Congressional Roundup: Ellmers Becomes First GOP Incumbent to Lose

Trump endorsement couldn't save heavily targeted congresswoman

Rep. Renee Ellmers is the first Republican incumbent of the year to lose. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers, the first Republican member of Congress endorsed by Donald Trump, lost her primary Tuesday to fellow GOP Rep. George Holding.

Ellmers is now the first GOP member of the year to lose. She faced not only a redistricting challenge but also an onslaught of opposition from outside groups.

She wasn't the only GOP incumbent to have a rough night, although she alone lost her primary.

Fellow North Carolina Republican Robert Pittenger had a narrow lead in a  a three-way primary, according to the State Board of Elections. The Associated Press had not called the race by press time. His district is largely new to him as a result of redistricting.

Pittenger is under investigation by the FBI and the IRS for allegedly improperly transferring funds from his real estate company to his 2012 campaign. 

Elsewhere in North Carolina, 11-term Rep. Walter B. Jones easily defeated repeat primary challenger Taylor Griffin. In 2014, the GOP operative came within 6 points of knocking off Jones. 

In the 12th District, Democrat Alma Adams, who had been drawn out of the reconfigured district, won her seven-way primary.

Holding, a former U.S. attorney and aide to the late Sen. Jesse Helms, currently represents the 13th District. But after court-mandated redistricting moved the 13th District across the state, Holding decided to run in the new 2nd District instead.

Seventeen Republicans ran for the open 13th District. Businessman Ted Budd, who was backed by the Club for Growth's PAC, won with a small percentage of the vote

North Carolina's General Assembly did away with the 40 percent threshold requirement when it moved its House primaries from March to June.  

Ellmers would have faced a tough primary even without redistricting. Holding represents more of the new district than Ellmers does, but he currently lives in the 4th District, which is represented by Democrat David Price.


[ Proposed N.C. Congressional Map Sets Up Incumbent Showdown

As the son of a wealthy banking family, Holding, the 99th wealthiest member of Congress , had more resources at his disposal. He also had a super PAC on his side spending against Ellmers, who was backed by Defending Main Street super PAC.

Ellmers attacked Holding for spending too lavishly on congressional trips.

But the attacks on Ellmers for alienating her conservative base have been nonstop. Outside conservative groups have piled on her for legislative actions she’s taken on spending, immigration and abortion.

[ Hunger Games in North Carolina ]

Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by the Koch brothers, has spent big against her — the first time the group has targeted a GOP member in a primary.

Susan B. Anthony List, which is dedicated to backing GOP women who oppose abortion, took the unprecedented step of supporting Holding over Ellmers, who also opposes abortion.

Despite initially voicing support for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in early March, Ellmers became the first female member of Congress to endorse Trump several weeks later.

Even a late-in-the-game endorsement from the presumptive GOP nominee couldn’t boost Ellmers, who had been facing a difficult primary even before redistricting pitted her and Holding against each other.

[ Renee Ellmers Says She's Praying for Those Who Bear False Witness

Elected in 2010 with tea party support, Ellmers, a nurse, has since angered conservatives and outside groups, like the Club for Growth, which endorsed one of her challengers in the old 2nd District.

In its endorsement of Holding earlier this week, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund said Ellmers “was seduced by Washington once she got to the nation’s capital.”

[ The Rise and (Probable Fall) of Renee Ellmers

In particular, she’s taken heat for backing reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. She’s argued  the export credit agency supports jobs in her district.

She also sided with 75 other Republicans in passing a Homeland Security spending bill that did not address President Barack Obama's executive order on deferred deportations. 

Ellmers angered anti-abortion activists when she helped pull from the floor a bill that would have originally required rape survivors to report the crime to the police in order to get an abortion more than 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

“If you remember back to the 2012 election, this is the conversation that started the whole 'war on women' issue with 'legitimate rape,” Ellmers told CQ Roll Call in March when explaining her actions. She supported the revised bill.

[ What the House GOP's Abortion Bill About-Face Really Means

Ellmers rose quickly through the ranks in leadership as an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama's health care law, chairing the Small Business Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology as a freshman and working on the Republican Study Committee's replacement bill in 2013.

That same year, she helped relaunch the Republican Women's Policy Committee to show the party isn't just for "graying, older white men."

Ellmers has voted with her party 95 percent of the time she's been in Congress, according to CQ Vote Watch. She's supported the president 16 percent of the time — barely more than the average House Republican. 

Holding will face an easy election in November in a district the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates Safe Republican.

Elsewhere on the East Coast and in the Midwest, voters were casting votes in contentious congressional primaries in Iowa and New Jersey. 

In New Jersey's 1st District, millennial challenger Alex Law failed to knock off two-term Democrat Donald Norcross, the brother of South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross III.

Law raised just $16,000 in the first quarter of this year. But his primary challenge got the attention of Norcross, who had spent nearly $1 million at the end of May's pre-primary FEC filing period and received a late endorsement from Obama.  

And in Iowa, where Democrats must win two competitive seats to hope make a dent in their 30-seat deficit in the House, they went to the polls Tuesday to select nominees for the 1st and 3rd District.

In the 1st District, Monica Vernon defeated 2014 nominee Pat Murphy for the right to take on GOP freshman Rod Blum.

And in the 3rd District, Iraq War veteran Jim Mowrer defeated businessman Mike Sherzan. Mowrer, who was the party's nominee in the 4th District in 2014, will challenge vulnerable GOP Rep. David Young in November. 

Democrats in the Hawkeye State are also targeting six-term Sen. Charles E. Grassley. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee-backed candidate, former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, will challenge the Judiciary Committee Chairman in the general election. 

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