When Orientation Is a ‘Miserable Experience’

by Nathan L. Gonzales November 30, 2016 · 11:08 AM EST

It might sound like fun for Republican Scott Jones and Democrat Doug Applegate to come to Washington and attend new member orientation even though they were trailing in their respective California congressional races.

But one Colorado Democrat still remembers being in that same situation over a dozen years ago, and it wasn’t good.

“It was a miserable experience,” recalled Mike Feeley. “I was down on Election Day by 346 votes with 2,500 left to be counted.”

The year was 2002, and he trailed Republican Bob Beauprez in the newly drawn 7th District.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to win,” Feeley added.

But nevertheless, he trekked to the nation’s capitol for orientation, where he found consistent reminders of his impending loss.

“They would ask, ‘Would you like to look at your office?’ No. ‘Would you like to get a computer?’ No,” Feeley remembered. And when House leadership scheduled a candlelit tour of the Capitol, he thought it would be too depressing, so Feeley went to watch Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.

“I couldn’t bear it,” Feeley said. “I went by myself.”

After five weeks of uncertainty, Beauprez was declared the victor by 121 votes and Feeley never served in Congress. (He’s now an attorney at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP in Denver.)

This year, Jones trailed Democratic Rep. Ami Bera by a little more than a percentage point in the 7th District race that had not been called by The Associated Press before orientation began. But party strategists on both sides of the aisle expected Bera to prevail.

“It’s just going to depend on whether the votes fall more like voting day, or more like early absentees,” Jones told CQ Roll Call’s Tom Curry on on the first day. “Believe me, no one wants to know more than me.”

Bera is no stranger to the situation, considering he attended orientation in 2012, even though his successful challenge to GOP Rep. Dan Lungren wasn’t yet official.

Meanwhile, in the state’s 49th District, Applegate trailed Republican incumbent Darrell Issa by nearly 2 points in the uncalled race. Party strategists also expected Applegate to fall short. The race was recently called for Issa and Applegate promptly announced his re-match effort.

Feeley’s orientation attendance was not just a miserable exercise for the candidate, it had consequences for the Democratic Party. Feeley was allowed to vote in the party’s reorganization elections and cast a ballot for Robert Menendez for caucus chairman in a race the New Jersey congressman won 104-103 over Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

“I think that’s the last time they let someone who hadn’t been elected vote,” Feeley joked.

Just in case there is any temptation, Democrats delayed potentially contentious leadership elections until today, which should help the party avoid a similar scenario.