Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), one of several House members facing a tough primary challenge
Every cycle, a number of House members find themselves facing tough primary challenges. This year is no different, with several sitting House members in danger of being fired by their own party. It's rare for a sitting House member to lose renomination: Since 1994 it's happened only 31 times
(excluding incumbent-versus-incumbent battles). However, every cycle a few House members manage to alienate their own electorate.
What follows is a look at the House incumbents who face a potentially tough primary fight. In all likelihood most will win: Despite Congress' unpopularity, the renomination rate is sky-high. However, it's a virtual certainty that at least some of the people mentioned below will be thrown out of office by another member of their party.
To start out, here are the incumbents who look like they are in the most danger:
Head below the fold for a look at each race, and why each representative is fighting for renomination.
NC-03: Walter Jones (R), most of the North Carolina coast
Walter Jones has long been a bit of an odd duck in the House GOP caucus. He was one of very few House Republicans to support banking regulations, and he voted against John Boehner for speaker last year. A number of Republicans are fed up with his apostasies and are backing former Bush administration Treasury aide Taylor Griffin.
Thanks in large part to donations from banking groups and Jones' own poor fundraising, Griffin has outraised the incumbent. Outside groups are getting involved, with the Emergency Committee for Israel attacking Jones on foreign policy. After a 2008 scare, Jones turned back primary challenges with ease, but a number of establishment conservatives hope this will be the year Jones' luck runs out.
In Jones' favor, he has the advantage of hailing from a well-known North Carolina political family. Griffin also has some liabilities: While he is a North Carolina native, he only moved back to the state in 2013 after years in Washington. Griffin also burned through most of his money, with Jones holding a $158,000 to $97,000 cash-on-hand lead as of the end of March. Whoever wins the GOP primary should have little trouble in this conservative seat.
OH-14: David Joyce (R), northeast Ohio
Freshman Rep. David Joyce was elected in 2012 without winning a Republican primary. He was nominated by local party chairs when now-former Rep. Steve LaTourette dropped out of the race after winning renomination. Joyce faces a credible challenge from state Rep. Matt Lynch, who has a reputation for being an ardent conservative. Lynch is rallying tea party support and portraying Joyce as not conservative enough.
However, Lynch entered the race late and has little money. As of late March, Joyce held a massive $1,218,000 to $49,000 cash-on-hand lead over his challenger. Joyce also has well-funded allies on his side, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce airing an ad for him. The incumbent also doesn't seem to have done much in office to anger primary voters.
The district went for Romney 51-48, and Democrats have a credible candidate in attorney Michael Wager. Team Blue's odds would almost certainly be better if the underfunded and very conservative Lynch wins rather than Joyce. For now, Daily Kos Elections rates this as Likely Republican.
GA-04: Hank Johnson (D), eastern Atlanta suburbs
Four-term Rep. Hank Johnson faces a serious primary opponent in DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown. A little over half the district is in DeKalb County, and Brown is widely credited for reforming what was a very corrupt sheriff's department. While neither candidate has raised a massive amount, Brown holds a $165,000 to $93,000 cash-on-hand edge over Johnson. Additionally, Johnson has occasionally gotten bad press for his strange comments.
Johnson still has a lot going for him. The incumbent has the support of President Obama, which could make all the difference. Johnson also does not appear to have done much to alienate primary voters, strange comments aside. No matter who wins, this 77-percent Obama seat isn't going anywhere.
ID-02: Mike Simpson (R), eastern Idaho
Longtime Rep. Mike Simpson is a close ally of Speaker John Boehner, which doesn't sit well with insurgent Republicans. While Simpson isn't particularly moderate, he's also not much of a fire-breathing conservative. Lawyer Bryan Smith is portraying Simpson as insufficiently conservative and as a supporter of earmarks. Smith also has some deep-pocketed allies, with the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund both backing him. Simpson's vote for the financial industry bailout is also a potential liability. In 2010, he only prevailed with 58 percent of the vote against a primary challenger who did not have Smith's connections, and he can take nothing for granted here.
The incumbent has the support of the deep-pocketed U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Mitt Romney, who is reportedly very popular in the district, is backing Simpson and running an ad for him. Smith also has his own problems—Simpson is seizing on his challenger's career as a trial lawyer, which is not exactly a plus in a Republican primary.
Democrats have an interesting candidate in former Rep. Richard Stallings. If Smith prevails, Stallings will have a better shot at an upset, but in a seat as conservative as this the Republicans have a lot of room for error here.
TX-04: Ralph Hall (R), Sherman, Paris, Texarkana, Rockwell
Just shy of 91 years old, Ralph Hall is seeking what he says will be his last term in this safely red seat. Some Republicans don't particularly want Hall sticking around and one of them, former US Attorney John Ratcliffe, has forced Hall into a primary runoff. Hall only won 46 percent in the March primary and the runoff will likely be dominated by even more conservative voters. Ratcliffe is personally very wealthy and has the backing of the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund. Hall won less than 60 percent in his 2010 and 2012 primaries against unremarkable opponents, and it looks like he has a real fight here.
In his favor, Hall is quite conservative and his long service has earned him a good deal of support at home. Hall also seems to have figured out late in the campaign how to portray his age as a positive. Hall also earned the backing of third-place primary finisher Lou Gigliotti, which could prevent Ratcliffe from consolidating the anti-Hall vote. Ratcliffe's own backers may have also done their guy more harm then good when they ran an ad outright attacking Hall for being too old and attacking Hall for some earmarks conservatives would normally like.
CA-15: Eric Swalwell (D), Hayward, Pleasanton, San Ramon
Freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell was one of the beneficiaries of California's new and unpredictable top-two system in 2012. Instead of holding separate party primaries, all candidates run on one ballot and the two top vote-getters advance to the general. Swalwell faced then-Rep. Pete Stark, a fellow Democrat, and pulled off a surprising win. This year, state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett is hoping to repeat Swalwell's feat. Corbett is well known in the district and has portrayed herself as a more experienced candidate.
Corbett has not run a very active campaign so far and is facing a large fundraising deficit. Swalwell has also nailed down influential endorsements, including President Obama's and the state party's. Furthermore, it's not guaranteed Corbett will make it to the general against Swalwell. Republican Hugh Bussell is running and if he can consolidate the district's conservative voters in June, he could place second to Swalwell and keep Corbett out of the general election. Regardless of what happens, the Democrats will keep the seat.
CA-17: Mike Honda (D), Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Fremont
Since his 2000 win Honda has not needed to worry about re-election, but well-funded former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna aims to change that. Khanna has a big $1,947,000 to $1,084,000 lead over Honda in cash-on-hand. The challenger is also likely to advance to November, as two Republicans are running and should split what conservative vote there is. Khanna is running to Honda's right and if he consolidate Republicans, independents and some Democrats, he may have a shot at unseating Honda in the general.
Honda appears to have done little to anger voters here, which could make it difficult for Khanna to argue its time for fresh blood. Honda also has the influential backing of President Obama and the state party. This heavily blue seat will stay with the Democrats no matter how things go.
MS-04: Steve Palazzo (R), Mississippi Gulf Coast, Hattiesburg
Palazzo faces a very unusual primary challenge from former Rep. Gene Taylor, the Democrat he unseated in 2010. Taylor was a very popular and very conservative politician who represented the area for over two decades, and he may be able to take advantage of fond memories of his tenure. Palazzo also has had some stumbles—while Taylor was widely praised for his work after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, Palazzo earned bad headlines in early 2013 when he became the only member of the state's congressional delegation to vote against Hurricane Sandy aid. After it emerged that Palazzo had asked the federal government for Katrina aid money, Palazzo changed his vote. Impending job losses at the local Kessler Air Force Base have also given Taylor ammunition to argue he was the more effective congressman.
Still, it's a very good bet that Republican primary voters are not keen to dump one of their own for a former Democrat. In any case, Palazzo is more than willing to remind them of his opponent's past. Taylor also has not raised much money so far while Palazzo seems to be taking the challenge seriously. No matter who prevails, this seat will remain Republican.
NY-13: Charlie Rangel (D), Harlem, Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights
Longtime Rep. Charlie Rangel saw his popularity drop in recent years, especially after a financial scandal led to the House censuring him. Rangel narrowly survived a primary challenge against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat 44 to 42 percent in 2012, and is seeking what he says will be his last term. Espaillat is running again and this time he has the backing of influential former Rangel supporters who think it's time for the incumbent to depart. The district's changing demographics also pose a challenge for Rangel. Another African-American candidate, well known pastor Michael Walrond, is running and could split the African-American vote enough to allow the Dominican-born Espaillat to win.
A little-known Hispanic candidate is running and could cost Espaillat some votes he needs. Some time has also passed since Rangel's personal problems came to light, and voters may be more keen to give the incumbent one more term as a result. The general election will be a lot less interesting, as this is one of the safest Democratic seats anywhere.
NY-22: Richard Hanna (R), Utica, Binghamton
Sophomore Rep. Richard Hanna is one of the few genuinely moderate members in his caucus. He earned some conservative wrath in 2012 when he encouraged women to donate to Democrats. This year he faces conservative Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who is sure to remind voters of his apostasies.
Tenney entered the race pretty late and doesn't have much time to organize or raise money. Hanna has the ability to self-fund and can invest whatever is needed to keep his seat. Unfortunately, Democrats are not fielding anyone in this swing seat. Hanna is guaranteed to be on the November ballot as the Independence Party candidate, so he could conceivably run as the de facto Democrat if he loses the primary.
MI-03: Justin Amash (R), Grand Rapids, Battle Creek
Sophomore Rep. Justin Amash is a member of the party's libertarian wing and has cast some votes the establishment does not like. Businessman Brian Ellis is running as a more conventional conservative and is capable of spending significant amounts of his own money. Ellis has run ads attacking Amash for not supporting an anti-abortion bill and for voting against the Balanced Budget Amendment (albeit from the right).
In Amash's corner are the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. Amash is also a vocal critic of the NSA, which is likely to play very well with the party base. The seat leans Republican and Democrats don't look like they have a credible candidate who could win.
MI-11: Kerry Bentivolio (R), Livonia, Novi, Troy
Freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio won this seat largely by accident. The underfunded candidate was waging a quixotic primary against Rep. Thad McCotter, but got a major boost after McCotter was thrown off the ballot for fraudulent petition signatures. This time around, very wealthy foreclosure attorney David Trott is looking to take advantage of Bentivolio's inexperience. Through superior fundraising and self-funding, Trott has a massive $1,042,000 to $130,000 cash-on-hand lead over the incumbent. Bentivolio also has several strange details from his past that are likely to haunt him in the primary.
As a foreclosure attorney, Trott has some baggage of his own. One ugly story is how Trott played a role in forcing a 101-year old woman out of her home. Bentivolio will probably need more stories like this to come out in order to have a shot here. Democrats are keeping an eye on this Republican-leaning seat, and both candidates' flaws could give them an opening. Bentivolio would still likely be a better foil for Team Blue. We currently rate the general as Likely Republican.
TN-03: Chuck Fleischmann (R), Chattanooga, Oak Ridge
Sophomore Rep. Chuck Fleischmann won a pretty unimpressive 39 percent in his 2012 primary against venture capitalist Weston Wamp and ice cream magnate Scottie Mayfield. Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zack Wamp, is running again and outraised Fleischmann in the last fundraising quarter.
Fortunately for Fleischmann, Wamp recently generated some very bad headlines. In an attempt to win Mayfield's endorsement, Wamp met with his former rival and foolishly recorded the conversation without Mayfield's knowledge: Mayfield was understandably not happy and endorsed Fleischmann. It also doesn't look like Fleischmann has done anything to offend primary voters. Either man should be favored to keep this East Tennessee seat in GOP hands.
TN-04: Scott DesJarlais (R), Dayton, Murfreesboro
If you're looking for the incumbent most likely to lose his seat in 2014, you've found him. Rep. (for now) Scott DesJarlais, a physician, saw his career self-destruct when it emerged that he had affairs with several of his patients and encouraged at least one to have an abortion. DesJarlais has seen his donations dry up and state Sen. Jim Tracy has amassed a $911,000-to-$198,000 cash lead. If DesJarlais pulls off a win, it will probably qualify as one of the greatest upsets ever.
Democrats held this seat until the 2010 red wave, but it's probably gone for the foreseeable future. DesJarlais's scandal came out during his 2012 re-election campaign against a Democratic state senator, yet he still won 56-44.
TN-09: Steve Cohen (D), Memphis
As a white representative in a predominantly African-American seat, Steve Cohen has never been able to take his re-election completely for granted. However, Cohen has easily won, cycle after cycle. The incumbent generated some headlines in 2013 when he announced he had a previously unknown daughter, but a paternity test showed he was not in fact related to her. Wealthy attorney Ricky Wilkins seems to think Cohen's recent turbulence may give him a shot at unseating the congressman.
It's far from clear if Cohen's story actually hurt him (it's quite possible he may appear more sympathetic, if anything). In any case, after three easy primary wins, Cohen should start out as the clear favorite. The district is heavily Democratic and will stay blue.
MA-06: John Tierney (D), Lynn, Salem, Newburyport
Rep. John Tierney has not had an easy few years. His wife went to prison for a month after she doctored her brother's taxes to cover up illegal activities. While Tierney was not implicated in any of this, the scandal almost cost him re-election in 2012 against Republican former state Sen. Richard Tisei. This year Tierney has a primary challenge to worry about from veteran Seth Moulton. Tierney was outraised by Moulton in the last two fundraising quarters, though he maintains a $977,000-to-$651,000 cash lead.
Tierney will benefit from some time passing since his wife's troubles. Additionally, Moulton does not look like the best person to appeal to liberal primary voters, with him describing himself as "fairly centrist." National Democrats also continue to support Tierney.
No matter who wins the primary, a competitive general election is expected. Tisei is running again and has been fundraising well. We currently rate the general as Lean Democratic.
LA-05: Vance McAllister (R) Alexandria, Monroe
Rep. Vance McAllister only won his seat in a 2013 special, and he may soon lose it. The married McAllister was caught on tape kissing a staffer, and the fallout has him looking very vulnerable if he runs again. So far, former Grant Parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley is running and others are likely to join him.
Louisiana has every candidate run on one ballot in November: If no one wins more than 50 percent, the top two advance to a December runoff. It's possible the process could save McAllister; if he winds up in a runoff with a Democrat, he'd probably be favored in this conservative seat. Still, he'll need a lot to go right here for him to return to the House.