House Incumbent Primaries, Part II: Democrats

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 21, 2022 — Part II of our incumbents’ primary challenges report concentrates on the Democratic members who find themselves in serious nomination contests. (Note: Part I — the Republicans — was published Friday. Please scroll down to read.) Nine such situations are covered in this update, with one of them, the Texas race of veteran Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) to be decided on March 1.

GA-7: Dem Pairing

Primary: May 24
Runoff: July 26

Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Suwanee)
Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Marietta)
• Bourdeaux Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $2,005,771
• McBath Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $2,452,731
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+16
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 58.4% D

Republicans held the redistricting pen in Georgia and after losing two Atlanta metropolitan districts in consecutive elections, it was clear the GOP map drawers were going to take one back. That translated into loading Democrats from the previously Republican 6th District into the transitioning 7th CD.

Along with bringing more Democrats into the 7th, the 6th District incumbent, Rep. McBath, decided to join them. Instead of fighting for re-election in a new Republican 6th District (R+24), she moved south to challenge freshman Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in the party primary. As you can see from the cash-on-hand totals above, both incumbents are well-heeled financially, so a major campaign is underway.

Also in the Democratic field is state Rep. Donna McLeod (D-Lawrenceville), who points out that she is the only one of the three that actually lives in the 7th CD. Her campaign has been slow to begin, so it is doubtful that she will be much of a factor, and probably will not draw enough support to force the two congressional incumbents into a runoff. Therefore, it is likely that this pairing will be settled in the May 24 primary.

Among carryover constituents Rep. Bourdeaux has a big advantage in seeing a majority of her current 7th District constituency (57 percent) remaining in the new 7th. McBath, however, sees only 12.1 percent carryover from her 6th District. The larger Democratic influx came from Rep. Hank Johnson’s 4th CD, as 26 percent of his constituency was transferred to the new 7th.

On the other hand, the new 7th is overwhelmingly minority: 29.8 percent black, 21.3 percent Hispanic, and 15.8 percent Asian. Thus, the demographics could help Rep. McBath, who is African American. Her strength within the party’s leftward faction is also a benefit in a primary contest. With each incumbent showing similar strength levels, this will be an interesting race to watch on May 24.

GA-13: Rep. David Scott

Primary: May 24
Runoff: July 26
• Scott Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,107,286
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+52
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 77.9% D

After only scoring 52.9 percent in the 2020 Democratic primary against three opponents, Rep. David Scott’s (D-Atlanta) 2022 race may be even more serious. Opposing him in this election are two candidates with an election track record, former state senator and 2017 Atlanta mayoral candidate Vincent Fort, and South Fulton City Councilman Mark Baker. The latter man bills himself as the “strongest progressive” in the race, but ex-Sen. Fort was well entrenched with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Therefore, both opponents are attacking Rep. Scott from the left, which should help him split the opposition vote. Whether such a split will be enough to again allow him to capture majority support in the May 24 primary may be another question. Rep. Scott has long been attacked over not being further to the left on the ideological spectrum, which could again be a problem for him in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Neither Baker nor Fort filed an FEC report at the end of the 2021, meaning they are behind on fundraising.

Rep. Scott must still be rated as the favorite to prevail, but this is another contest that will merit attention on May 24.

IL-6: Dem Pairing

Primary: June 28

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Downers Grove)
Rep. Marie Newman (D-La Grange)
• Casten Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,580,171
• Newman Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $573,120
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+6
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 51.4% D

The Illinois race is the second of the three Democratic congressional pairings, and it features sophomore Rep. Casten and freshman Rep. Newman. This particular pairing came about because of complaints that a second Hispanic seat should be drawn in Chicago.

Fearing a loss in court, the Democratic legislative leadership acquiesced and drew a new open 3rd District that is 44 percent Hispanic. As a result, Rep. Newman’s home was placed in Rep. Chuy Garcia’s (D-Chicago) 4th District, but she pivoted to run in the 6th against Rep. Casten. Her move made sense because 43 percent of her constituency was drawn into the new 6th District versus just 24 percent coming from Rep. Casten’s current 6th District.

While Casten has a financial advantage and the support of most of the Chicago Democratic establishment, Rep. Newman is a darling of the far left and will likely attract the more ideological voter that tends to dominate primary voting in both parties.

The aspect of this race that attracts little attention is that the pairing winner is not necessarily home free in the general election. With the Illinois gerrymander drawing 14 Democratic seats of 17 total districts, some of the Dem seats are weak. The 6th, with a D+6 rating from the FiveThirtyEight data entity, is one of those. Therefore, a divisive primary could make the eventual Republican nominee even more viable in the general election.

This draw was not favorable to either Democratic incumbent, and we will see a spirited fight between now and the June 28 primary.

MA-4: Rep. Jake Auchincloss

Primary: Sept. 6
• Auchincloss Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $2,199,042
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+28
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 57.4% D

Freshman Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Newton) succeeded former Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D) when the latter left the seat for his unsuccessful run for the Senate. Auchincloss, a Newton City councilman who at one time was both a Republican and an Independent, won the party primary by just a percentage point over then-Brookline City Selectman Jesse Mermell. He was easily elected in the general election with 61 percent of the vote, and stands for a second term this year.

At this point, Rep. Auchincloss has no primary opposition, but Mermell has not ruled out challenging him again. With a late filing deadline of May 31 and a Sept. 6 primary, plenty of time remains for her to make a challenge. If she does run, this is a race. If not, Rep. Auchincloss will likely cruise to re-nomination and re-election.

MI-11: Dem Pairing

Primary: Aug. 2

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township)
Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills)
• Levin Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,118,706
• Stevens Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,986,094
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+15
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 57.8% D

With the Michigan Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission members favoring the development of more competitive districts throughout the state, possibly an unintended consequence was the eventual pairing of Reps. Stevens and Levin. The latter member could have run in the new 10th District, but this seat slightly leans Republican so he felt his chances were better opposing Rep. Stevens in the Democratic primary.

The two have opposite assets. While Rep. Stevens sees a carryover constituent factor of 46 percent from her current 11th to the new 11th, her home base of Rochester Hills is not in the newly crafted seat. While Rep. Levin has a carryover factor of only 26 percent from his current 9th CD, his home base of Bloomfield Township is placed wholly in the new 11th.

Rep. Levin is also betting on his superior name identification with Democratic voters throughout the Detroit metro region. His father, former US Rep. Sander Levin (D), represented the area for 36 years. His uncle, the late Sen. Carl Levin (D), was a major factor in Michigan politics for his own 36 years. Therefore, with the Levin family base solidly in the 11th, the congressman felt his best chance for continuing his congressional service was to compete in the primary pairing.

Rep. Stevens benefits from a robust fundraising base, and has strong ties to the party’s left faction, thus giving her an edge different from Rep. Levin’s. This will be another Aug. 2 primary that attracts national attention. On that night, one of these members’ congressional careers will draw to a halt.

MI-12: Rep. Rashida Tlaib

Primary: Aug. 2

• Tlaib Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,425,778
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+44
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 73.4% D

The Michigan redistricting commission members also significantly changed the Detroit area to the point of drawing a civil rights lawsuit from a group of current and former Democratic state legislators. The plaintiffs lost at the initial court level, meaning that this Michigan map is very likely to be the political playing field for at least the 2022 election cycle. Appeals could eventually cause changes, but not likely before the current elections conclude.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s (D-Southfield) retirement gave Rep. Rashida Tlaib an easy move into the new 12th CD that houses 61 percent of her current constituency. She has drawn significant Democratic primary opposition, however, from two candidates with electoral histories, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and former three-term state Rep. Shanelle Jackson. Both of these ladies have been defeated in previous congressional runs, however. A third challenger, college professor Michelle Wooddell, is also in the race but won’t prove much of a factor.

In a situation with no runoff, an incumbent with multiple challengers is in better shape because it is obviously easier to win with plurality support. This is another primary to watch, but Rep. Tlaib must be considered the favorite in a multi-candidate contest.

NY-12: Rep. Carolyn Maloney

Primary: June 28

• Maloney Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $1,072,404
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+67
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 83.5% D

Congresswoman Maloney has had two competitive Democratic primary challenges from businessman and former Obama White House aide Suraj Patel. In 2020, she scored only a plurality victory (42.7 percent) over Mr. Patel (39.3 percent) and two others.

While Patel returns for a re-match, along with five others at least at this point, the 12th CD has changed. The Brooklyn and Queens areas where Patel previously performed strongly has been sent to other CDs, and the new 12th is back to being wholly contained within the Manhattan borough. This will help Rep. Maloney secure re-nomination for a 16th term, and this after serving 10 years on the New York City Council.

At this point, it appears Rep. Maloney’s toughest primary challenges are behind her, but we can expect another strong effort coming from Patel, which will make things interesting for the late June primary.

NY-16: Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Primary: June 28

• Bowman Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $309,223
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+36
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 71.0% D

Two years ago, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-Yonkers), then coming from a middle school principal background, caught fire nationally, attracted over $3 million in campaign support, partnered with then-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx), and romped to a 55-41 percent Democratic primary victory over 44-year elected official Eliot Engel (32 years in Congress; 12 years in the NY State Assembly).

Now, as an incumbent, he is facing credible primary opposition of his own. Recently, Westchester County Legislator and former United Nations official Vedat Gashi announced a primary challenge to Rep. Bowman in a new 16th CD, which no longer includes any of the Bronx borough that used to be the district’s anchor. Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, a former state assemblyman, is also considering entering the race. Political consultant Manuel Casanova is an additional candidate, but is not expected to be a major factor.

Much will develop here, but this is another contest that merits political attention. Rep. Bowman must of course be considered the favorite, but his lack of early fundraising suggests that he will have to devote more attention to developing another nomination campaign.

TX-28: Rep. Henry Cuellar

Primary: March 1
Runoff: May 24

• Cuellar Cash-on-Hand (Dec. 31, 2021): $2,347,334
FiveThirtyEight Statistical Rating: D+7
Dave’s Redistricting App Historical Voting: 55.0% D

In 2020, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) survived a Democratic Socialist backed effort from attorney Jessica Cisneros, a former intern for the Congressman, by only a 52-48 percent margin. This year, Cisneros returns for a re-match and with a highly publicized FBI investigation underway involving Rep. Cuellar, the tables may turn despite the new 28th including more favorable territory for the incumbent.

The congressman has a huge financial advantage, but we can again expect outside sources to come in with negative attacks now that the investigation is swirling around the nine-term incumbent. Of all the Democratic primary challenges, Rep. Cuellar is clearly the most vulnerable, and with a quick March 1 primary approaching, the final days of this race will be intense and likely transformational in determining the ultimate victor.

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