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.