For Incumbents, 2008 Is Shaping Up as the Year of the Primary

Posted October 5, 2007 at 3:12pm

With a strong majority of voters dissatisfied with the performance of President Bush and Congress, and with seven in 10 Americans telling pollsters that the country is on the wrong track, it isn’t entirely surprising that a dozen serious primaries could develop for Republican House incumbents this election cycle. [IMGCAP(1)]

Some of the primary challenges will disappear when incumbents finally call it quits and end their re-election campaigns, as is likely to happen in California’s 4th district, where Rep. John Doolittle (R) currently has three primary opponents. But most of the primary threats to incumbents now developing will not evaporate, and some additional challenges are still possible.

Here is a rundown of some of the more interesting primaries developing against GOP incumbents:

Colorado’s 5th: Freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn faces two Republicans he defeated in the 2006 primary, Jeff Crank and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn. Crank, who served as an aide to former Rep. Joel Hefley (R), finished second last time, while Rayburn was third.

Georgia’s 10th: Rep. Paul Broun won a special election in July to fill the open seat of the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R), but Broun will face a challenge for renomination. State House Majority Whip Barry Fleming is poised to challenge Broun in the primary.

Indiana’s 5th: Former Marion County Coroner John McGoff knows he has an uphill fight against veteran Rep. Dan Burton, but that isn’t stopping the challenger, who has been active in GOP politics.

Maryland’s 1st: Rep. Wayne Gilchrest has faced primary challenges before, but this cycle’s could be his toughest. State Sen. Andy Harris is preparing to run, and his credentials — he’s an obstetric anesthesiologist who served in Operation Desert Storm — suggest he could have appeal. He’s backed by seven of the eight state Senators whose districts overlap with Gilchrest’s Congressional seat, as well as by former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).

North Carolina’s 3rd: Rep. Walter Jones Jr. has been vocal about his differences with President Bush over Iraq, and that has earned him a potentially serious challenge from Onslow County Commissioner Joe McLaughlin, an Air Force Academy graduate who served in the Army before retiring in 1994.

Ohio’s 2nd: Rep. Jean Schmidt has turned her reliably safe Republican Congressional district into a marginal seat, and that has encouraged ex-Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnati city councilman, to take her on in the GOP primary.

Utah’s 3rd: Rep. Chris Cannon must be getting accustomed to the idea of primary opposition. Anti-immigration candidate John Jacob drew more than 44 percent in last year’s GOP primary, and he is back for another try. But two other Republicans are preparing to take Cannon on as well — former gubernatorial chief of staff Jason Chaffetz and former county prosecutor David Leavitt.

And that’s not all. Florida Rep. Ric Keller and Texas Rep. Ralph Hall also are getting primary opposition, as are Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin, assuming she runs for re-election.

On the Democratic side, a number of incumbents also are facing opponents who want to deny then renomination. The list includes:

Illinois’ 3rd: Net-roots favorite Mark Pera, an attorney and the Lyons Township school board president, already has picked up the support of NARAL Pro-Choice America in his bid to oust Rep. Dan Lipinski, who inherited the Congressional seat from his father.

Illinois’ 8th: Two-term Rep. Melissa Bean doesn’t have a lot to fear from primary challenger Randi Scheurer, a peace activist whose husband, Bill, is running in the general election as an Independent. But the primary points up the fact that Bean is in a squeeze, with the left angry at her moderation and conservatives complaining that she is too liberal.

Maryland’s 4th: Rep. Albert Wynn won his seat in 1992, but he almost lost renomination last year to Donna Edwards, who drew 46.4 percent in the 2006 Democratic primary. Edwards, an attorney and liberal activist, is challenging Wynn again, attacking him for authorizing the invasion of Iraq, for supporting the bankruptcy bill and for backing the energy bill. Wynn is fighting for his political life.

Ohio’s 10th: While Rep. Dennis Kucinich basks in the notoriety of his presidential campaign, teacher (and former reporter) Rosemary Palmer is trying to take his seat. Palmer, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2005, has blasted Kucinich for voting against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill. She has been endorsed by Paul Hackett, the Iraq War veteran who has become a celebrity to liberal bloggers.

Tennessee’s 9th: Freshman Rep. Steve Cohen faces Nikki Tinker again in a majority-black West Tennessee district. Cohen, who is Jewish and white, won his party’s nomination last year in a crowded primary. Tinker, 35, is black and finished second to Cohen in that race. A one-on-one race against Tinker obviously presents a huge challenge for Cohen.

In addition, former state Sen. Donzella James, who drew about one-third of the vote in the ’06 Democratic primary against Rep. David Scott (Ga.), may run again.

Meanwhile, California state Sen. Jackie Speier has been mentioned as a possible primary challenger to Rep. Tom Lantos, and Washington Rep. Brian Baird, who announced that he would vote to fund troops in Iraq, could face an anti-war primary opponent.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.