August Primaries Endanger Incumbents

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) (L) participates in a ceremonial swearing in event with Vice President Joe Biden, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill, on December 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Schatz is filling the late Sen. Daniel Inouye's (D-HI) seat in the Senate.
National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
July 25, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

After next week, primary sea­son will re­kindle for its last stretch be­fore every­one can fi­nally fo­cus en­tirely on the gen­er­al elec­tion. And the first week back could end up be­ing the most dan­ger­ous primary week of the year for in­cum­bents.

— Two House in­cum­bents are more likely to lose than not: Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) and Scott Des­Jar­lais (R-TN). But don’t write them in­to any broad­er pat­tern. Bentivolio, who was the only oth­er Re­pub­lic­an on the bal­lot in MI-11 when Thad Mc­Cot­ter‘s frad­u­lent nom­in­at­ing pe­ti­tions were thrown out, is the defin­i­tion of an ac­ci­dent­al con­gress­man, while the 2012 rev­el­a­tions that Des­Jar­lais had sexu­al re­la­tion­ships with co-work­ers and med­ic­al pa­tients and pres­sured one to have an abor­tion des­troyed his stand­ing with Re­pub­lic­ans. Both at­trac­ted very well-fun­ded chal­lengers with busi­ness and es­tab­lish­ment GOP sup­port.

— Oth­er in­cum­bents up at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust are bet­ter-po­si­tioned, though some still face po­ten­tially dif­fi­cult chal­lenges. Ex-Rep. Todd Ti­ahrt‘s (R) KS-04 comeback at­tempt also de­fies polit­ic­al pi­geon­hol­ing. Many of the groups back­ing Rep. Mike Pom­peo (R) had few ideo­lo­gic­al quibbles with Ti­ahrt while he was in Con­gress, per their vote score­cards, but they’re stick­ing with the in­cum­bent. Both can­did­ates are ac­cus­ing the oth­er of cronyism, and Pom­peo is us­ing Ti­ahrt’s ser­vice against him by at­tack­ing him over ear­marks. Mean­while, most still ex­pect Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) to win re­nom­in­a­tion, but phys­i­cian Milton Wolf (R) hasn’t faded as far as people thought after his X-ray con­tro­versy.

— Then, in Hawaii‘s tra­di­tion­al Sat­urday primary, there’s the lone big Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate primary of the cycle, pit­ting ap­poin­ted Sen. Bri­an Schatz (D) against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D), who wanted that ap­point­ment in the first place and was backed by late Sen. Daniel In­ouye. That race and Gov. Neil Aber­crom­bie‘s (D) con­tested primary are stud­ies in con­trast among Hawaii Demo­crats, high­light­ing eth­nic dif­fer­ences, gen­er­a­tion­al dif­fer­ences, and a long-term ideo­lo­gic­al shift with­in the state party.

Only two con­gres­sion­al in­cum­bents have lost primar­ies this year (though as we’ve noted, that by it­self isn’t a full meas­ure of in­cum­bent strength and weak­ness). As primar­ies re­start, that fig­ure could go up fast.
— Scott Bland

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