2022 Vote Above Replacement: House Challengers Running Again in 2024

by Bradley Wascher January 26, 2024 · 2:27 PM EST

There’s no shame in finishing second, because Congress is filled with losers.

In 2020, Republican Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna failed to unseat Democratic then-Rep. Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th District. Two years later, Luna, now without worry of Crist, who was running for governor, found herself in a redistricted version of the 13th that was much more favorable for Republicans. Riding high off endorsements from former President Donald Trump and other national MAGA figures, Luna was elected to Congress — on her second try — by a breezy 8 points.

Every year there are candidates who run again after losing, and 2024 will be no different. Across the 74 House seats currently rated as competitive by Inside Elections (i.e. those rated as Toss-up, Tilt, Lean, or Likely in favor of either party), the losing candidate in the 2022 general election is running again in 28 districts. In 21 of those races, the incumbent is also seeking re-election this November — setting the stage for many potential rematches.

But who among these back-to-backers overperformed despite their loss and has the best chance of winning this time around? To assess candidate quality ahead of 2024 for those who also ran in 2022, we can use Vote Above Replacement, or VAR. VAR measures the strength of a congressional candidate relative to a typical candidate from their party within the same district. That initial benchmark is derived using Inside ElectionsBaseline, which captures a congressional district’s political performance by combining all federal and state election results over the past four election cycles into a single score. VAR is simply the difference between a candidate’s share of the vote and their party’s Baseline. A higher VAR indicates a strong performance relative to expectations.

Across the 28 House nominees who lost a battleground race in 2022 and are running again in 2024, the average candidate finished with a -1 VAR. It makes sense that their overall performance was negative; these candidates did lose, after all. But maybe more surprising is that the returners’ average VAR is no better than that of the non-returners (average VAR: -0.8).

This can be explained intuitively by each district’s competitiveness. In the 12 races currently rated as Toss-ups, seven losers from 2022 are returning in 2024 (average VAR: -0.8). By contrast, the five 2022 losers who are not running again underperformed to a much larger extent (average VAR: -3.5). In these hotly contested races, it makes sense for a party to retain strong candidates and prune weak ones: a few narrow losers might have actually won in a more favorable environment, plus in some districts it can be hard to find a replacement candidate of similar caliber.

But some are returning with a chip on their shoulder. In two potential House rematches this November, the challenger is a former member who lost their seat and is looking to take it back. Former Republican Reps. Yvette Herrell (VAR: 3.6) and Mayra Flores (VAR: 6.3) are running in New Mexico’s 2nd District and Texas’ 34th District, respectively. But their paths back to the House look very different. Herrell, who is no stranger to close races, will face Democratic Rep. Gabe Vazquez (VAR: -1.6) after losing to him in 2022 by less than a point; this race is rated as a Toss-up. Meanwhile Flores, despite boasting the highest VAR of any repeat challenger in 2024, would be up against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who finished with a -6.6 VAR and still won by 9 points in this Likely Democratic seat that was shored up for Democrats in redistricting.

Flores is one of only six losers in a Likely Democratic or Likely Republican district (out of 25  total) running again this year. That’s a far cry from the 7-in-12 candidates who are trying again in Toss-up races — although it’s hard to blame someone who doesn't want to run it back after losing by double digits.

But for others, persistence is ironic. Educator Phyllis Harvey-Hall was the Democratic nominee for Alabama’s 2nd District in 2020 and 2022, losing in the general election both times by over 30 points against GOP Rep. Barry Moore. Now, following court-ordered redistricting, the 2nd has been made over to favor Democrats, pushing Moore (VAR: 4.2) to a precarious primary in the neighboring 1st District. Yet the patient Harvey-Hall (VAR: -5.4) is unlikely to earn her party’s nomination a third time: the 2nd is set to host a crowded Democratic primary in March, with the winner well-positioned for Congress.

Additional clues about each party’s strengths and weaknesses can be found in the Tilt and Lean districts, where 11 Democrats and four Republicans are shooting their shots again in 2024.

Across the 16 seats in our Tilt Democratic and Tilt Republican columns, the 2022 loser is running again in seven races this year. Among this failed cohort, both parties fared about equally: the five Democratic returners recorded an average -1 VAR, compared to the average -0.9 VAR logged by the two unsuccessful GOP nominees. The only two losers to finish in the green here — Adam Frisch in Colorado’s 3rd District (VAR: 4.2) and Kirsten Engel in Arizona’s 6th District (VAR: 0.2) — were both Democrats.

The picture was similarly hazy in our 20 Lean races, where eight 2022 challengers are running again. The winners in this group include formidable members like Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska’s 2nd District (VAR: 2.5), whose 2022 challenger, state Sen. Tony Vargas, earned a -0.5 VAR. Vargas is trying again in 2024, alongside five other Democratic losers (average VAR: -1.1).

But the biggest underperformer of all is also in this bucket. J.R. Majewski, the 2022 Republican nominee in Ohio’s 9th District, finished with a -7.5 VAR, the lowest score of any challenger seeking another chance in 2024. Last cycle Majewski, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and had promoted QAnon conspiracy theories, was all but abandoned by outside Republicans after news broke that he had misrepresented his military service — alley-ooping a 21st term to Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur (VAR: 9.2). Suffice to say, in any potential 2024 rematch Majewski will have to overcome a lot more than just his opponent’s juggernaut status.