The benefits of running a repeat candidate, especially if they're former incumbents, are obvious: These are people who know how to raise money, put together a campaign operation, and campaign statewide. Plus, these candidates would be facing a very different electorate than the one that gave Republicans big victories this fall—a presidential electorate, with the kind of national turnout operation that has helped elevate Democratic down-ballot candidates as well.
For candidates like Hagan and Begich, both of whom ended Election Day losing close races while running strong campaigns, the argument that their losses were due to the wave environment and not their own performance would be a persuasive one.
"It's totally doable. The truth is anyone can do it, particularly when your party takes a shellacking like we did," said Democratic consultant Jef Pollock. "Almost anyone's race can be explained away by the national mood."
And in many of these states, the across-the-board bad news for Democrats this year means there's far less of a bench than there could have been—meaning there aren't that many alternatives in many key states, if the former officeholders decide not to run.
North Carolina Democratic consultant Thomas Mills said that Democrats have few other high-profile options for the race against Burr next cycle. Anthony Foxx, the former Charlotte mayor who now serves in President Obama's Cabinet, has already said he's not planning to run. The state's attorney general, Roy Cooper, is planning to run for governor. Other prospects include state Treasurer Janet Cowell, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, and former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, among others.
"There's nobody really on the horizon.... If [Hagan] decided to make the move, she would be filling a vacuum," Mills said. "There's not anybody who seems to be clamoring to get into the race, and there's not anybody that Democratic activists are begging to get in."
Tom Jensen, who runs the Democratic polling group Public Policy Polling, said an August PPP poll of the 2016 Senate race found that, of the Democrats' other Senate prospects polled, all had name ID lower than 30 percent.
"Democrats just don't have anyone particularly well-known right off the bat, which I think means if Kay wanted to run again ... [Democrats] certainly should let her run," he said.
That's true in Alaska as well, where Begich lost to Sullivan by about 8,000 votes. (The Associated Press called the race Wednesday morning.) Democrats don't have a strong bench of recruits in Alaska, and Begich's allies say a bid against Murkowski in 2016 would certainly be a consideration for the defeated senator. He could also mount a challenge to veteran GOP Rep. Don Young, who won just 52 percent of the vote this year.
"He is already plotting," said Jim Lottsfeldt, the Alaska-based Democratic operative who ran the pro-Begich super PAC Put Alaska First this cycle. "I've spoken with him and he hasn't made up his mind, but if he doesn't prevail he's certainly considering his options in 2016." (Begich's campaign declined to comment on the senator's future plans.)