A bevy of future members of Congress are in Washington to get the lay of the land before their January swearing-in—along with a few hopefuls who may never actually make it into office.
A trio of Republican House candidates showed up for new member orientation with races still too close to call. They say it's important that they're prepared to serve, even if they end up not getting that opportunity.
"I've just been enjoying my time down here and learning the process to make sure that I'll be a great representative for the district," said Johnny Tacherra, leaving a Friday meeting of House Republicans. At last count, Tacherra trailed Rep. Jim Costa by a handful of votes in California's 16th District, with a few thousand left to be tallied.
"I'm very optimistic and excited to be a part of the system," he said. "It's been very eye-opening and very humbling. Win or lose, I plan on staying in this and working hard for my district and doing the best I can."
For a candidate whose chances of a stunning upset rest on a razor-thin margin, Tacherra seemed more overwhelmed by the orientation process than the remaining ballot count. He said he only really gets a chance to monitor the race when his busy schedule eases up in the evening.
Arizona's Martha McSally has already been to one freshman orientation. In 2012, she joined new House members as her race went down to the wire, then went back to Arizona as Rep. Ron Barber held on. Their rematch this cycle is headed to a recount, and McSally is once again preparing to join the lower chamber as her job hangs in the balance.
"There's not a lot of time left" before the new session of Congress, said a source on the McSally campaign, emphasizing her need to prepare, regardless of the outcome. "There's a lot of important issues ahead of us. She can't waste time sitting around. "¦ She needs to hit the ground running and make sure that she's not behind."
Her campaign has already declared victory, even though her 161-vote lead triggered a recount process that won't start until December. "We are confident. We expect similar results," said the McSally staffer.
Meanwhile, former Rep. Doug Ose trails by a few hundred votes, but it could be a week before the remaining ballots are counted in his race with Rep. Ami Bera of California. "Well, I don't think anyone is waiting around; I am sure Congressman Bera's not. I'm not," Ose told Capital Public Radio. He is holding off on looking for staff until results are made official.
Of course, those three aren't the only candidates whose fates are yet to be decided. In Louisiana, the Senate race and a pair of House races have come down to a December runoff. Rep. Bill Cassidy is already familiar with Capitol Hill in his capacity as a House member, but his office said he's not taking part in Senate orientation as he awaits his election against Sen. Mary Landrieu.
In the state's 5th and 6th districts, the Republican candidates are heavily favored in their runoffs against Democratic "jungle primary" winners.
"We have not participated at all in the orientation," said Luke Letlow, spokesman for 5th District candidate Ralph Abraham. "We can't put the cart before the horse." Letlow said Abraham was invited to orientation, but "you gotta get there first. Once we get there, we can do what we need to do on an abbreviated basis."
6th District favorite Garret Graves will also not be attending orientation. "We are focused on connecting with voters for the runoff, and Garret is planning to play catch-up" if he gets to Washington, said campaign manager Kevin Roig. "He is back home and has a full schedule in Louisiana today through December 6th." Graves did make a D.C. trip for meetings and a fundraiser earlier this week.
Candidates in too-close-to-call races were still allowed to vote in the GOP's leadership elections, said Nate Hodson, a spokesman for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. House Democrats will similarly allow their members in those tight contests to vote in party elections Tuesday.