Two more Democratic congressmen will become lame ducks after Tuesday night, when votes are tallied another pair of member-versus-member primaries in Michigan and Missouri that headline a crowded slate of important August 7 primaries. Both contests -- between Reps. Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters in Michigan's 14th District and between Reps. Russ Carnahan and Lacy Clay in Missouri's 1st District -- pit a black Democrat against a white one in a majority-minority district, emblemizing the intra-Democratic tensions that arise in redistricting every 10 years. In these individual races, Peters and Clay both seem poised for victory after contentious campaigns.
Black and white Democrats often find their interests at odds when redistricting rolls around. Congressional Black Caucus members are largely concentrated in compact, urban districts, while their mostly white colleagues are mostly representing areas in the suburbs and beyond. And even though moving some of the Democratic-leaning population in those districts would help elect more Democrats outside city centers, urban Democrats -- usually black, but sometimes white too -- prefer not to share, protecting their constituencies from partisan dilution instead.
That leads to a few intra-party scuffles every decade, and Missouri's new 1st District was the site of one of them. Clay and fellow African-American Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., helped gather Democratic support for the Missouri redistricting plan, which was drawn by Missouri Republicans but protected their districts. Carnahan's district was eliminated, and he shouted at Clay on the House floor over the matter.
Now, Carnahan is running against Clay in a seat that is less than 30 percent composed of his old constituents. Race has played a less starring role since the campaign got going. Carnahan has made a serious play for black voters, advertising on black radio stations and finding some traction in his uphill climb by hitting Clay's connections to the rent-to-own industry, while Clay hit Carnahan's vote for the bank bailout and consolidated some of Missouri's white Democratic establishment, including the Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis's mayor, to go with his significant black support.
Race has played a much bigger, more unusual role in the Michigan 14th District race between Clarke and Peters. A voter supporting one of Clarke's opponents was peddling some fairly nasty accusations
about Clarke's heritage (he is half Indian and half African-American) early in the primary, but they weren't getting any attention -- until Clarke announced he was forgoing future debates to protest the "racial rhetoric." But he accused "his opponent" of raising the charges without specifying which opponent it was, possibly in an effort to tie Peters, the other main candidate, to the charges.
It doesn't seem to have worked. Peters has a reliable hold on his western, Oakland County portion of the district and has worked to make inroads in more diverse Wayne County while boosting his turnout at home -- the exact recipe that victors in prior member-against-member primaries have followed. Several current and former local officeholders are also running, but they trail the two congressmen, while Peters is considered a strong favorite heading into the vote.
Michigan also plays host to several other important primaries on Tuesday. Also in metro Detroit, Democratic Rep. John Conyers
faces an unusually strong primary challenge in another newly drawn district. State Sen. Glenn Anderson
is considered the strongest of several challengers, but they may end up splitting any anti-Conyers vote between themselves.
The 11th District unexpectedly became a hot race late in the season, after Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter
failed to qualify for the primary, leaving tea party protest candidate Kerry Bentivolio
as the only name on the Republican ballot. Local GOP leaders chose ex-state Sen. Nancy Cassis
as their consensus write-in "nominee," but she faces a distinct challenge against the only listed candidate, especially since Bentivolio was backed by a large late expenditure from a tea party super PAC, Liberty For All. Still, Bentivolio has some odd liabilities, including acting in a low-budget film that mirrors a 9/11 conspiracy theory
. Michigan's liberal write-in laws, which allow ballot counters leeway in determining the intent of write-in voters, also boost Cassis's chances, but we may not know the results until long after results in other districts have been tallied.
Finally, in the 6th District, GOP Rep. Fred Upton
will likely survive another challenged by former state legislator Jack Hoogendyk
. Hoogendyk held Upton to under 60 percent of the primary vote in 2010 and was expected to mount another strong challenge this time, but Upton stepped up to defend himself and attack his opponent early this time, and significant outside help never materialized despite one early anti-Upton ad from the Club for Growth this year.