Incumbency certainly comes with advantages, but the political volatility of 2022 poses serious risks for those seeking to keep their perches on Capitol Hill, including some facing primaries Tuesday.
A scandal-plagued newcomer to Congress, Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, will find out whether North Carolina voters will give him another chance. Voters in Oregon’s 5th District will decide the fate of Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader. And Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, who ranks 10th in seniority among House Republicans, will discover whether he’ll get to climb up the hierarchy in the next Congress.
“Schrader, Cawthorn and Simpson are good examples of how incumbents can be vulnerable in primaries for different reasons,” said CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales. “Schrader faces the cross pressure of ideology and redistricting. Cawthorn is vulnerable because of his personal issues. Simpson is vulnerable not because of redistricting but partially because of ideology and longevity.”
The stakes extend well beyond Tuesday. Incumbents who are potentially vulnerable in the general election will formally get opponents on Tuesday, setting up some of the most closely watched races of 2022.
Here are some of the incumbents we’re watching this week.
Will controversy catch up with Cawthorn?
In North Carolina’s 11th District, 26-year-old first-term Rep. Cawthorn is facing seven Republican primary challengers, with state Sen. Chuck Edwards having the best shot of defeating him. Cawthorn, who got former President Donald Trump’s “complete and total” endorsement over a year ago, has faced several controversies in the past few weeks, including being stopped trying to carry a gun through an airport checkpoint and telling a podcast that fellow lawmakers did cocaine and participated in orgies. But it’s an open question if voters in this western district will end the youngest member of Congress’ career as quickly as it began.
“If you take kind of the classic, he’s a first-term incumbent and he’s had a slew of negative news, either one of those would be detrimental to a renomination. Put the two together and you would think in a classic environment he should be more than done,” said Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College who runs a blog about North Carolina politics. “You’ve got this impact of Trumpism in this state that maybe they’re willing to overlook all of the self-inflicted wounds he’s done because Donald Trump supports him.”
Edwards is backed by Sen. Thom Tillis. A super PAC affiliated with Tillis, Results for NC, has spent $1.4 million on ads against Cawthorn and $114,000 on promoting Edwards. Cawthorn raised and spent more than $3.6 million since taking office, roughly three times Edwards’ totals. But Cawthorn entered the campaign’s final weeks with less cash, just $138,000 on April 27, than Edwards’ $192,000.
Cawthorn will need to get more than 30 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Are rematches on tap in Pennsylvania?
Democratic Reps. Susan Wild and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania’s 7th and 8th Districts, respectively, both face races this fall that are rated Toss-ups by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. On Tuesday, they’ll find out who their opponents will be.
Wild is likely facing a rematch with Lisa Scheller, a businesswoman and former Lehigh County Commissioner who lost in 2020 by 4 percentage points. That’s also the margin by which President Joe Biden beat Trump in the district, but if the district lines being used this year had been in place then, Biden’s margin of victory would have been less than 1 point.
Scheller, who faces veteran Kevin Dellicker in the Republican primary, was included in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program for challengers who pass thresholds for fundraising and organization.
In the 8th District, Trump has endorsed Jim Bognet, who lost to Cartwright by 4 points in 2020. But if the district as drawn this year were in place then, Biden would have lost to Trump by 3 points. Bognet faces Mike Marsicano, a former police officer and commercial pilot, in the GOP primary.
Can progressive oust Biden-backed Schrader?
Schrader nabbed an endorsement from Biden, but his opponent, attorney and emergency response coordinator Jamie McLeod-Skinner, has won over numerous local party committees and progressive organizations.
Schrader’s standing with local progressive activists poses a problem for him Tuesday, said Leah Greenberg, a co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible. They are, she said, “furious about how much he has sabotaged Democratic hopes,” even as the party controls the House, Senate and White House.
Redistricting has muted the incumbent’s advantages, with about half the voters from the district he won in 2020 now part of the new 6th District that the state received through reapportionment.
“Congressman Schrader’s record of delivering results for Oregonians is clear,” Deb Barnes, spokesperson for Schrader’s campaign, said in an email. “He has been a partner to the Biden Administration, helping to pass the Build Back Better Act that allows Medicare to negotiate prescription prices and cap the cost of insulin.” (That bill has not moved in the Senate.)
Schrader had a strong cash advantage, holding $1.3 million to McLeod-Skinner’s $110,000 as of April 27. He’s also benefited from more outside spending, with $1.3 million spent supporting him and another $845,000 spent against McLeod-Skinner. Conversely, just $235,000 in outside spending was spent supporting her and only $35,000 spent against Schrader.
No matter which Democratic candidate advances to the general election, Republicans say they will target the race — and both parties will be watching the five-candidate GOP primary. The NRCC has listed both investment manager Jimmy Crumpacker and former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer as “On the Radar” candidates in its Young Guns program. Crumpacker held $320,000 cash on hand as of April 27 to Chavez-DeRemer’s $135,000.
Biden would have carried the redrawn 5th District by 9 points and the new 6th by nearly 13 points in the 2020 presidential election. Inside Elections rates the races in both districts as Likely Democratic.
Will Simpson’s bid for 13th term be lucky?
Simpson faces fellow Republican Bryan Smith in a rematch of a 2014 primary that Simpson won by 23 points. And, like that race, the 12-term incumbent has the advantage in both personal fundraising and spending by outside groups.
Smith, an attorney, has raised more than $650,000 to Simpson’s $1.2 million and had about $70,000 on hand on April 27 to Simpson’s nearly $470,000.
Outside groups supporting Simpson, including the American Dental Association and American Dream Federal Action, have spent nearly $1.4 million. The America Proud PAC, which is primarily supported by a Boise real estate developer, has spent $360,000 in support of Smith and $275,000 attacking Simpson.
Simpson’s 95.1 percent rate of backing Trump’s position on votes exceeded the average Republican rate of 92.1 from 2017 through 2020, according to CQ Vote Watch. But he also voted in support of a commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the Capitol.
Some local issues have also come up in the race, including criticism for supporting breaching several dams on the Snake River. If Simpson prevails in the primary, he’ll coast to reelection in the 2nd District, which Inside Elections rates as Solid Republican.