Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez says she was moved to run for Congress in southwest Washington state when she noticed signs that Trump-endorsed Republican Joe Kent was gaining traction in her home district.
“I put my life in a blender," Gluesenkamp Perez told NBC News, adding: "I just didn’t want to be represented by an extremist with a political ideology, and not a personal commitment to our community, our interests."
Now, to keep her seat, she may have to do it again, as Kent is running a rematch campaign for the typically GOP-leaning district in 2024. And they’re not alone: More than a dozen members of Congress from both parties, many of them in battleground districts, are on a collision course with the same opponents they faced in 2022.
Just as the presidency could come down to a repeat matchup, which party controls the House in 2024 may rest on whether voters in key districts stick with their 2022 picks or move in a different direction when confronted with the same congressional candidates.
“It’s gonna be a grudge fight again,” Gluesenkamp Perez said, referring to the race she won in 2022 by less than 1 percentage point. Kent, she added, “has not moderated one iota.”
In interviews with NBC News, members of Congress and repeat challengers running in expected rematches say the issues at the top of voters’ minds are largely the same as in 2022, setting the stage for similar debates two years later.
“The issues are cost of living, abortion, health care access and freedoms. They’re carrying over and are even more important,” said Nebraska state Sen. Tony Vargas, the Democrat headed for a rematch against GOP Rep. Don Bacon in an Omaha-based district.
The same candidates — and the same themes
One issue in particular, Vargas says, was top of mind for voters in 2022 and has gotten stronger since then.
“Last year, obviously Roe v. Wade activated many voters, and this year, the Legislature in Nebraska passed a [12-week] abortion ban … Women are frustrated, they’re mad, they’re angry,” he said.
Ashley Ehasz, who is running again in the Philadelphia suburbs hoping to unseat GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, also emphasized abortion as a repeat issue.
“Voters are just even more aware than they were in ‘22 that [abortion] is an important issue and that it is under attack,” she said.
Former Rep. Mayra Flores, a Republican, agreed that voters are keyed in on the same issues they cared about in 2022, but with more intensity.
“The issues remain the same, with the exception that things have gotten worse,” Flores told NBC News, highlighting inflation and border security as top issues for voters in her old border district in South Texas.
Flores lost her election against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat, by almost 9 points in 2022.
She’d won a special election earlier in the year, but the November general election was held under new congressional maps following redistricting, which made the district more Democratic. Still, she’s hoping to take back the seat, if she can first win a competitive GOP primary in the district.
“People are waking up and realizing that the person that they voted for betrayed them. I don’t blame the voters, they genuinely thought that the person that they were voting in was a person that was going to help them and was going to be able to improve the economy,” Flores said, adding: “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
In Pennsylvania, GOP Rep. Scott Perry agrees that voters are considering the same issues — but, he added, they’ve already made up their minds on who better represents them.
“If it is a rematch,” Perry told NBC News, “I think that voters did resoundingly [pick him] in a pretty even district here in central Pennsylvania" in 2022. And, he continued, "I don’t know that there’s anything that’s been a dramatic change" since then.
Though the Democratic primary in the district still has to play out, Perry could be headed to a rematch against Harrisburg City Council Member Shamaine Daniels, whom Perry bested by almost 8 points in 2022.
Bacon, the Nebraska Republican incumbent, agreed with the sentiment.
“I find that the second time people have already made up their minds the first time, and the challenger tends to do worse,” he told NBC News.
There are two major differences in 2024: the presidential race topping the ticket, and a uniquely dysfunctional session in Congress leading up to the election year. For the most part, though, the incumbents and challengers dismissed the idea that a presidential race will significantly impact their campaigns, other than increasing voter turnout.
“I don’t latch myself to the top of the ticket,” said Bacon, whose district backed President Joe Biden over Donald Trump by nearly 7 points in 2020. “Where I agree, I agree; where I disagree, I will.”
“Whatever happens at the presidential level, we believe that this is going to be a very, very close, very competitive [congressional] election,” said former Iowa state Rep. Christina Bohannan, a Democrat running for a second time in southeast Iowa, where she’s hoping to unseat Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
Bohannan said the chaos in the House this year — including a prolonged fight to find a speaker in January and then the prolonged saga over removing and replacing Speaker Kevin McCarthy in September — is resonating in her community, marking a difference from 2022.
“The thing that is different in this cycle is that people are really seeing that the U.S. House is dysfunctional, that it is failing to take even the most basic measures to protect working families. And my opponent is a big part of that,” Bohannan told NBC News.
Vargas echoed Bohannan, saying, “Seeing the dysfunction being led by the Republican leadership … makes people want to vote differently.”
Voting records are fodder for new attacks
In many of 2024’s expected rematches, challengers are running against first-term members of Congress in competitive seats. In these districts, they’re watching every House vote.
“It’s harder in a lot of respects to run against an incumbent,” New York Democrat Josh Riley told NBC News. He’s running again versus first-term GOP Rep. Marc Molinaro, who beat him in 2022 by less than 2 points.
“What’s different here, though, is that now the incumbent I’m running against has a really, really bad voting record in Congress,” Riley continued.
On the other side of the aisle, former GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell is making the same case against Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez, who beat her by less than 1 point in southern New Mexico last year.
“I think really the biggest difference is Gabe’s voting record,” Herrell told NBC News, adding: “When you’re voting, you know, 95% of the time or more with Nancy Pelosi, and Hakeem Jeffries, you know — people are not lost on what’s being voted on in Washington, D.C. And so I think that’s going to play a huge role in this in this upcoming election.”
Riley and Herrell both accused their opponents of voting against what they campaigned on, as did Will Rollins, a Democrat running for a second time against GOP Rep. Ken Calvert in California.
“One opportunity we have as second-time candidates is to talk about the promises that they broke in the midterms,” Rollins told NBC News.
The incumbents who spoke to NBC News, whether in their first term or their fourth term, echoed the importance of running on their records, especially in swing districts.
“I’m going to have to run as Don Bacon and run on my own record,” Bacon said. “I’m known as one of the independent Republicans there and that’s — I think that’s what this district wants, but it will be a tough race.”
Gluesenkamp Perez said the same about her race. During the interview, she noted that she decided to run for Congress after being disturbed to see Kent gaining traction in her area.
“I know my neighbors. I know who traditionally has what yard signs up. And yeah, I saw people that should have had the incumbent’s signs up instead had Joe Kent’s signs up, and so I started watching his YouTube videos and was completely freaked out by what I saw,” Gluesenkamp Perez told NBC News.
Though the district leans conservative, it was ultimately willing to elect a Democrat over Kent. Since then, Gluesenkamp Perez said, she has had to “demonstrate that I was very serious about being an independent voice for my community. And I have a voting record now that reflects that and, you know, I’ve taken the tough stances against my party when I need to.”
Candidates claim voter enthusiasm
Many of next year’s rematches are happening in extremely close districts, ones that were won by just a few percentage points or less in 2022 and are expected to be just as close in 2024.
They are the kind of conditions that spawn hope for repeat challengers, who repeatedly cited enthusiasm on the ground as their incentive for running again.
“[Don Bacon] has been losing ground with everyday people … This explains why, from last year to this year, we have just been getting a record number of volunteers,” Vargas said.
Rollins, who lost his race by less than 5 points and was in Washington for freshman congressional orientation when his race was called against him, said people who didn’t notice his campaign in 2022 are paying attention now.
Even the incumbents cited growing support and enthusiasm.
“[We’ve] also gotten a lot of outreach from folks who have, you know, said that they didn’t vote for me last time, but they’re gonna vote for me this time,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Across the country, Perry emphasized the same point. “Every election is different, but we go out and earn every single vote every time,” he said.
In New York, Riley noted, “The first question I usually get is, ‘What’s going to be different in 2024?’”
“The short answer is we’re going to win at this time.”