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The 9 Biggest Candidate Flameouts

Walsh will not run for re-election to a full term. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Walsh will not run for re-election to a full term. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Meet the cycle’s biggest candidate disappointments.  

They are the congressional hopefuls who just didn’t live up to their hype. Once touted as top recruits, these House and Senate candidates are headed for defeat on Election Day in all likelihood. Some of these candidates tanked so early in the cycle, their races never got off the ground.  

The reasons for their declines vary — from poor fundraising and stalking allegations to plagiarism and missteps on the trail. Whatever the reason, don’t expect to see these faces when the 114th Congress is sworn into office next year.  

To be sure, there are a few more candidates who could have easily made this list, but they’ve been boosted by districts or states that favor their parties, as well as outside spending keeping them afloat. The prime example is Arizona Speaker Andy Tobin, a poor fundraiser who barely won his August primary but is nonetheless in a strong position to challenge Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the 1st District, which slightly favors the GOP.  

In alphabetical order, here are the rest of the 2014 cycle’s most disappointing candidates:  

Erin Bilbray, Democrat, Nevada’s 3rd District President Barack Obama narrowly won GOP Rep. Joe Heck’s district last cycle, making him a top target for Democrats in 2014. At the start of the cycle, Democrats touted Bilbray, a Democratic National Committeewoman from Nevada and the daughter of a former congressman, as a candidate who could oust Heck.  

But Bilbray’s bid went almost nowhere this cycle.  

When the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced its planned spending for the midterms earlier this year, this district was noticeably absent  from the list. And as the committee shifts resources to play defense on the map this month, it’s unlikely that will change before Election Day.  

Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call Rating: Favored Republican
Ann Callis, Democrat, Illinois’ 13th District
Democrats rolled out the red carpet to recruit Callis to run in this down-state district — even bringing her to Washington, D.C. , for Obama’s 2012 inaugural festivities. Democrats deemed Callis as their best recruit to take out Rep. Rodney Davis, a freshman Republican who won this swing seat in 2012 by less than 1 point.  

But for all of her hype, Callis’s campaign never got much traction.  

With a month to go before Election Day, Davis leads by double digits in his polling , and national Democrats have all but conceded the race, pulling their television advertising dollars reserved for the district.  

Rating: Favored Republican
Sean Eldridge, Democrat, New York’s 19th District One of 17 Republicans representing districts Obama carried in 2012, GOP Rep. Chris Gibson started the cycle as a top Democratic target. Democrats were hopeful Eldridge — the wealthy husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes — could mount a serious challenge.  

But Eldridge stumbled right out the gate with a New York Times profile that made him look out of touch in this largely blue-collar district, nestled in the far-reaching New York City suburbs and stretching into the Catskill mountains. As a result, Republicans nicknamed him “$ean Eldridge” — a moniker that’s stuck with him throughout the campaign.  

Eldridge’s bid never really recovered, and the DCCC never reserved television airtime here to change that.  

Rating: Leans Republican
Marjorie Margolies, Democrat, Pennsylvania’s 13th District
Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz’s gubernatorial bid in the Keystone State opened her suburban Philadelphia district for the first time in a decade. A crowded field of Democratic hopefuls lined up to succeed her.  

Former Rep. Marjorie Margolies was among them. She had familiarity with voters thanks to her famous one term in Congress, during which she cast the deciding vote for President Bill Clinton’s budget  in 1993. Her ties to the Clinton dynasty as Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law gave her a large initial lead in polls .  

Democratic operatives said Margolies ran her campaign from the bunker , planning to ride her well-known name to victory. All the while, her opponents attacked her on the trail.  

By the May 20 primary, Margolies was no longer the front-runner . She ultimately came in second place in the primary to state Rep. Brendan Boyle, losing the nod by a 14-point margin .  

Rating: Safe Democrat
Brian Nestande, Republican, California’s 36th District
A state assemblyman and former top aide to ex-Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., national Republicans pushed Nestande as a Republican with the connections to win this competitive district in Palm Springs.  

But Nestande never raised the money needed to make this a competitive race, even receiving public admonition from National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden for his lackluster fundraising.  

And his opponent, freshman Rep. Raul Ruiz, skillfully walked the line in his first term in office as a middle-of-the-road Democrat with appeal to voters from both parties. Two heroic acts of saving constituents on flights back to his district didn’t hurt Ruiz, either.  

Rating: Favored Democratic
Bryan Smith, Republican, Idaho’s 2nd District
The Club for Growth launched its “Primary My Congressman” project this cycle, looking to oust a House incumbent in favor of a more conservative alternative.  

Smith was its first — and only — recruit in the initiative. The club touted the attorney as the guy to take out longtime GOP Rep. Mike Simpson, an ally to Speaker John A. Boehner. It spent nearly $500,000 on the effort.  

Yet a number of groups came to Simpson’s aid , including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Simpson went on to crush Smith in the May 20 primary , defeating him by a 24-point margin .  

Rating: Safe Republican
Mead Treadwell, Republican, Alaska Senate
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announced a challenge to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich more than a year before the Last Frontier’s Aug. 19 primary. He started the race as the top Republican in the primary, and the national GOP initially viewed him as an attractive candidate to take on Begich.  

But Treadwell struggled with fundraising from the start, raising just $345,000 in his first quarter as a candidate — a haul more reminiscent of a top House candidate than anyone running statewide. His support eventually crumbled as Republicans lined up behind ret. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dan Sullivan, the state’s former commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources who entered the contest last October .  

Sullivan proved to be an adept fundraiser, and soon became the easy favorite of national Republicans.  

On primary night, Treadwell came in a distant third , 7 points behind Joe Miller, the tea party Republican who fell to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in bid in 2010.  

Rating: Tilts Republican
Sen. John Walsh, Democrat, Montana Senate
Democrats hoped Walsh’s appointment to the Senate would give the party a better shot at holding on to this crucial Senate seat this fall. It came open when former Sen. Max Baucus announced his retirement and later was appointed U.S. Ambassador to China.  

But soon after Walsh’s tenure in the Senate began, The New York Times found the senator had plagiarized large parts of his final paper when he was studying for a master’s degree at the United States Army War College.  

Soon after, Walsh announced he wouldn’t run for a full term in the Senate, giving Republicans an all-but-certain seat to pick up in November.  

Rating: Safe Republican
Monica Wehby, Republican, Oregon Senate
Wehby always had an uphill battle to unseat Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley in Oregon. But Republicans initially touted the pediatric neurosurgeon as a candidate who could give the first-term senator a serious challenge in November.  

But right before Oregon’s May 20 primary, reports surfaced that Wehby was accused of stalking an ex-boyfriend last year .  

After that, a BuzzFeed report found two separate instances of apparent plagiarism on Wehby’s campaign website. Wehby’s campaign attempted to pin the plagiarism on a former staffer, who went on to deny the allegations .  

The bad press leaves Wehby without any help from national Republicans, and she looks poised for defeat on Nov. 4.  

Rating: Favored Democratic
Clarification 6:54 p.m. An earlier version of this story gave Jan. 3 as the swearing-in date. That is the constitutionally set date, but it is unclear as of now when new members will be sworn-in.  

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