Incumbents Winning Big

By Jim Ellis — Thursday, May 23, 2024


At this point in the 2024 election cycle we have seen a number of budding primary challenges opposite US House members, and through this past Tuesday the incumbents are batting 1.000. It is likely, however, that the most competitive challenges are yet to come.

A total of 17 states have held their down-ballot primary elections. Within this number were 62 partisan challenges to US representatives. The California all-party jungle primary system does not produce traditional intra-party challenges. Therefore, the Golden State races are not included in the partisan statistics quoted in this column.

In only one race, that one in Alabama’s newly constructed 1st District, did an incumbent, Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Mobile), lose. But, in a paired redistricting situation, a sitting member losing was the inevitable conclusion.

We have seen no serious nomination challenges to sitting in-cycle senators. In the House, of the 62 members who have faced an intra-party opponent, 18 have proven to be substantial challenges. This means that the top opponent received at least 30 percent of the vote.

In only two, however, was an incumbent victory even in doubt. On March 19, southern Illinois Congressman Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) defeated former state senator and 2022 Republican gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey by a slight 51-49 percent count.

On May 7 in the Hoosier State of Indiana, Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Noblesville), who originally indicated she would not seek re-election but changed her mind before the candidate filing deadline, only scored 39 percent of the primary vote. The total, however, was enough to turn back eight GOP challengers including state Rep. Chuck Goodrich (R-Noblesville) who captured 33 percent support.

Therefore, at this point in the House cycle with now a bare majority of 218 district electorates having nominated their general election contenders, it appears the stage might be set to see another incumbent-favorable general election.

The primary vote to-date could be the precursor to seeing a similar result to what we saw in 2022, when incumbents fared extremely well even though polling suggested the electorate desired major change. Two years ago, 55 of 56 senators and governors who ran for re-election won, and the incumbent retention percentage in the House was 98.1.

Should the 2024 election result in a similar conclusion, we would again see very small margins in both the House and Senate. Yet, the primary season is only half over, and a number of key members remain embroiled in primary campaigns.

While we’ve only seen two primaries in the first half resulting in close finishes, several upcoming contests could end in close counts or even incumbent upsets. In fact, 13 members in 11 states face challengers who are positioning themselves for serious runs.

Arizona freshman Rep. Eli Crane (R-Oro Valley) sees former Yavapai County Supervisor Jack Smith coming forward. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Silt), while changing to the open 4th District, must overcome Logan County Commissioner Jerry Sonnenberg and two state representatives to secure nomination in the new district.

In Florida, both Reps. Dan Webster (R-Clermont) and Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota) face a former state representative and ex-school superintendent, respectively.

In what are proving to be the top challenges to Democratic members, Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), all members of far left “Squad,” each face serious opponents in the persons of Westchester County Executive George Latimer, St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, and former Minneapolis City councilman and 2022 congressional candidate Don Samuels.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole (R-Moore/Norman) is repelling a multi-million dollar challenge from Texas transplant Paul Bondar. Two South Carolina members, Nancy Mace (R-Charleston) and William Timmons (R-Greenville), are attempting to defeat strong challenges from former Haley Administration official Catherine Templeton, and state Rep. Adam Morgan (R-Greenville).

Like Rep. Mace, who is under attack for voting to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Virginia Rep. Bob Good (R-Lynchburg) also has his hands full attempting to defend himself from state Sen. John McGuire’s (R) aggressive challenge.

Tennessee Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Columbia) and Utah’s Celeste Maloy (R-Cedar City), the latter of whom won her seat in a late 2023 special election, also are in serious battles for renomination.

While we have seen an unblemished nomination record for incumbent House members in the first half of primaries, the second half may threaten their so far perfect record.

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