Three Real Primary Dust-ups

Though the government shutdown delayed filing of the candidates’ quarterly disclosure reports with the Federal Election Commission, some of the dollars and cents information has already started flowing into the media. Of all the data being reported, three specific campaigns are noteworthy because challengers to incumbents within their own party are already reporting more money raised and in the bank than for their respective opponent.


The first salvo has been fired in Michigan in attorney David Trott’s (R) challenge to freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R), and it is a serious blow. According to published reports, the challenger is going to post raising over $648,000, including a substantial contribution from himself – although the exact amount was not released – with $452,000 cash-on-hand. Bentivolio had a very poor second quarter, raising only $39,000, and reporting approximately $59,000 in his campaign account. We will soon see the extent of his third quarter take.

Rep. Bentivolio is often described as an “accidental congressman” because he entered office under unusual circumstances. Filing as a Tea Party challenger against then-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R), Bentivolio became the only qualified Republican candidate on the ballot when the incumbent failed to submit enough valid nominating petition signatures. He then went on to win the general election with strong help from the Liberty for All Super PAC, which spent more than $600,000 as an independent expenditure on his behalf.

It is unclear if the congressman will receive such support this time around, but it is becoming apparent that he will need major assistance in order to compete against Trott. Armed with heavy establishment Republican Party support, Trott will soon be sporting the type of campaign resources usually reserved for an incumbent. A primary challenger victory is highly possible in this suburban Detroit district.


Another Republican congressman who might be denied renomination is Tennessee sophomore Rep. Scott DesJarlais. A scandal broke late in his first re-election bid, one that found several women coming forward to say that they had extra-marital affairs with the congressman when they were patients in his medical practice.

The Republican nature of his 4th District overwhelmed the negative publicity emanating from the scandals, so DesJarlais was able to win a 56-44 percent re-election over his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Eric Stewart. But a 2014 Republican primary battle may be a different animal.

Currently in the race is state Sen. Jim Tracy (R), who lost a close campaign to Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-6) in an adjacent district back in 2010. Tracy will report raising $179,000 to DesJarlais’ $113,000, but it is in the available resources category where the challenger records a tremendous advantage. According to published reports, Tracy has just over $768,000 in his bank account as compared to the incumbent’s $170,000.

Two more Republicans are also declared candidates, and such could be DesJarlais’ saving grace. Crowded fields against an unpopular incumbent tend to be a good thing for the office holder because the anti-DesJarlais vote, in this case, will be split among three candidates. Without a run-off system, DesJarlais could still survive even though he will almost assuredly attract well under 50 percent within his own party.


The serious intra-party Democratic fight in California is much different from the two Republican races previously described. First, the race will likely be decided next November under California’s new jungle primary law that allows candidates of the same party to advance to the general election. Second, unlike the Michigan race where the GOP establishment is largely backing the challenger to the sitting congressman of its own party, it is clear that the local Democratic leadership and prominent party members are strongly supporting seven-term Rep. Mike Honda (D).

Ro Khanna is an Obama Commerce Department deputy assistant secretary who has raised a large amount of money for his challenge effort. According to a media report about what will be disclosed, Khanna raised $504,000 in the third quarter as compared to Rep. Honda’s $393,000. In the asset category, Khanna already possesses and incredible war chest of better than $1.9 million, almost quadrupling Honda’s $560,000.

Though Khanna has had great success on the fundraising trail, he will find the path to unseating Rep. Honda to be long, winding, and rough. But, he can count on having one year to wage his effort, and a serious campaign it will be.

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