Rematches Invite ‘Retread’ Label, Familiar Themes

It's a Senate rematch for Toomey, left, and Sestak, right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
It's a Senate rematch for Toomey, left, and Sestak, right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted June 2, 2015 at 11:45am

It’s a good thing neither former Rep. Joe Sestak nor Sen. Patrick J. Toomey has grown a mustache in the past six years.  

That’ll give ad-makers for both campaigns plenty of footage to work with as the two men face off in a rematch of Pennsylvania’s 2010 Senate race.  

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“Every media consultant keeps old footage,” said J.J. Balaban, who made Sestak’s 2010 ads. “The problem that you can have is there is a six-year gap, [and] people can look different.”  

With two of this year’s most vulnerable Senate Republicans facing the Democrats they defeated six years ago, there’s bound to be a whole lot of déjà vu coming to a screen near you.  

As former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold takes on  Sen. Ron Johnson for his old seat, expect more television spots, like Johnson’s 2010 “Listening” ad , which slammed Feingold for supporting the “government takeover of health care.”  

But for Republicans, this year’s Senate rematches are providing an additional, early line of attack — namely that Democrats are running candidates who lost their last elections.  

In Ohio, where former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is challenging Sen. Rob Portman, the Portman campaign has dubbed the perennial candidate “Retread Ted .” The National Republican Senatorial Committee seems to be fond of the “retread” term, using it as a Twitter hashtag to denounce Sestak, too.  

Republicans’ 2010 attack against Feingold as a “career politician” is back, with the NRSC saying in a release, Feingold “simply wants people to call him Senator again.”  But after six years in the Senate, Johnson will no longer be able to say, “I’m not a politician,” as he did in a 2010 TV ad . Johnson unseated the three-term senator by 5 points in a tea party-fueled blowout year for Republicans. The GOP picked up 63 seats in the House, gaining control of the chamber, and six seats in the Senate in 2010.  

Among those six Senate newcomers was Toomey, who defeated Sestak by 2 points.  

A 2010 Pennsylvania Senate debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The scene at a 2010 Pennsylvania Senate debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“To some extent, the shoe is on the other foot now,” Balaban said, now that Toomey — not Sestak — is the one in Washington.  

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin represent some of Democrats’ best opportunities for retaking Senate seats. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates  Pennsylvania as Tilts Republican and Wisconsin as a Tossup.  

Democrats must net five seats to win control of the chamber. Both are states that President Barack Obama carried twice, and with Hillary Rodham Clinton likely topping the Democratic ballot, Republicans will be relying on voters splitting their tickets in these two states.  

Besides it being a presidential year, Democrats are optimistic this cycle will be different. With passage of the Affordable Care Act and the 2009 economic stimulus further away in the rearview mirror and the tea party movement making less noise, they’re banking on next year being a stronger year for Sestak and Feingold.  

“Whether they are newer to politics or have run before, these talented men and women are the best candidates to win their races,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee National Press Secretary Sadie Weiner, speaking about this cycle’s recruits.  

But as The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call’s Nathan L. Gonzales pointed out earlier this year, history is not on Feingold’s side: Since 1913, only one former senator has gone on to serve another term by defeating the senator who unseated him six years before. That was Rhode Island Democrat Peter Gerry  in 1934.  

Two big questions for Feingold are whether he can overcome last cycle’s campaign problems  — namely lackluster ads and a perceived disconnect with independent voters —  and whether he’ll accept super PAC money. Johnson, who has said he won’t self-fund his campaign again, raised $1.3 million during the first quarter and has $1.5 million in the bank.  

As for Sestak, the $312,000 he raised in the first quarter falls well short of the $2 million Pennsylvania’s junior senator, a former president of the Club for Growth,  brought in.  

To take back the Senate, Democrats would also like to put North Carolina and Alaska in play, and their best shots in those states remain two former senators who lost their 2014 re-elections.  

If former Sen. Kay Hagan, who lost to Sen. Thom Tillis by less than 2 points in November, doesn’t challenge Sen. Richard M. Burr, there are a handful of state legislators who could mount a bid.  

But if former Sen. Mark Begich doesn’t run in Alaska, the Democratic bench isn’t very deep. Since losing to Sen. Dan Sullivan by 2 points in November, Begich has started his own consulting firm and is working with a law firm in Washington. He’s left the door open to running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski but told CQ Roll Call recently , “I’m truly enjoying what I’m doing.”  

The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates  North Carolina as Leans Republican and Alaska as Safe Republican.

On the House side, there are three likely rematches and three additional 
possible rematches


The Year of the Rematch

Carol Shea-Porter ‘Ready to Win’ N.H. Seat Back

Joe Sestak Kicks Off Rematch With Pat Toomey

Will Russ Feingold Be Haunted by Campaign Problems Past?

Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016

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