If at first you don't succeed, obsessively analyze your failure, sell the results online for three dollars, and then try, try again.
That appears to be the life guide of Paul Chabot, who, within days of losing his 2014 House election to now-Rep. Pete Aguilar, began a meticulous campaign postmortem. The California Republican's political autopsy eventually grew so exhaustive that it became a published e-book on what went wrong. The 40-page report is a free download on Chabot's website and, as of Wednesday, can be found on sale online for $2.99.
At that price, it's clear Chabot isn't in it for the money. He had his staff compile the report—he said it took them about a week—because he's running again, and he hopes to learn from his mistakes. At a time when most House challengers have yet to declare their intentions, Chabot already is in full swing: He announced in mid-February and is courting party officials in the hopes of getting more help this time around.
For a losing candidate to attempt to sell a guide to victory is idiosyncratic, as is the refusal to take time off after an intense campaign and painful loss, but both actions reflect an approach that has carried Chabot from the early, dark days of his life.
Chabot says he entered a rehab center at only 12 years old, a bid to recover from an alcohol and marijuana addiction that began after his parents divorced and his family lost their house. It worked: He completed his treatment and redirected his focus, and by the end of high school, he says, he was prom king, class president, and a youth cadet in a sheriff explorer program. "I think my resiliency characteristic came from then. I never relapsed."
Chabot, now 40, solidified his grit in the military, serving in the Iraq War as a reserve military intelligence officer for the Office of Naval Intelligence and Defense Intelligence Agency. When he returned in 2008, he wrote his own analysis of how to combat terrorism; a move not dissimilar to his post-loss autopsy. Chabot says he's fascinated by stories of resilience—"how people in organizations survive in difficult, turbulent times without failure," he explains—and he has penned several books on the subject.
So how does Chabot explain his 2014 loss? Chabot claims he could have won if the National Republican Congressional Committee invested in his race. Without the support from its "Young Gun" program that elevates swing district candidates, he said donors followed suit and focused on other key races. Chabot raised nearly $470,000 compared to Aguilar's $2.2 million. (Aguilar's office declined to comment on Chabot's analysis or the 2016 rematch.)
Yet Chabot says he's not above reproach for his campaign: He admitted that he relied too heavily on the expectation of NRCC funding and now must exercise his own fundraising muscle before he gets support—and a coveted spot in the program—from the national party and other donors. He's making daily calls to potential donors and strengthening his name recognition among voters, and he has already met with George Nassar, the NRCC's new west regional director.
Chabot's loss was stinging: He placed first in California's non-partisan, top-two open primary with a 10-point lead, while Aguilar endured a grueling intra-Democratic competition with three other Democrats and barely snuck into the general. But then, Aguilar's campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee churned out a slew of negative attack ads against Chabot and embarked on a fundraising spree.
The wide margin Chabot established in the primary fizzled out weeks before the election—he says he lacked the funding to get his message out—and he lost by less than 3 percentage points.
This time around, Chabot may have a head start, but he'll also face new challenges: The next time he's on the ballot, he'll share it with presidential candidates. And in recent cycles, presidential elections have meant much higher turnout among Latinos, a key part of Aguilar's coalition.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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