Being in the House is miserable. Some former members still want to come back.


Members of Congress are leaving in droves. But some former legislators think the grass is still greener in Washington.

A handful of former members of Congress have launched House bids this cycle. For some, it’s been just a couple of years since they were last elected. And for others, it’s been decades. But regardless of the last time they’ve held federal office, should they win, they’ll be entering a Congress that is very different from their previous terms.

Their campaigns come during some trying times in the House. It’s been one of the least productive sessions of Congress ever. The speaker could be ousted — again. Dozens of members aren’t running for reelection, and some are ending their terms early because of the lower chamber’s dysfunction. Even senior staffers are thinking about giving up on Congress.

“I arrive at this moment with an awareness of the urgency of being in Congress to be able to help my colleagues find the commonalities and be able to reunite our country,” said former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat-turned-independent who’s looking to run against Republican Rep. Max Miller in Ohio’s 7th District. “Now, does this sound like an ambitious undertaking? Of course, but one must be aware that governance itself is such and that we have to reimagine our country.”

While Kucinich’s path back as an independent is murky, there is at least one former representative who will assuredly return next year: Democrat Gil Cisneros. He narrowly lost his reelection bid to now-Republican Rep. Young Kim in a battleground district in 2020, and will now be facing off against a repeat Republican candidate in deep-blue CA-31.

Other previous members of Congress are also expected to coast to a win in November — as long as they get past their crowded primaries. Marlin Stutzman — who represented Indiana’s 3rd District from 2010 to 2017, until he unsuccessfully ran for Senate — is taking on seven other Republicans next month to succeed outgoing Republican Rep. Jim Banks. But it’s a deep red seat, so the winner of the primary will likely be victorious come the fall. On the other end of the state, former Republican Rep. John Hostettler faces a similarly busy primary field to fill retiring Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon’s seat in the safe GOP 8th District. Hostettler represented the district for over a decade, from 1995 to 2007.

A similar dynamic is at play in Arizona’s 8th District, a ruby red seat that will be open as Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko leaves to run to be on Maricopa County’s board of supervisors. Former Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned in 2017 after female staffers said he approached them about being a surrogate for him and his wife, is up against six other Republicans in the primary.

The same goes for former Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican who represented the state’s then-at-large congressional district from 2001 to 2013. Rehberg, who lost a Senate campaign to Democrat Jon Tester in 2012, is trying to get back to D.C. with a bid in the 2nd District, a safe Republican seat held by outgoing Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale.

“I’m not unused to controversy, or disruption, or anything like that,” Rehberg said in February, before he formally announced his bid, referring to the fast food restaurants he operated during the pandemic. “I just want to be helpful in any way I possibly can.”

Cleo Fields, a Democratic Louisiana state senator who was in Congress from 1993 to 1997, is currently the favorite for his party’s nod in Louisiana’s 6th District, a newly drawn majority-Black seat that favors Democrats. But the field can change — there are still three months until the filing deadline. And in Wisconsin’s 1st District, a seat currently held by Republican Rep. Bryan Steil that Donald Trump would have narrowly won in 2020, former Democratic Rep. Peter Barca is considering a run. Barca won a special election in 1993 and narrowly lost in 1994.

Still, the chaos of the House looms over these candidates. Former Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who last month ended his bid for the 6th District to take a job on the Trump campaign, said he made his decision to come back to Congress before Republicans like Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) — people he considers “great members and friends” — decided to call it quits. He wanted to “augment our message into different places and communities.” But that’s harder and harder these days.

“I’m very concerned with the toxicity and the theater,” Walker said. “I do worry about not only where we are today, but currently where we’re trending in the future.”

A version of this story first appeared in POLITICO’S Weekly Score newsletter. Sign up to get it every Monday.



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