clean up this mess."

His opponent says that not much has changed since the last round. "The fundamentals remain in place," asserts Connolly, "I think my opponent is way too extreme for what is a centrist electorate that has almost always eschewed ideologues of the right or left." Connolly thinks a bruising Republican primary fight in his Northern Virginia district forced Fimian to move too far right to capture the base. "He moved significantly to the right to align with the Tea Party, which helped him win his primary, but I think at enormous cost in the general."

It's still unclear whether voters will see the 2008 losers as reruns or fresh voices. But it's clear that there's a growing contingent of folks who think that when the fight is over, they'll be the ones with their gloves in the air this time around.

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