A Brief History of Wisconsin US House Rematch Elections
Nearly one in six U.S. House elections in the Badger State since 1848 have been rematches between major party nominees, with challengers successful 19 percent of the time
Long-serving Democratic Congressman Ron Kind (along with most of Wisconsin’s U.S. House delegation) has not yet officially declared he is running for reelection in 2022.
However, Kind’s 2020 3rd CD opponent – Derrick Van Orden – is back on the campaign trail, hoping to avenge his narrow 2.7-point loss from last November.
The outcome of next year’s 3rd CD race will not only depend on whether Kind seeks a 14th term, but how Wisconsin’s congressional district lines are drawn for the next five congresses.
But even if Kind does not suit up to face Van Orden again next year, the odds are good that one of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts will feature a rematch between major party nominees from a recent election cycle.
Since primaries for the office began in Wisconsin in 1906, there has been at least one rematch U.S. House contest in 51 of 58 cycles – all but 1906, 1956, 1982, 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2018.
[Note: For this study, rematch elections were tabulated among major party nominees plus prominent third party nominees who either were elected to the U.S. House (e.g. Progressives, Socialists) or received double-digit support in a race that included two major party candidates on the ballot].
Van Orden might take note, however, that over the last quarter-century, losing nominees getting another chance against their opponent have not had any success. Since 1996, all 18 second- or third-chance attempts by losing Democratic and Republican nominees ended in another loss.
Three of those rematches took place during the 2020 cycle in the 2nd (Republican Peter Theron), 4th (Republican Tim Rogers), and 7th (Democrat Tricia Zunker) CDs against incumbents Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore, and Tom Tiffany respectively.
Overall, nearly one in six U.S. House elections in Wisconsin history has involved a pair of nominees squaring off for another round at the ballot box (120 of 789, or 15.2 percent).
The last successful rematch campaign took place 27 years ago when Republican real estate developer Mark Neumann followed up his 0.6-point special election loss to state Assemblyman Peter Barca in 1993 with a 0.7-point win during the 1994 Republican Revolution.
Neumann is the only losing candidate to be victorious across the 32 rematch U.S. House elections held in Wisconsin from 1976 through 2020.
During the pre-primary era, it was more unusual for the state to see the same major party nominees battle against one another in multiple cycles.
From statehood through 1904, only seven of the 217 U.S. House election held in Wisconsin were rematches (3.2 percent).
That number has increased to 113 of 572 races since primaries for the office commenced in 1906, or nearly one in five elections (19.8 percent).
Overall, challengers seeking a rematch have been successful in winning the U.S. House seat in 23 of 120 instances, or 19.2 percent of the time.
The first U.S. House rematch election took place in the state’s 6th CD in 1876 between former Democratic Assemblyman Gabriel Bouck and Republican U.S. Representative Alanson Kimball.
Kimball won an open seat race against Bouck (running on the Democratic-Reform ticket) in 1874 by just 0.4 points. Democrats renominated Bouck in 1876 and he unseated the freshman legislator with a 7.2-point victory.
Two of the next three losing nominees seeking rematches were also victorious the second time around:
- 1890 (7th CD): Democratic banker Frank Coburn rebounded from his 12.0-point loss against GOP incumbent Ormsby Thomas in 1888 with a 6.6-point victory two years later
- 1892 (1st CD): Republican Henry Cooper narrowly lost the 1890 open seat race to former Beloit City Councilman Clinton Babbitt by 1.0 points but then knocked the freshman legislator out of office in 1894 by 9.8 points en route to his first of 18 nonconsecutive terms
Babbitt and Cooper would meet up for a third time in 1898 with Rep. Cooper cruising to a 26.1-point victory.
To be sure, there have been several pairs of Wisconsinites who have met up in a U.S. House general election for not just a second time but three or more cycles.
During the early 20th Century the Milwaukee-based 5th CD featured the state’s most famous pairing of political rivals – Republican attorney William Stafford and Socialist Victor Berger (running on the Social Democratic ticket until 1916).
Stafford and Berger squared off nine times during a 24-year stretch with Stafford winning the general elections of 1904, 1912 (as the Democratic nominee), 1914, 1916, 1920 (when the seat was vacant), and 1928.
Berger, co-founder of the American Socialist Party, defeated Stafford in 1918 (but was not subsequently seated in the U.S. House), 1922, and 1926.
One major party nominee, Republican John Schafer, faced three different Democratic nominees (all Milwaukee attorneys) at least three times each.
Schafer held his 4th CD seat against Democrat William Kershaw in 1926, 1928, and 1930. He then lost three consecutive elections to Democrat Raymond Cannon in 1932, 1934, and 1936 before winning back his old job in 1938 when Cannon lost his party’s primary to Thaddeus Wasielewski and had to run as an independent. After defeating Wasielewski in the 4th CD in 1938, Schafer lost to him in 1940 and 1942
Other pairs of nominees who ran against each other during at least three cycles include:
- GOP incumbent Henry Cooper defeated Democratic Kenosha attorney Calvin Stewart in the 1st CD in 1904, 1910, 1912, 1914, and 1924 (and both lost to former Kenosha judge Clifford Randall in 1918 when Cooper lost the GOP primary and ran in the general election as an independent)
- Fourth CD Representative William Cary defeated Social Democratic state Senator Winfield Gaylord in 1910, 1914, and 1916 as a Republican and in 1912 as the Democratic nominee
- Democratic Fond du Lac attorney Michael Reilly beat Republican incumbent James Davidson in the 6th CD in 1912 and 1914 but lost his seat back to Davidson in the 1916 rematch
- Progressive Rep. Gardner Withrow held his 3rd CD seat against Democrat Bart McGonigle in 1934 and 1936 but both lost to former Republican state Senator Harry Griswold in 1938
- Republican and former Milwaukee County assistant district attorney Charles Kersten unseated 5th CD Democrat Andrew Biemiller in 1946, lost the seat to Biemiller in 1948, won it back again in 1950, and held it in 1952
- Republican incumbent Glenn Davis held his 2nd CD seat against Democratic Madison attorney Horace Wilkie in 1948, 1950, and 1952
- Republican plastics executive Donald Tewes won the open 2nd CD in 1956 over Democratic justice of the peace Bob Kastenmeier but subsequently lost the followup 1958 and 1960 rematches
- Eighth CD Republican Congressman John Byrnes defeated Democratic Shiocton dairy farmer Milo Singler in 1956, 1958, and 1960
- In a trio of very competitive elections all decided by three points or less, Democratic state Senator Lynn Stalbaum unseated 1st CD Rep. Henry Schadeberg in 1964 with Schadeberg winning the 1966 and 1968 rematches
- Republican state Assemblyman Harold Froelich won the open 8th CD race of 1972 against Democratic priest and college professor Robert Cornell with Cornell winning the 1974 rematch and holding the seat in 1976 – all single-digit affairs
- Democratic incumbent Jerry Kleczka held his 4th CD seat against Republican Sturgeon Bay attorney Tom Reynolds in 1994, 1996, and 1998
- Likewise, 7th CD Rep. David Obey was reelected in three consecutive cycles against Republican and UW-Stevens Point director of corporate relations Scott West in 1994, 1996, and 1998
- 1st CD incumbent Paul Ryan never came within 25 points of losing his seat to Democratic orthopedic surgeon Jeff Thomas of Janesville but that didn’t stop the challenger from launching four campaigns against him in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006
- Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore held her 4th CD seat by more than three-dozen points against Republican nominee and Milwaukee small business owner Dan Sebring in 2010, 2012, and 2014
- Democratic congressman Mark Pocan also defeated Republican math teacher Peter Theron of Madison by more than 35 points in 2014, 2016, and 2020
The cycles with the largest number of U.S. House rematch elections in Wisconsin history are 1916 and 1938 with five each.
Four districts featured rematches during the Elections of 1914, 1928, 1942, 1950, 1958, 1960, and 1980.
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Great information, thank you! It would be a very good fit for my research paper about US House Rematch Elections.