The 10 Most Vulnerable Members of the Midterm Cycle
Primary season has just begun in earnest, but it’s already clear it will take a toll on this Congress.
Exactly six months before Election Day, half of the members on this list face foes from within their own party.
Every name on this list has a 50 percent chance — or more — of not returning to Congress next year. To compose this regular feature, Roll Call’s Politics Team examines every aspect of a member’s re-election prospects: district composition, campaign operation, fundraising, quality of opponent and recent performance.
We’ve made some changes since November: Two Democrats — Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina — and Republican Gary G. Miller of California are retiring. Three more incumbents are off the list and are on relatively safer ground: Reps. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and John F. Tierney, D-Mass. (But we’ll still give them honorable mentions, along with Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., and Steve Southerland II, R-Fla.)
Another incumbent to watch is Rep. John Conyers Jr., who could easily make this list if he is forced to run a write-in campaign or seek office as an independent — the Michigan Democrat may have insufficient signatures to get on the primary ballot.
The following vulnerable members are listed in alphabetical order.
Ron Barber, D-Ariz.
Republicans argue that the stars are finally aligning for them in the 2nd District, and the party’s recent internal polling showed a deadlocked race.
For the first time since 2006, the GOP has a quality candidate, retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, a seemingly favorable political climate and a willingness to spend in the district.
Barber’s best political asset is his team: They are the same operatives who were behind the campaigns of Barber’s former boss, ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call Race Rating: Tossup
Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich.
He’s a wanted man: This freshman has challenges from the left and the right in the 11th District.
His GOP opponent and top competition, attorney David Trott, first hit the television airwaves months before the Aug. 5 primary. Democrats vying for the nod include former State Department adviser Bobby McKenzie and wealthy urologist Anil Kumar.
An adept politician, Coffman held on in 2012 as President Barack Obama carried the 6th District by 5 points. Democrats recruited former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff early this cycle, and he followed through with strong fundraising.
Political talents aside, these two candidates now must contend with another competitive race on top of the ticket. The Centennial State’s Senate race probably helps Coffman, but he’s still locked in one of the cycle’s most competitive races.
Race Rating: Tossup
Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.
It’s increasingly difficult to see any path to victory for DesJarlais in the 4th District.
The self-described abortion rights opponent is damned by revelations, stemming from his 2001 divorce, that he encouraged his ex-wife and a former mistress to get multiple abortions.
Among other issues, it’s made fundraising a challenge for DesJarlais, a physician. He reported just $198,000 in cash on hand as of March 31. GOP state Sen. Jim Tracy, the only Republican challenging DesJarlais, had $914,000 in the bank at the same time.
Most likely, DeJarlais won’t have enough to defend himself on air this summer — and Tracy might not even need to go negative to win the Aug. 7 primary.
Race Rating: Safe Republican
Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y.
Within hours of his federal indictment, Grimm — a former FBI agent — became an underdog. Republicans are likely stuck with him on the ballot and it’s unclear whether they will spend money on him in the fall.
Democrats are bullish on their recruit in the 11th District, former New York City Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr.
The congressman is worse off than he was six months ago, and momentum has shifted away from him in this Silicon Valley-based district.
California Democratic operatives said Honda’s campaign may have taken its early lead in polling for granted. At the end of March, fellow Democrat Ro Khanna’s campaign had built a nearly $2 million war chest. That’s almost double what Honda had in the bank then.
More telling is that Khanna’s team — led by former top Obama campaign strategist Jeremy Bird — has forced Honda to go on defense, pushing him to agree to a debate schedule.
Hall is in deep trouble in his 4th District runoff bid against Republican John Ratcliffe on May 27. He fell a few points short of meeting the majority threshold in the March primary, and now he faces the former U.S. attorney one on one.
Hall’s biggest mistake was that he was unprepared for the primary against Ratcliffe.
The tea party consolidated behind Ratcliffe after the primary, and those groups will cry victory if Hall loses. But if that happens, the win belongs to Ratcliffe, who put $400,000 of his own money into the campaign before anyone — including Hall — considered his challenge a legitimate one.
Race Rating: Safe Republican
Scott Peters, D-Calif.
After a moderate Republican won San Diego’s mayoral special election in February, Republicans became even more hopeful that the 52nd District, which overlaps part of the city, could flip in November.
The GOP had already landed a top recruit in former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who has pitched himself as a moderate, a selling point in this district. DeMaio, an openly gay Republican, has also garnered considerable national media attention.
Peters’ campaign argues that DeMaio’s record is more extreme than he portrays.
Both campaigns will have the financial means to make their case: DeMaio reported nearly $1.3 million in the bank as of March 31, just shy of Peters’ nearly $1.5 million war chest. Expect a lot of outside money to be spent here, too.
Race Rating: Tossup
Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va.
In the past, Rahall boasted one of the best local brands in politics, effectively keeping enough distance between himself and a national party that’s increasingly unpopular in West Virginia. When Mitt Romney carried the 3rd District by 32 points in 2012, Rahall coasted to a 12-point victory.
But this year, the National Republican Congressional Committee and GOP outside groups are showing renewed determination to pick up his seat. The GOP’s recruit is Democratic-turned-Republican state Sen. Evan Jenkins.
Local Republicans are confident they will take the seat, but Rahall is putting up a fierce fight. His fundraising is strong and he has aired one of the cleverest ads of the cycle to date. If Rahall loses in the 3rd District, it will say more about the political climate in West Virginia than about his political acumen.
Race Rating: Tossup
Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y.
Only 1,086 votes separated Rangel and his primary rival, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, in 2012. Espaillat is back for another challenge, and now Rangel must also contend with Pastor Michael Walrond.
The enhanced danger for Rangel in 2014 is that Walrond, who is African-American, could peel off black votes from Rangel’s already narrow margin.
Rangel also lost a handful of high-profile Hispanic endorsements this cycle. Further complicating matters, the congressman endorsed against now-Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Big Apple’s 2013 Democratic mayoral primary.
Along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and others in the delegation, Rangel has a major trump card: Bill Clinton.
Race Rating: Safe Democrat