5 Potential House Losers
Primary season is upon the House, and the not-so-graceful losses in Congress could begin as early as next month.
Starting then, a handful of incumbents will face tough intraparty races, thanks to a variety of reasons: the ongoing GOP civil war, dated and unsuspecting political operations, self-funding challengers and old political grudges coming back to haunt them.
The next 12 weeks will prove prophetic for voter appetite to return incumbents to Congress. Last cycle, five House members lost races to non-member challengers from their own parties (eight more lost in member-vs.-member primaries — a result of redistricting).
In most of the five cases, the incumbents lost with little notice or preparation. Primaries are often low-turnout and off-the-radar affairs, and an incumbent who seems safe now could be packing up his or her office in November.
What’s more, California’s jungle primary system continues to prove problematic for incumbents. One of this cycle’s most vulnerable House members, Rep. Michael M. Honda, D-Calif., will almost surely graduate from his June 3 primary to face a well-funded Democratic challenger, attorney Ro Khanna, in November.
But in the closer future, here are five House members who could lose their primaries in the next three months, in order of their upcoming elections:
Incumbent: Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C.
Primary: May 6
Challenger: Former Bush administration aide Taylor Griffin
This race pits Jones, a well-known but quirky figure in his district, against a former political consultant, Griffin, who boasts a network of savvy operative allies.
On Capitol Hill, Jones is best known for defying GOP leadership. For example, in 2013, he voted against Speaker John A. Boehner as his party’s leader and against the House GOP’s budget.
Some national Republicans are tired of Jones bucking the system and are rallying behind Griffin, his top opponent. And at least two well-funded conservative groups are working to make Jones the first incumbent to lose re-election this cycle. Ending Spending Action Fund has already spent more than $150,000 on ads attacking Jones’ “liberal” voting record — a significant buy in this district.
An eastern North Carolina native, Griffin served as crisis manager consultant for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign before moving back to the Tar Heel State to challenge Jones. But while Griffin has strong connections in Washington, D.C., he is virtually unknown in this coastal district. That’s a problem for him in his quickly-approaching primary.
Race Rating: North Carolina’s 3rd District is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
Incumbent: Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
Primary: May 20
Challenger: Former DeKalb County Sheriff Tom Brown
Johnson faces his toughest primary yet in this district, anchored in the suburbs around Atlanta. The Georgia Democrat — known for making a few eyebrow-raising remarks in Congress — faces the well-liked Brown, who earned praise for cleaning up his law enforcement office in the wake of a deadly scandal.
Brown had more cash on hand going into the primary than Johnson — a rare feat for a challenger. Fundraising reports, due April 15, will shed light on whether Johnson stepped up his fundraising for Brown’s challenge.
Johnson does have time on his side. This primary is coming soon, which gives Brown less time to make his case to voters.
Johnson hopes an endorsement from President Barack Obama will also boost his re-election bid. The president remains overwhelmingly popular in this majority-minority district.
Race Rating: Georgia’s 4th District is rated a Safe Democratic contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
Incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho
Primary: May 20
Challenger: Attorney Bryan Smith
Simpson’s re-election battle marks the epicenter of this cycle’s fight for control of the House GOP conference.
A top ally to Boehner, Simpson faces his first tough challenge in years. Groups such as the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund have endorsed Smith.
As a result, both Republicans are likely to run well-funded campaigns. In the next few weeks, television and radio ads will swamp the inexpensive Idaho stations.
National Republicans who are rooting for Simpson are growing cautiously confident in his chances. But if the club or SCF decides to invest heavily in the race, that could change quickly.
Race Rating: Idaho’s 2nd District is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
Incumbent: Rep. Ralph M. Hall, R-Texas
Primary: May 27
Challenger: Attorney John Ratcliffe
Like Jones in North Carolina, this House primary showcases a battle between a member’s name-brand versus an outsider onslaught. But Hall’s real political vulnerability stems more from the fact that the 90-year-old has never run a modern campaign.
Ratcliffe spent his own money to launch his bid and pushed Hall into a runoff. Soon after that, the club and other conservative groups jumped on the Ratcliffe bandwagon. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Lone Star State delegation and some operatives are rallying behind Hall.
Hall’s allies argue he barely missed the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff with Ratcliffe. But it’s not a good sign that more than half of the electorate voted against him in the primary.
Race Rating: The race is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
Incumbent: Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y.
Primary: June 24
Challengers: State Sen. Adriano Espaillat and Rev. Michael Walrond
Rangel barely defeated Espaillat in 2012. Espillat is back this cycle to challenge the 22-term Democrat, along with a third foe, Walrond.
Rangel’s relationship with President Barack Obama has a rocky history, but it’s local politics that presents new problems for him this time. The congressman was on the wrong side of 2013 Democratic mayoral primary: He endorsed another candidate over now-Mayor Bill de Blasio, his former campaign manager. Soon after Walrond announced his challenge to Rangel, de Blasio offered praise for the minister, per numerous reports.
Rev. Al Sharpton also stopped short of a Walrond endorsement, but he did question whether Rangel deserved a graceful exit from Congress at a speech in the First Corinthian Baptist Church — Walrond’s church, according to Capital New York.
Race Rating: The race is rated a Safe Democrat contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.