House incumbents face historic primary peril
The 2022 midterms are on track to see the most losses by House members in their primaries in three decades.
Why it matters: The number of incumbents who have been ousted — or are likely to be toppled in upcoming primary contests — highlights a political realignment that has been underway in both parties for years.
- This year's primary bloodbath follows 2020's, which saw the most primary losses in a non-redistricting year since 1974.
State of play: 11 House members have lost their primaries so far this cycle — seven Republicans and four Democrats. Several common trends have emerged:
- Incumbent vs. incumbent: 10 House members were forced to compete with a colleague for a district after their state lost a seat in reapportionment.
- Progressive vs. moderate: Progressive Reps. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and Marie Newman (D-Ill.) lost to more moderate colleagues, while centrist Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) lost to a liberal primary challenger.
- Trump's revenge: In five cases, former President Trump's endorsement helped topple incumbents who broke with him on impeachment or, in other cases, major legislation.
- Ethics issues: Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) lost to insurgents amid ethics controversies, with Cawthorn in particular engulfed in a cloud of scandal.
What we're watching: Another incumbent will fall in New York's 12th District, where Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, as well as attorney Suraj Patel, are facing off in a hotly contested Democratic primary.
Two more members are at serious risk of losing in the coming weeks:
- Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is seen as the underdog in her Aug. 16 primary versus Trump-endorsed challenger Harriet Hageman.
- Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) is also facing an uphill battle against a crowded Democratic field in a district he's never represented.
By the numbers: That would put the number of incumbents who lost their primaries at 14, the second most since 1948. In 1992, 19 incumbents lost renomination, according to Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.
- 2022, like 1992, is a redistricting year, meaning incumbents in states that lost districts were forced to compete against one another for their seats.
- But "you have some factors that don't have anything to do with it being a redistricting year, such as Trump being on the warpath," Crystal Ball managing editor Kyle Kondik told Axios.
- Democrats, he added, "continue to be a more establishment-friendly party," but "we have seen some Democratic incumbents lose to left-wing challengers."
Between the lines: Trump's endorsement has been a major factor throughout the 2022 primaries as a proxy for his grip on power in the Republican Party. Even just voting for bills he opposed has been enough to stoke his wrath.
- For Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), it was a bipartisan commission to investigate Jan. 6. For Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), it was the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Both lost to Trump-endorsed colleagues following redistricting.
- Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.), who has a Rudy Giuliani-backed foe in his Aug. 23 primary, said his vote for infrastructure — which Trump railed against — has caused him problems back home on the campaign trail.
- "There's a lot of anger about everything," he said. "There was initial blowback with the infrastructure vote, but people were confused, they thought it was Build Back Better." He added that the "good stuff" from infrastructure has paved over those concerns.
The big picture: For every race an incumbent lost, another just managed to hang on against a challenger boosted by those same trends.
- Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a Schrader-like centrist who is the last pro-life House Democrat, beat progressive Jessica Cisneros by just a few hundred votes.
- Several Republicans who voted for the Jan. 6 commission faced tough races, with Reps. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) and Van Taylor (R-Texas) being forced into primary runoffs.
- Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying the Jan. 6 committee's subpoena, beat Trump-backed Katie Arrington by eight points.