Intra-Party Primary Challenges On Both Sides Emerge This Week

By Jim Ellis

July 3, 2019 — If you thought the 2020 cycle might feature a smaller number of primary challenge campaigns than we’ve seen in recent election years, then Monday might have changed your opinion. No less than six combined intra-party incumbent opposition campaigns were announced, or at least publicly contemplated.

After seeing the results of some key primaries in the past couple of election cycles, such as the now famous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 2018 victory over veteran Rep. Joe Crowley in New York, it’s hard to discount any early intra-party candidate at face value. But, it appears, at least today, that all of the potentially challenged incumbents begin their re-nomination campaigns as clear favorites.

In South Dakota, state Rep. Scyller Borglum (R-Rapid City), an engineer and theologian who was just elected to the legislature in November, announced that she will oppose first-term senator and former governor Mike Rounds in next year’s Republican primary. This challenge is particularly curious since no Democrat has yet even come forward to battle Sen. Rounds. The odds of Borglum finding a way to deny her opponent re-nomination look particularly long, but the contest should be watched for indicative early happenings.

Rep. Danny Davis (D) has represented the downtown Chicago and Oak Park areas in Congress since the beginning of 1997. Before that, he served on the Chicago City Council or Cook County Commission for another 18 years. But his long service has not made him immune from enduring a primary challenge. Attorney Kristine Schanbacher announced her opposition to Davis in the March Democratic primary. The congressman is a prohibitive favorite to again win re-nomination. Two other minor Democratic candidates had declared earlier.

Indiana’s 3rd District will feature a “family affair.” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City/Ft. Wayne) largely won the safe Republican seat in the 2016 GOP primary against former Wisconsin state senator Pam Galloway and four others when he captured over one-third of the vote in a plurality victory scenario.

Galloway’s husband, Dr. Chris Magiera, announced that he will challenge Rep. Banks in next year’s Republican primary. This, too, does not look like a particularly serious contest at the early outset. Galloway, a state legislator from an adjacent state until moving to Indiana, placed fourth in the GOP primary, hence it doesn’t appear that Dr. Magiera will be a major threat to the second-term congressman.

Last September, then-former House chief of staff Lori Trahan defeated favorite Daniel Koh in a crowded open Massachusetts 10-person Democratic congressional primary by just 145 votes; the primary race took several post-election days to decide.

Koh, who has since been elected as a local selectman in the town of Andover, confirmed that he is considering seeking a re-match against the freshman congresswoman. This will be a highly competitive primary if Koh decides to run. While not fully committing to the race, he did use the opportunity to call upon Rep. Trahan to publicly support President Trump’s impeachment.

Michigan Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) may draw two more opponents based upon comments he made. Both Joel Langlois, the president of the DeltaPlex Arena and Conference Center in Grand Rapids, and attorney Brian Ellis, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Amash in 2014, confirm they are considering entering the race. Already running are state Reps. Jim Lower (R-Greenville) and Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids) along with ex-Sand Lake Village president Tom Norton.

From Rep. Amash’s perspective, the more opponents who enter the race the better his chances of winning a plurality election. He appears highly vulnerable because he is the lone Republican in the House to call for President Trump’s impeachment.

Finally, four-term Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) looks to have drawn a significant challenge. Morgan Harper, a former assistant to 2018 Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray when he was director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, announced that she will challenge Rep. Beatty in the upcoming Democratic primary next March. Though Rep. Beatty appears secure, this challenge has the potential of drawing attention.

These six potential primary challenges, though maybe not all serious at the present time, could be a harbinger of further intra-party battles to come.

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