Yes, the midterms have begun. Primary voting starts today in Texas. Here are ten House races to watch in 2022
- Republicans need a net gain of five House seats to recapture control of the House.
- The party out of power in Washington historically does well during the mid-term elections.
- With so few competitive House seats, primaries could decide who ultimately will win in November.
WASHINGTON – The 2022 midterms kick off today, with Texas the first state to hold its primary elections.
Over the next few months, intra-party contests throughout the country will shape the race for the House and offer some signs of how competitive particular Congressional races will be come November.
Due to the decennial redistricting process this year a number of incumbent members of Congress are facing off with their colleagues in unusual member-on-member primaries. In some states, the congressional district lines are still being finalized.
Former President Donald Trump looms large over the Republican field. He has jumped into races against Republican Representatives who voted to impeach him, and the primaries will test his political power in an election where he is not on the ballot.
"On balance, the message that is winning on the Republican side is a very fiercely pro-Trump message," said David Wasserman, House races analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
On the other hand, "Democratic primaries tend to be more about identity politics and which groups are represented," Wasserman said. "I expect that we will see more primaries come down to which people have compelling stories."
Strategists from both sides of the aisle hope that competitive primaries will force the other party's nominees to take extreme political stances that will make them easier to defeat in November's general election.
"GOP primaries across the country have devolved into all-out brawls to see who can take the most extreme and dangerous positions," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Nebeyatt Betre. "After GOP candidates push each other further and further to the right, they’ll have to answer to voters who will reject their dangerous extremism.”
Republicans, meanwhile, say the same can be said of Democratic candidates.
“Democrats across the country have embraced radical policies that caused higher prices, skyrocketing violent crime, and open borders," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Mike Berg. "General election voters overwhelmingly oppose these policies."
Democrats currently hold the majority, with 222 seats to Republicans' 211. Two GOP House seats are currently vacant and are expected to stay in GOP hands. Given historical trends favoring the party out of power, Republicans are expected to take back the chamber in the fall.
But what candidates emerge from the primaries may help determine if that prediction holds true, and if so how large a margin Republicans will win in November.
Here are ten of the top House primaries to watch:
TX-28 Democratic Primary
Texas voters in the 28th Congressional district vote today to determine the fate of nine-term Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar.
Cuellar – weakened by an FBI raid – faces a strong primary challenge from immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros. It’s the second time the two candidates have faced off. Cuellar narrowly defeated Cisneros in the 2020 primary, 51.8%-48.2%.
In January, Cuellar’s home and campaign office were raided by the FBI. ABC News reports that the raid was part of a federal grand jury probe seeking information related to companies and organizations with ties to Azerbaijan. It is unclear if Cuellar is a target of the probe, and he has denied any wrongdoing. Cuellar has served as co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.
The FBI raid presented progressives with a new opportunity to attack the congressman. Cuellar is one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, and was the only Democrat to vote against a House bill last fall that would protect the federal abortion rights.
Cisneros, on the other hand, has received endorsements from top progressives including Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, as well as groups including Justice Democrats, NARAL, and the Working Families Party.
Biden won the newly redrawn district by 7.2 points in 2020, making it slightly more Democratic than the last election. Still, Republicans see it as a pickup opportunity and the seat is an offensive target for the NRCC. The shadow of the FBI raid comes at an inopportune time for Cuellar, and Republicans have framed Cisneros as a socialist who is unfit for the moderate lean of the district.
If neither candidate hits 50 percent of the vote there will be a runoff on May 24th. A third Democrat, community activist Tannya Benavides, is also running for the nomination.
WV-02 Republican Primary
West Virginia lost a House seat in the redistricting process, leading to a intra-party primary between GOP Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney on May 10.
McKinley currently represents WV-01, a seat he’s held since being elected in 2010. He is a centrist, who backed the creation of the Jan. 6th committee, voted to certify election results, and was one of 13 Republicans to back Biden’s infrastructure bill.
Mooney is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who was elected to WV-02 in 2014. Originally from Maryland, critics have accused him of being a carpetbagger who only moved to West Virginia to run for office.
Former President Trump endorsed Mooney, citing his opposition to the infrastructure bill and Jan. 6th committee. The seat is a strong Trump district, so his endorsement will likely hold sway. The primary will determine if it’s enough to defeat McKinley, who has been a member of Congress for longer and has stressed his deep roots in the state.
GA-07 Democratic Primary
Two of Georgia’s rising Democratic stars will face off in a member-on-member primary on May 24, the most high profile incumbent battle due to redistricting.
The contest will pit Rep. Lucy McBath, who has represented Georgia’s Sixth Congressional district since 2018, against Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, who won the 7th district last cycle.
Neither candidate actually lives in the newly redrawn district, but Bordeaux represents more of the area. Bourdeaux was one of a small group of Democrats in the House to support efforts to split Biden’s infrastructure and Build Back Better social safety and climate package, drawing the ire of some progressives.
Bourdeaux gained national attention last cycle as the only Democrat to flip a seat held by a GOP incumbent.
McBath has a national profile as a gun control advocate. Her son, Jordan, was shot and killed at a Florida gas station after the killer complained about loud music coming from the car he was sitting in.
McBath, a Black woman, has the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC. The district became significantly less white in the redistricting process.
The seat was also redrawn to become significantly more Democratic, meaning the primary is expected to be more consequential than the general.
SC-01 Republican Primary
On June 14, first-term Republican Rep. Nancy Mace will attempt to defend her seat against Trump-backed Katie Arrington in what figures to be one of the races that will test the former president's grip on the party. If neither candidate clears 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will take place on June 28.
Mace is the first Republican woman to represent South Carolina in Congress, and was the first woman to graduate from the cadet program at The Citadel, the state’s Military College. She flipped the seat in 2020, defeating Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham.
Despite backing her first campaign, Trump split from Mace over her criticism of his role in the Jan. 6th insurrection. Instead, Trump endorsed Arrington ahead of the upcoming primary.
In the GOP primary for the seat in 2018, Arrington defeated former South Carolina Gov. and incumbent Rep. Mark Stanford, a Trump critic, but then lost the general election to Cunningham. Arrington announced she’d challenge Mace on Feb. 8, and received Trump’s endorsement the following day.
Following her 2018 loss, Arrington took a job at the Pentagon. Per Bloomberg, in May 2021 her security clearance for accessing classified information was suspended, “a result of a reported Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information and subsequent removal of access by the National Security Agency.” In October Arrington sued the Department of Defense and National Security Agency for not telling her about the allegations that led to the move.
After the former president endorsed her opponent, Mace recorded a video for Twitter outside Trump tower, in which she outlined her past support and ties to Trump, including working for his 2016 campaign.
“If you want to lose this seat once again in a midterm election cycle to Democrats, then my opponent is more than qualified to do just that," she said in the video.
IL-06 Democratic Primary
Illinois’ 6th Congressional district is currently represented by Democratic Rep. Sean Casten, who defeated a six-term Republican incumbent to win the seat in 2018.
Democratic Rep. Marie Newman’s IL-03 district was redrawn, placing her hometown in Democratic Rep. Chuy Garcia’s neighboring IL-04. Newman announced she’d run instead in IL-06, which now contains around 40% of her old constituency.
The race pits Newman, a vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, against Casten, a more moderate Democrat who has focused much of his work on combating climate change.
Newman defeated then-Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, a conservative, to win the seat in 2020. She has the backing of EMILY’s List and the Progressive Caucus PAC, while Casten has the support of 314 Action and the Progressive Turnout Project. The primary has also split the Democratic caucus, with progressive members like Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan backing Newman, and more moderate members including fellow Illinois Democrats Reps. Brad Schneider and Bill Foster in Casten's corner.
Looming over the primary is a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is investigating whether she promised a political rival a job so he wouldn't run against her in the 2020 primary election, a potential violation of federal law.
The primary is on June 28. Whoever emerges will face a competitive general election, and the NRCC has identified the seat as a target.
IL-15 Republican Primary
Republican Reps. Rodney Davis and Mary Miller will face off on June 28 in another member-on-member primary due to redistricting.
Davis has represented IL-13 since 2013, while Freedom Caucus member Miller has only served since last year. Just two days into her first term Miller quoted Adolf Hitler in a speech to the group Moms for America. She drew further attention when her husband’s truck was spotted sporting a decal of an armed right-wing group tied to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Davis voted to certify the 2020 election, while Miller objected to the Arizona and Pennsylvania results. Davis supported the creation of a special committee to investigate Jan. 6, and was named by McCarthy to the select committee before he pulled all Republican members in a dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He has the endorsement of fellow Illinois Republican Reps. Mike Bost and Darin LaHood.
Trump looms over the race. The former president endorsed Miller, who is also backed by the Club for Growth. However, Davis is no stranger to Trump, having co-chaired his Illinois reelection campaign.
The primary will test the impact of Trump’s endorsement against another conservative incumbent, who has a long political history in Illinois.
MI-03 Republican Primary
On Aug. 2, GOP Rep. Peter Meijer faces a primary challenge spurred by his vote to impeach Trump.
Meijer was the only freshman to vote to impeach the former president, and said his vote "may have been an act of political suicide."
Trump endorsed John Gibbs in the primary. Gibbs, a Black man, touts his background as the grandson of sharecroppers, and served on Trump's controversial 1776 commission.
Gibbs served as Acting Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development at HUD during the Trump administration, and was nominated to serve as director of the Office of Personnel Management, but not confirmed due to a record of controversial tweets. Gibbs tweeted promoting a conspiracy theory that former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta participated in a satanic ritual, and accused the Democratic party of being the party of "Islam, gender-bending," according to CNN
Audra Johnson, the "MAGA Bride" who wore a Make America Great Again dress to her Trump themed wedding, is also running for the nomination.
Whoever emerges from the GOP primary is expected to face Democrat Hillary Scholten, an attorney. Scholten lost the election against Meijer in 2020, 53%-47%, but redistricting altered the makeup of the seat from a Trump +3 to a Biden +8 district.
MI-04 Republican Primary
GOP Rep. Fred Upton currently represents MI-06 and is the Dean of Michigan’s Congressional delegation, having first won election in 1986. Upton has not officially declared his election plans, but last week began airing TV ads, a sign that he will likely run in the redrawn MI-04 district, setting up another member-on-member primary thanks to redistricting.
Upton would face fellow Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga, a six term Congressman who currently represents MI-02. Unlike other incumbent primaries, the two current members of Congress also face a Trump-backed third candidate, Michigan State Rep. Steve Carra.
Trump endorsed Carra last fall. The former president is mad at Upton, who voted in favor of Trump’s second impeachment. Upton also voted to create a special House committee to investigate Jan. 6th, and was one of 13 House Republicans to back Biden’s infrastructure package. Both Upton and Huizenga supported certifying the election results, while Carra has called for a forensic investigation of Michigan’s 2020 election.
Whoever emerges will likely be elected in the general election in November. The primary will test the strength of two incumbents against a state legislator who doesn’t have the same funds or name ID, but does have the key Trump-endorsement in a red district. The results of the contest will help reveal how much power the former president has in shaping electoral results in a year he is not also on the ballot.
The primary is set for Aug. 2.
WY-AL Republican Primary
On Aug. 16 Wyoming voters will head to the polls to vote in the Republican primary for the state’s sole House seat. GOP Rep. Liz Cheney is hoping to maintain the Republican nomination for the seat she’s held since winning election in 2016, but has a large field of primary challengers.
Leading the field of competitors is attorney Harriet Hageman, a former Cheney supporter who previously donated to her campaign. The primary comes after Cheney – a former GOP conference chair and daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney – split from her party over her criticism of former President Donald Trump.
Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have both endorsed Hageman. Cheney served as one of McCarthy’s deputies in Republican leadership until she was stripped of the position in May. It is uncommon for party leaders to endorse in primaries against an incumbent, especially one who held a high ranking role within the caucus and was viewed as a rising star in the party.
Trump urged his supporters to coalesce around a single candidate to take on Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney voted to impeach Trump and serves on the special committee investigating Jan. 6.
Wyoming legislators voted earlier this month in favor of a Trump-backed bill that would make it harder for voters to register as a Republican to participate in the primary. Under current law, voters can decide on Election Day whether to register as a Republican or Democrat and then receive the ballot for their chosen party’s primary. Some Republicans worry that under the system Democrats will register for the GOP primary to back Cheney over Hageman.
Given the partisan lean of the state, the winner of the primary will in all likelihood win the general election come November. The primary will reveal if a Republican who has publicly broken with Trump is able to prevail in a deep red state that Trump won by 43 points.
NH-01 Republican Primary
New Hampshire Republicans won't vote until Sept. 13, so there is still ample opportunity for the field to take form. The primary could become a high-profile race to take on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas.
Matt Mowers is running for the seat again, having lost to Pappas in 2020, 51.3%-46.2%. Mowers served as a senior advisor to the White House at the State Department during the Trump administration, and was an aide to former Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. Mowers is endorsed by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.
Former Trump White House assistant press secretary Karoline Leavitt would be 25 at the time of election, the minimum age requirement to be a member of Congress. Leavitt previously worked as communications director for Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the House Republican caucus chair, and has her endorsement. She's also endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., who is currently the youngest member of Congress.
Gail Huff Brown, a former journalist and the wife of former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. Huff Brown has the endorsement of former Trump national security advisor Robert O’Brien, former Trump Small Business Administration administrator Linda McMahon, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
State Rep. Tim Baxter is also running for the nomination, and has shaped his campaign around talking points like banning Critical Race Theory and holding Dr. Anthony Fauci accountable. Baxter has been endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.
A Trump endorsement could help break the logjam.
Contributing: Ledyard King