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5 House Primaries to Watch

This Cycle’s Members Most Vulnerable to Party Challenges

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
DesJarlais’ primary opponent is an experienced politician with more than $650,000 in the bank — that could mean trouble for the incumbent in Tennessee’s 4th District.

It happens every cycle: an entrenched, unassuming House incumbent loses re-election to a primary rival.

Who will be this cycle’s first victim? At least five vulnerable House incumbents are already engaged in electoral battles with a party challenger. Three Republicans and two Democratic upstarts have organized early efforts to boot these House members from office.

To be sure, these challenges are not indicative of a widespread anti-incumbency fervor in 2014. Polling shows Congress with low marks from voters, but there are a relatively small number of competitive races this cycle. That’s mostly thanks to the decennial redraw of congressional districts ahead of the 2012 cycle.

CQ Roll Call selected these five primaries — in no particular order — to watch based mostly on circumstances specific to each incumbent. These members share one thing in common: If they are not careful, they may end up on Roll Call’s Casualty List.

Michigan’s 11th

Incumbent: Republican Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (1st term)

Primary: Aug. 5, 2014

Primary challenger: attorney David Trott

Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race rating: Republican Favored

A former reindeer rancher, Santa Claus impersonator and veteran, Bentivolio made headlines recently for public comments about impeaching the president. Like his background, his path to Congress was anything but typical: When Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s re-election signature petitions proved faulty in 2012, Bentivolio remained the only Republican on the ballot. He won the seat and has a target on his back ever since.

Last week, Trott — who boasts significant financial resources — announced he would challenge the libertarian freshman. Republicans in this suburban and exurban Detroit district hail from the party’s more moderate and business-friendly wing, giving Trott an advantage with the Oakland County political pooh-bahs.

But Trott comes with his own baggage as a foreclosure lawyer in the Detroit area. Still, Democrats privately concede they would rather face Bentivolio in the general election.

Bentivolio continues to have the backing of House GOP leadership, which helped him raise much-needed cash over the August recess. They’re likely interested in this race because the district could be competitive if the GOP nominee falters — although the composition leans Republican.

Idaho’s 2nd

Incumbent: Republican Rep. Mike Simpson (8th term)

Primary: May 20, 2014

Primary challenger: attorney Bryan Smith

Race rating: Safe Republican

Earlier this cycle, Simpson — one of Speaker John A. Boehner’s top House allies — drew the ire of the conservative Club for Growth as one of its first incumbent targets. Soon after, in July, the group backed Smith in its first candidate endorsement of the cycle.

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