Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is one of several House Republicans who have drawn primary opponents.
Democratic aides pounced on the comment, but Republicans didn’t blink. Many conservatives are running against the Washington establishment, as they did in 2010, and the appearance of benefiting from the national party could hurt their chances back home.
Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, who defeated Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean by 290 votes last year, agreed with Sessions that “in general, primaries are good.” Walsh is running against fellow freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren in next year’s GOP primary, thanks to redistricting, and said no matter what, the district will remain Republican.
“Is it great that I’m probably going to have to run against another Republican freshman? No. But in Illinois, the Democrats drew the map, so we have to deal with it,” Walsh said. Illinois Republicans are contesting the map in court.
Redistricting has complicated matters for both parties, particularly in districts in which two incumbents are facing off. In Illinois alone, Democrats are uncomfortably watching as Jackson begins what is sure to be a nasty primary fight against former Rep. Debbie Halvorson. The Prairie State is also home to at least two examples of sitting Republican Members running against one another; along with Walsh and Hultgren, GOP Reps. Don Manzullo and Adam Kinzinger will likely run against each other. Still, Republican aides say, the party will defend its incumbents. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has done fundraising events for Members from Indiana, Texas and Illinois, and he assured the rank and file at last week’s Conference meeting that “we stand up for our own.”
“Speaker Boehner is very team-oriented, and he’s made helping out our Members a top priority,” spokesman Cory Fritz said. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure House Republicans have the resources they need to take our conservative, pro-jobs message directly to voters in 2012.”
Fleischmann is one freshman to receive Boehner’s help. The Speaker appeared at a fundraiser in Tennessee last week for the first-term lawmaker, who took 30 percent in last year’s crowded primary and beat back a host of tea party challengers. He is attracting potential challengers from the right again, including former Rep. Zach Wamp’s son Weston Wamp.
“I’m doing my job every day, haven’t missed a vote, working in committee, getting the job done, loving the job,” Fleischmann said.
Primaries, he added, get “fresh ideas out there. It keeps people on their toes. I welcome any and all challengers, and I think it’s good for the process.”
Correction: Nov. 3, 2011 An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) has a primary opponent.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) has a primary opponent.