House Incumbent Primaries, Part I: Republicans

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 18, 2022 — As the states complete their individual redistricting processes and candidate filing deadlines appear on the political horizon, some incumbents find themselves facing serious primary challenges. Today, we look at Republican nomination situations in states where redistricting is complete, and Monday next week, we’ll look at the Democrats.

CA-5: Rep. Tom McClintock

Primary: June 7 (Jungle)

• McClintock Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $372,569
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+17
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 56.6% R

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission made significant changes to the Golden State congressional map. As a result, veteran northern California Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) had his choice of two districts, one less Republican that contained more of his home area, and the other more strongly favoring the GOP but stretched from the Sacramento suburbs all the way to the Fresno area. McClintock chose the latter.

The congressman’s most serious opponent is Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig (R). California imposes a jungle primary system meaning that the top two finishers in the June qualifying election advance to the general election. Considering the Republican trends in this district, it is wholly possible that both Rep. McClintock and Supervisor Magsig will advance into the general election, especially with three Democratic candidates dividing the liberal base.

IL-15: GOP Pairing

Primary: June 28

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville)
Rep. Mary Miller (R-Oakland)
• Davis Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,234,171
• Miller Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $414,795
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+42
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 64.6% R

The Illinois Democratic gerrymander created a new uber-safe Republican 15th District that attracted both Reps. Rodney Davis and Mary Miller. Therefore, the new member here will be chosen in the June 28 Republican primary.

The race is shaping up as a clear GOP establishment versus movement conservative contest. Virtually all of the state and national Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have endorsed Davis. All of the movement right-of-center groups such as the Club for Growth and Freedom Works, along with former President Donald Trump, have endorsed Rep. Miller.

Davis also has a major fundraising advantage. Miller, on the other hand, sees 31 percent of her constituents carrying over to the new 15th, versus 28 percent for Davis. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) has the largest contingent of current constituents in the new IL-15 (36 percent) but he is running for re-election in the new 16th CD.

MI-4: GOP Pairing

Primary: Aug. 2

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Holland)
Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph)
• Huizenga Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,141,056
• Upton Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,467,055
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+9
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 51.6% R

With Michigan losing a seat in reapportionment, two of the state’s western members were destined to be paired. The new 4th District features a potential contest between Reps. Huizenga and Upton, though the latter man has not yet decided whether to seek re-election. A third candidate, state Rep. Steve Carra (R-Kalamazoo), who carries former President Trump’s endorsement, is also in the race.

Carra is not likely to be a major factor because he represents very little of the new 4th Congressional District constituency in the state legislature. This race will come down to Rep. Upton’s decision whether to seek a 19th term in the House or retire. If he runs, this will be a major summer primary contest. Should he retire, Rep. Huizenga becomes the prohibitive favorite in the primary, with the inside track for the general election, though the new 4th is more competitive than his current 2nd CD.

MS-4: Rep. Steven Palazzo

Primary: June 7 | Runoff: June 28

• Palazzo Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $ 385,211
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+42
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 66.5% R

A congressional ethics investigation into Rep. Steven Palazzo’s (R-Biloxi) use of campaign funds is an obvious negative as he strives to win re-nomination for a seventh term.

The investigation prompted state Sen. Brice Wiggins (R-Ocean Springs) and Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell to launch a primary challenge against the congressman, in addition to four others. Local business owner Carl Boyanton has thrown $550,000 of his own money into his campaign, making him a factor, too. This field could grow or retract as the March 1 candidate filing deadline looms on the political horizon.

It remains to be seen whether the investigation hinders Rep. Palazzo to the point of forcing him into a runoff — he has survived other tough primary challenges with larger than expected percentages — but the possibility of going to a secondary vote is certainly real. Should Palazzo be forced into a runoff, his re-nomination could be in serious jeopardy.

NE-1: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

Primary: May 10

• Fortenberry Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $895,32
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+17
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 56.2% R

On Monday, a California court ruled that indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Lincoln) must stand trial in Los Angeles on campaign finance and lying to federal authorities charges. Considering his chances before a California jury are poor, this legal situation could cause a major death blow to the Congressman’s political career.

That being the case, state Sen. Mike Flood (R-Norfolk), who is a former Senate Speaker, announced a challenge to the congressman and immediately received Gov. Pete Ricketts’ and former Gov. Dave Heineman’s endorsements. The latter two are likely concerned that a wounded Fortenberry would be in trouble in a general election against state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (D-Lincoln), who will be a credible November contender.

Sen. Flood, who owns a media news network in Nebraska, will become the favorite in this race if Fortenberry is found guilty. In that case, the congressman may be forced to resign.

SC-1: Rep. Nancy Mace

Primary: June 14 | Runoff: June 28

• Mace Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,505,649
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+17
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 55.6% R

It remains to be seen if this primary develops, but former state Rep. Katie Arrington, who lost the 2018 election after defeating then-Representative and former Gov. Mark Sanford in the Republican primary of that year, returns to challenge freshman Rep. Nancy Mace (R-Charleston). The seat has improved for the Republicans under the new state district boundaries, so the Republican primary is likely the determining factor.

Arrington comes into the race with an endorsement from former President Trump, and he argues the serious automobile accident in which she was involved during the 2018 campaign was the principal reason for her losing in that election year. Rep. Mace is the favorite in 2022, but it is worth watching to see if the Arrington campaign develops. Public attacks from both candidates toward the other have already begun.

SC-7: Rep. Tom Rice

Primary: June 14 | Runoff: June 28

• Rice Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,877,244
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+26
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 58.5% R

Rep. Tom Rice (R-Myrtle Beach) is one of the 10 Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching then-President Donald Trump. He is the surprise of the group since he had been a strong supporter throughout the Trump presidency. And, now he faces serious re-nomination opposition.

Typically, a crowded field of opponents helps an incumbent but in a runoff state, such is not often the case. Trump has already endorsed state Rep. Russell Fry (R-Surfside Beach), who is one of 11 GOP potential candidates who look to file at the March 30 candidate filing deadline. The Trump endorsement may have forced possibly the strongest challenger, conservative media personality Graham Allen, to drop out of the race.

If Fry, or one of the others, can force Rep. Rice into a runoff, the chances for an upset improve dramatically. South Carolina still can employ their two-week runoff system despite the federal MOVE Act requirement of 45 days notice before an election. Apparently, a lack of a legal challenge to the runoff system has allowed it to stand.

WA-3: Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler

Primary: Aug. 2 (Jungle)

• Herrera Beutler Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,656,655
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+11
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 51.9% R

For the second time, we see a poll suggesting that six-term Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-Battle Ground/Vancouver), another of the Trump impeachment Republicans, is in danger of not qualifying for the general election.

The Trafalgar Group surveyed the WA-3 jungle primary race, and they again find, as they did in their late October poll (Feb. 11-14; 697 WA-3 likely jungle primary voters; live interview, interactive voice response system; text), that Democrat Brent Hennrich would place first with 33 percent, thus coalescing a large share of his party’s vote, and retired Army officer Joe Kent (R), armed with Trump’s endorsement, placing second at 26 percent. Rep. Herrera Beutler lands in third with 22 percent. Two other Republicans combine for 17 percent.

Certainly, these polls are trouble signs for Rep. Herrera Beutler, and this is clearly a contest to watch. With a late Aug. 2 primary, the congresswoman has time to recover, but it is obvious that her opponents are real.

WA-4: Rep. Dan Newhouse

Primary: Aug. 2 (Jungle)

• Newhouse Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $855,007
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+25
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 58.8% R

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside) is another of the Trump impeachment Republicans, and the former president has already endorsed the state’s 2020 GOP gubernatorial nominee, ex-local police chief Loren Culp, in this congressional race. State Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) is also a candidate, in addition to three other Republicans.

This is another example of a jungle primary where members of the same party could advance into the general election. This happened in the 4th District both when Rep. Newhouse was first elected in 2014 and again in 2016, each time facing former NFL football player Clint Didier (R). The 2022 campaign could turn into another serious challenge, particularly if Culp, or another Republican such as state Rep. Klippert, advances Into the general election opposite the congressman.

WV-2: GOP Pairing

Primary: May 10

Rep. David McKinley (R-Wheeling)
Rep. Alex Mooney (R-Charles Town)
• McKinley Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,614,328
• Mooney Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $2,386,030
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+34
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 67.5% R

Though the Republicans control the redistricting pen in West Virginia, the party leaders had no choice but to collapse a GOP seat. Reapportionment reduced the Mountain State congressional delegation from three seats to two, so a GOP pairing was unavoidable.

Being in the middle of the state, Rep. Alex Mooney was clearly going to be the odd-man out, and he would have his choice of running against veteran Rep. McKinley in the northern district or sophomore Rep. Carol Miller (R-Huntington) in the southern CD. Surmising a greater ideological difference between he and Rep. McKinley, Mooney chose the northern district even though McKinley has a 2:1 advantage in carryover constituents.

While the early polls favored McKinley, two conducted after the first of the year are showing a decided break toward Mooney. The latest, from WPA Intelligence (Feb. 2-3; 406 WV-2 likely Republican primary voters, live interview), finds Rep. Mooney holding a substantial 43-28 percent lead after media attacks have pushed McKinley to the ideological center in former President Trump’s second strongest state in the country.

The WPAi survey confirmed the Public Opinion Strategies data of a month earlier (Jan. 4-6; 400 WV-2 likely Republican primary voters, live interview) that also gave Rep. Mooney a double-digit lead. The POS margin showed a Mooney advantage of 45-32 percent.

WY-AL: Rep. Liz Cheney

Primary: Aug. 16

• Cheney Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $4,715,289
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: R+50
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 68.9% R

For former President Trump, this is likely the most important race featuring a Republican member who voted for his impeachment. Now, arguably his most vocal GOP critic, Trump is all-in to help defeat her in the summer primary in a state that has performed as his best in both his presidential campaigns.

His candidate is RNC National Committeewoman and attorney Harriet Hageman, but the key will be reducing the race to a one-on-one contest between she and Rep. Cheney. With polling showing two-thirds of Wyoming Republicans disapprove of Rep. Cheney, her only chance to win re-nomination is for the anti-Cheney vote to split among multiple candidates. Three have already dropped out, but four remain.

Another point in the congresswoman’s favor is that Wyoming features an open primary, so Democrats can vote in the GOP nomination contest. Counting on a big crossover for her is a long shot, but it might be her only chance. Candidate filing doesn’t end here until May 27, so expect a lot more to happen here between now and then.

Other Republican Potential Primaries

The following members have one or several opponents, but none have yet developed into serious enough challenges to threaten the incumbent’s re-nomination status:

• AL-2: Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)
• GA-14: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Rome)
• NY-23: Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford)
• NY-24: Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-Orchard Park)
• TX-3: Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano)

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