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CBC Faces New Challenges to Influence

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. John Conyers is one of the senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus who is facing a tough re-election bid.

With senior members engaged in difficult re-election efforts, the Congressional Black Caucus is facing an existential threat to its clout.

The tough races come as the caucus also faces new challenges to its identity, including how to assimilate black Republicans and whether — and how — to criticize President Barack Obama, the first African-American to hold the office.

At the heart of the CBC’s challenges are two high-profile Democratic Members, Reps. John Conyers (Mich.) and Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), who are in unusually stiff primary races.

The pair, the second and third most senior House Members, have served a combined 88 years in Congress.

Detroit-area Democrats say Conyers could face one of the toughest re-election matches of his career. Several Democrats will challenge him in the Aug. 7 primary, including state Sens. Glenn Anderson and Bert Johnson.

When local Republicans redrew the Congressional map last year, they dismantled the two Detroit-based House seats represented by Conyers and freshman Rep. Hansen Clarke (D), another CBC member. As a result, Conyers will seek re-election in mostly new turf.

The 24-term Congressman has also had his share of bad press in recent years. His wife, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, is serving a three-year prison sentence for bribery.

Rangel is facing an unusually potent alignment of forces that make this the most difficult race of his career since he unseated longtime Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D) in a 1970 primary.

A judge moved New York’s primary from September to June, which is likely to result in a low-turnout race. And outside money has flooded in: The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Texas-based anti-incumbent super PAC, is gunning for Rangel.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, who is in his 15th term and is a former CBC chairman, is retiring. Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) just lost a primary election to Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.). Hahn got 60 percent of the vote to Richardson’s 40 percent. With California’s new open primary rules, Hahn will be Richardson’s general election opponent and is favored to win.

And there is talk that even 13-term Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon, could face a difficult July 31 primary, although Democratic strategists are confident he will be able to win.

Such scenarios point to a caucus facing a major challenge to its seniority and clout within the House.

But other CBC members have fought off Democratic primary challenges this year, such as Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who handily beat former Rep. Debbie Halvorson in Illinois. And in past years, fights that were projected as tough turned into routs, such as when Rangel easily turned away his predecessor’s namesake, Adam Clayton Powell IV, in 2010.

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