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Notes on the State of the Primaries: Sept. 21, 2022

Dear Readers: Please join us, virtually, for a couple of special Center for Politics events this week.

Today (Wednesday, Sept. 21) from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Peter Prindiville, a non-resident fellow at the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, will discuss their new book, The Constitution in Jeopardy: An Unprecedented Effort to Rewrite Our Fundamental Law and What We Can Do About It. The discussion will be streamed here.

On Friday, Sept. 23 from noon to 1:30 p.m., the Center for Politics will honor the service of U.S. Capitol Police Officers and D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 with the presentation of the Center’s first annual “Defender of Democracy” awards.

This year’s inaugural award recipients will be Private First Class Harry A. Dunn, Officer Caroline Edwards, Officer Michael Fanone, Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, Officer Eugene Goodman, Officer Daniel Hodges, Officer Howard Liebengood (posthumously), Officer Jeffrey Smith (posthumously), and Private First Class Brian Sicknick (posthumously). Following the ceremony, the officers and widows of the fallen officers will participate in a special panel discussion about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. The ceremony and discussion will be streamed here.

With the 2022 primary season essentially over, Crystal Ball Associate Editor J. Miles Coleman explores this cycle’s primary losses in this issue.

— The Editors

Senate and governor

We’ll start our survey of the 2022 primary losses with a brief look at the Senate and gubernatorial races. Why will this just be a brief look? Well, with one potential exception, all incumbent senators and governors who are running for reelection this cycle have made it past the primary stage of the election.

The one potential exception (and it is not an especially likely one) is Louisiana’s Republican Sen. John Kennedy. Louisiana conducts its all-party jungle primary when other states are holding their general election. If Kennedy doesn’t win outright in November, he’d go into a December runoff as a heavy favorite.

Though there was something of a protest vote against some members — particularly on the GOP side, where established senators like John Boozman (R-AR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and John Thune (R-SD) each won their primaries with less than 75% — none of the partisan Senate primaries that featured incumbents were especially close. We say partisan primaries because in Alaska, moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski finished just over 6 points ahead of her Donald Trump-backed opponent, Kelly Tshibaka (R), in last month’s “tundra primary.” The ranked-choice general election will be in November, but for our purposes, Murkowski has at least made it through the primary season.

In any case, the calm on the GOP side represented a change from 2014, which was the most recent cycle where the Senate flipped to Republicans — something that could happen again this year. That year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saw several of his veteran members struggle: Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) all won their primaries by single-digit margins over Tea Party-aligned insurgents (McConnell, among others, had a real primary, too, although he won by a more decisive margin). While some GOP candidates for open or Democratic-held seats may be giving national Republicans headaches this cycle, Republican incumbents at least seem to be in good standing with their states’ primary electorates.

Late last year, as we looked forward to the 2022 gubernatorial contests, we wrote that while some Democratic incumbents may face challenging general elections, the primary phase of the election presented more potential pitfalls for Republican governors. While the first part of that analysis still holds true — there are 7 Democratic governors who are in races that we rate as either Toss-up or Leans Democratic — GOP incumbents, on the whole, did surprisingly well in primaries.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), rather impressively, beat back a challenge from former Sen. David Perdue, Trump’s choice, with over 70% of the vote. In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little (R) faced 7 opponents, the most prominent of whom was his far-right (and Trump-endorsed) lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin. Little won with 53% to McGeachin’s 32%, carrying everything but a few panhandle counties.

Now, we’ll move on to the House. In 2020, we noted that that cycle had seen more turnover than usual for a cycle that didn’t immediately follow redistricting. That dynamic has essentially carried over to 2022, which obviously is a year where redistricting affected things. Assuming there are no losing incumbents in Louisiana, 15 members will have lost primaries this year — that is the most since the 1992 cycle, which was another redistricting year.

The pro-impeachment Republicans

One of the most sure-fire ways to lose a primary this cycle was to be a Republican who supported impeaching Trump. Of the 10 Republicans who supported the post-Jan. 6. impeachment of the former president, 6 ran for reelection, and only Reps. David Valadao (R, CA-22) and Dan Newhouse (R, WA-4) have made it past primary season — Valadao may still lose the general election, as he is running in a Biden +13 seat, while Newhouse, who faces a Democrat in a red seat, is a heavy favorite.

In June, Rep. Tom Rice (R, SC-7) was the first pro-impeachment Republican lose a primary. His district, centering on retiree-heavy Horry County, was Trump’s best South Carolina district back in the 2016 primary. In a result that set the tone for the rest of the primary season, state Rep. Russell Fry beat Rice outright, 51%-25%.

At least one of the primaries in which a pro-impeachment Republican lost had clear general election implications. Going into the Michigan primary, we rated MI-3 as a Toss-up — had Rep. Peter Meijer been renominated, we would have, at least, kept it there. But a few weeks ago, we moved this Biden +9 seat into the Leans Democratic category. Democrats have a heralded nominee there, and the Republican nominee, John Gibbs, may be too far-right for the area. Similarly, Republicans in southwestern Washington went with a more unproven candidate: in the all-party primary, retired Green Beret Joe Kent finished slightly ahead of 6-term Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. Democrat Marie Perez placed first and will face Kent in November. We are keeping this Trump +4 seat at Likely Republican.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R, WY-AL) was easily the most vocally anti-Trump Republican member running for reelection. In her primary, Cheney carried only the Democratic-leaning areas in Wyoming — which, given the state’s dark red hue, is to say that she lost in a landslide.

Member vs. member races

Because of reapportionment, election cycles ending “2” often see the highest turnover in primaries — as districts are added or subtracted from a state, incumbents can end up fighting for the same turf. This cycle, there were 6 contests that ensued from those situations.

On the Republican side, West Virginia Rep. David McKinley and Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis were both mainstream members of the GOP conference who lost to Trump-backed members in solid red seats. Though McKinley represented more of the newly-created district (it is essentially the northern half of West Virginia) he carried his homebase of Wheeling and not much else. Rep. Alex Mooney, the winner of that race, has been mentioned as a potential 2024 Senate candidate, so WV-2 may see another contested primary then. In downstate Illinois, Rep. Mary Miller defeated Davis by 15 points. On an interesting geographical note, Miller’s best margins came in part of the district that was new to her (that area is known as the “Forgottonia” region of the state).

As with the Republican member-vs-member situations, none of the comparable Democratic primaries were especially close. In Georgia, Republicans made 2-term Rep. Lucy McBath’s northern Atlanta-area seat considerably redder. She moved over to run in the new GA-7, which came more from first-term Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux’s seat — McBath won 63%-31%. Similarly, in Chicagoland, a first-term Democrat was beat out by a slightly more senior colleague, despite a geographic edge. In 2020, Rep. Marie Newman (D) got to Congress by primarying out conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski, only to lose her next primary to fellow Rep. Sean Casten in the new IL-6. As a new, heavily Hispanic seat was created in the area, Casten and Newman were thrown together. In Oakland County, Michigan, Rep. Haley Stevens beat out Rep. Andy Levin. Levin was criticized for not being a “team player” and running in the light red MI-10, which was more familiar to him. Finally, after a Democratic gerrymander was thrown out in New York, Rep. Jerry Nadler opted to run against Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the new NY-12. The contest was rare in that it pitted 2 committee chairs against each other: Nadler leads the Judiciary Committee while Maloney chairs the Oversight Committee. In any case, Nadler won with a majority in a multi-candidate field.

As an interesting aside, of those Democratic intraparty primaries, only the GA-7 contest came about as a result of Republicans seeking to punish Democrats. In fact, redistricting in the 4 states that saw Democratic member-on-member primaries were all controlled by different actors: Republicans controlled Georgia, Democrats mapped Illinois, Michigan now has an independent commission, and New York’s map was drawn by a court-appointed special master.

Other House losses

Though they didn’t face off against fellow incumbents, 2 other Democrats lost for redistricting-related reasons. When New York’s court-drawn map was released, it set off a game of musical chairs in the Hudson Valley. When Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, opted to run a district that mostly consisted of Rep. Mondaire Jones’s old territory, Jones made an unexpected move: he carpetbagged several districts southward to run in the new NY-10, which takes in Lower Manhattan. Jones finished third in the primary there. On the other side of the country, veteran Rep. Kurt Schrader (D, OR-5) lost to a more progressive challenger, but he was not helped by redistricting: he lost Bend’s Deschutes County, which was recently added to his district and cast close to 40% of the primary vote, by 41 points.

The 3 Republican “miscellaneous” primary losses of the cycle had less to do with redistricting and were more about incumbent-specific flaws. In 2014, Politico dubbed 3 scandal-plagued Republicans — then Reps. Vance McAllister, Mike Grimm, and Trey Radel — as the party’s “bad boys.” That descriptor could easily apply to 3 of their members who lost this year.

In the immediate wake of the first primary night this year, back on March 1, Rep. Van Taylor (R, TX-3) became the first casualty of the 2022 primary season. From an ideological perspective, Taylor had not committed any glaring apostasies, although former Collin County Judge Keith Self positioned himself as a more stridently conservative option. Taylor seemed most hurt by a late-breaking story that alleged he had an affair. The news was enough to push Taylor to just under 49% of the vote, which would have forced a runoff with Self, who placed second, with 26%. But, as he admitted to the affair, Taylor bowed out, clearing the way for Self to claim the GOP nomination. We consider this a primary loss because Taylor failed to avoid a runoff and then bowed out; others may reasonably consider Taylor to be a “retirement,” as opposed to a primary loser — we can see it both ways.

Incidentally, the last southern Republican who lost a congressional runoff was the late Rep. Ralph Hall, who represented the next-door TX-4. A conservative Democrat for most of his career, Hall switched parties in 2004 — as it turned out, that switch bought him an additional decade in office. Hall took 45% in his 2014 primary, and his share didn’t improve much in a runoff against John Ratcliffe, who would go on to serve as President Trump’s Director of National Intelligence. Had Taylor stayed in the runoff, something similar could have played out. TX-3 may become more competitive later in the decade, but Self should be safe in this 57% Trump Dallas-area seat.

First-term Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R, NC-11) was hit by an array of scandals, ranging from allegations of sexual misconduct to insider trading. All this was enough for state Sen. Chuck Edwards to claim a narrow plurality in the primary. While he had fewer ethical issues, Rep. Steve Palazzo (R, MS-4) was weighed down by allegations of misusing campaign funds. Palazzo took just over 30% in his primary — he lost a runoff to Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, but kept the margin fairly close (6 points).

While we wouldn’t consider this a “primary loss” per se, Ohio’s 7th district saw another unusual situation. Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs’ district was torn apart multiple ways. He dropped out about a month before the state’s May 3 primary, but his name remained on the ballot. Max Miller, a first-time candidate from a well-known local family ran with Trump’s endorsement and easily won the GOP nomination in the new district. Unlike Taylor, Gibbs dropped out before votes were counted in the election — hence why we are counting Taylor as a primary loser, but not Gibbs.


2022 was the first election cycle since 1998 where no incumbent Senators or governors who ran for reelection were denied renomination. Though there was considerably more turnover at the House level, over 96% of members who are seeking another term made it through the primary phase (we are assuming that all 6 members of Louisiana’s delegation, who all have safe seats, will ultimately prevail).