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Eight House races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries

Special election could fill McCarthy's seat in California as Ohio, Illinois voters set matchups

Rep. Mike Bost shouts at Rep. Matt Gaetz during a debate over choosing a House speaker on Jan. 6, 2023. Gaetz campaigned for Bost’s opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Illinois’ 12th District.
Rep. Mike Bost shouts at Rep. Matt Gaetz during a debate over choosing a House speaker on Jan. 6, 2023. Gaetz campaigned for Bost’s opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Illinois’ 12th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Voters in California could fill a vacant House seat Tuesday, while elections in Illinois and Ohio will pick nominees for another empty seat, decide the fates of challenged incumbents and set matchups for fall battleground races.

Some contests have drawn heavy spending, including one where three candidates have each already loaned their campaigns more than $1 million. Another has been fueled by lingering bitterness between two House Republicans from last year’s battles over making former California Rep. Kevin McCarthy the speaker of the House.

There are also many districts in which one party is heavily favored and there’s no real contest. In a year that has seen more resignations and retirements than average, each of the 17 incumbents in Illinois is running for reelection, and 11 of them, including 10 of the 14 Democrats, are unopposed in their party primaries. In Ohio, all of the five Democratic incumbents are unopposed in the primary, as are five of the eight Republican incumbents running.

Here’s a look at eight races in the three states that are worth watching on Tuesday.

Two Illinois incumbents on the hot seat

Republican Rep. Mike Bost and Democratic Rep. Danny K. Davis both face competitive challenges in Illinois. 

In Chicago, 82-year-old Davis is seeking the Democratic nomination to a 15th term against four challengers.

City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin raised $183,000 more than Davis since the cycle began, reports filed to the Federal Election Commission show. And through Feb. 28, Conyears-Ervin spent $523,000 to the incumbent’s $497,000. But she has faced ethics allegations tied to her role as treasurer, and Davis has survived challenges before, including in 2022 when gun violence prevention advocate Kina Collins came within 6 percentage points of beating him. Collins is running again but she raised just $72,000 through Feb. 28, and a pro-Israel super PAC spent $494,000 on ads and direct mail opposing her.

[Nasty GOP race for Ohio Senate nomination nears the end]

Davis’ 7th District backed President Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 73 points in 2020, and the race in November is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. 

In southern Illinois, a Republican battle is playing out in the 12th District, where Trump beat Biden by 43 points and the November race is rated Solid Republican.

Bost’s campaign spent nearly $1.4 million from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 as he seeks a sixth term. Running against him for the nomination is former state Sen. Darren Bailey, the state’s 2022 Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Bailey’s spending through Feb. 28 was just $192,000, but he has the backing of one of the conservative base’s high-wattage personalities, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. During the intraparty battles over making and then replacing McCarthy as speaker, Bost shouted at Gaetz on the House floor in January and reportedly lunged at him during a closed conference in October.

“I’m trying to change Congress, and we can’t do it with the people we have there now,” Gaetz told WSIL News at a campaign event for Bailey in February. “Mike Bost gets angry and yells at me because I make things difficult for some of the established interests in Washington, D.C.”

Through Feb. 28, Bailey had self-funded $110,000 of the $505,000 he had raised, and since the month started, he’s put an extra $105,000 of his own money into the race, late filings show.

Bost, however, was endorsed by Trump days after Gaetz’s appearance in the district, a fact he touts in ads. Bost also has the backing of Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and outside groups including the Illinois Agricultural Association have spent $122,000 supporting him.

Three vacant or open seats

McCarthy resigned in December, and nine candidates are running in a special election Tuesday to serve the remainder of his term this year in California’s 20th District. State Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Republican, is on the ballot again after getting the most votes March 5 in an 11-candidate all-party primary for a full term starting next year. Also running Tuesday is Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, a fellow Republican who finished second on March 5 and will face Fong in November. Votes are still being tallied, but Fong’s total in the primary stood at 42 percent and Boudreaux’s at 24 percent on Friday. On Tuesday, one of the candidates has to get more than 50 percent or there will be a runoff on May 21 to fill the seat.

In Ohio, there are intense Republican contests for a vacant seat in the 6th District, left open by Republican Rep. Bill Johnson’s resignation to become a university president in January, and for the 2nd District seat opening up next year because of the retirement of Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup. Trump won the 2nd District by 45 points and won the 6th District by 29 points. Both races this fall are rated Solid Republican.

A special primary for the remainder of Johnson’s term and a primary for a full term are both being held Tuesday, and the same three Republicans are running in each race: state Sen. Michael Rulli, state Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus and chiropractor Joe Tsai. Rulli and Stoltzfus have raised similar amounts, but a personal loan made up $250,000 of the $488,000 Stoltzfus had raised through Feb. 28.

Rulli started with advantages: more of his legislative constituents are in the congressional district than Stoltzfus’, and he has run competitive campaigns before, Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin reported. Both Rulli and Stoltzfus have produced ads promising to finish a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Rulli’s ads also tout his family’s grocery stores, which could give him another connection in the district. Stoltzfus has pitched himself as a “Christian conservative” and attacked Rulli as a “woke liberal” for sponsoring an anti-LGBT discrimination bill.

In the 2nd District, there are 11 Republicans vying for the nomination. Three of them — concrete company owner and former prosecutor David Taylor, staffing company owner Larry Kidd and former Marine drill instructor and retail franchisor Tim O’Hara — each put more than $1 million of their own money into the campaign through Feb. 28 and are running as conservatives who support Trump. Former Cincinnati City Council member Phil Heimlich has criticized the others in the race for overlooking Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, and in one ad he says Democrats or independents “can still ask for a Republican ballot.” While Heimlich’s campaign had spent just $121,000, less than five others in the race, a super PAC called Buckeyes for Values that was created in February and has not yet disclosed its donors spent an additional $242,000 on mail and text messages supporting him. Two Democrats are on the ballot, but one of them, Joe Wessels, dropped out of the race in February and endorsed Heimlich.

Ohio does not have a runoff system, so the crowded field of Trump backers could fracture the vote and a Trump critic who appealed for Democratic and independent crossover votes could win the GOP nomination.

Three fall battlegrounds

Republicans will pick nominees to face three Democratic incumbents, Reps. Eric Sorensen of Illinois and Marcy Kaptur and Emilia Sykes of Ohio, whose races could be competitive in November.

Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in Congress who is seeking her 22nd term, is one of a handful of Democrats representing a district Trump won in 2020. The candidate she beat last cycle, J.R. Majewski, ended his campaign for this year’s nomination earlier this month, though he remains on the 9th District primary ballot with state Rep. Craig Riedel, state Rep. Derek Merrin and former Napoleon Mayor Steve Lankenau.

Kaptur had $1.5 million in her campaign account on Feb. 28, while Riedel had $234,000, followed by Merrin with $94,000 and Lankenau at $19,000. Riedel put an additional $80,000 of his own money into his campaign on March 11, on top of the $175,000 he’d previously loaned.

Merrin is backed by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with the House GOP leadership that spent $756,000 on ads, direct mail, text messages and phone calls supporting him. Americans for Prosperity Action has spent $227,000 supporting Riedel, who also has the backing of Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus.

In Ohio’s 13th District, which Biden won with just 51 percent of the vote in 2020, Sykes is seeking a second term. Republicans vying to challenge her are Hudson City Council member Chris Banweg, former state Sen. Kevin Coughlin and a former television technician for the Goodyear blimp, Richard Morckel. Coughlin self-funded about half the $332,000 he had raised through Feb. 21, while Banweg got all but $13,000 of the $280,000 he raised from donors. Morckel did not raise and spend enough to file an FEC report.

In Illinois’ 17th District, Sorensen is seeking his second term in a district Biden won with 53 percent in 2020. Retired Judge Joe McGraw has the fundraising edge over farmer and former union president Scott Crowl in the GOP primary. McGraw had raised $334,000 for the cycle, with numerous donations from House Republicans’ campaign and leadership PAC accounts. Donors gave Crowl just $7,400, and after he loaned his campaign an additional $91,000 he had $33,000 left on Feb. 28. Sorensen, meanwhile, had $1.8 million in his campaign account.

Inside Elections rates the November races for Sorensen’s and Kaptur’s seats as Lean Democratic and Sykes’ seat Tilt Democratic. 

One other race rated Lean Democratic in Ohio is that of 1st District Democratic Rep. Greg Landsman. While it may be a fall battleground, it is not in the primary: Both Landsman and Republican Orlando Sonza, an Army veteran, are unopposed in their respective primaries.

Amounts candidates gave or loaned to their campaigns were corrected in this report.

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