By Molly K. Hooper and Cameron Joseph - 03/27/12 09:00 AM EDT
House Republican freshmen say they feel validated after one of their classmates defeated a 10-term GOP lawmaker in a high-profile primary last week.
Freshmen view Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s (R-Ill.) victory over Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) as clear proof that they are a political force to be reckoned with, and not just lucky politicians who happened to ride the November 2010 election wave into office.
New York GOP freshman Rep. Tom Reed told reporters Monday that he was proud of Kinzinger’s win, in part, because it proved that the conventional wisdom is wrong.
“It demonstrates that a lot of times the freshmen class seems to be vilified as the radical, crazy group of members that some people try to paint as obstructionists … the people of Illinois clearly have sent a message.”
He added that voters appreciate that “we have a new group of individuals [who] are going to lead the nation and deal with the problems that we face to come up with solutions.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently told Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan that some of the intraparty squabbling within the GOP has been wrongly blamed on the freshmen.
“My problem is not with our 89 freshmen, my problem is with a few senior members who — they always want more. They always want more than you can produce,” Boehner told Noonan.
Veteran House members were livid at the outcome of the
Manzullo-Kinzinger primary, partly because House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had publicly endorsed Kinzinger.
“Some members are angry,” a House Republican told The Hill last week. The GOP member, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak candidly, warned against GOP leaders picking sides in other incumbent vs. incumbent contests: “If leaders get involved … I think they risk a revolt.”
Another possible factor feeding into the unrest is that on high-profile votes this Congress, Manzullo has voted with House GOP leaders. These votes included averting a government shutdown, raising the federal debt ceiling and clearing a spending measure last fall.
Meanwhile, two other races that pit long-term incumbents against freshman members are on the horizon: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) opted to run against freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.) after his district was made less conservative, and freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) is likely to challenge Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.).
Adams starts off as the likely favorite in the race: she currently represents much more of the new district, and Mica’s 20 years in the House might hurt him on the campaign trail, say observers.
“Longevity in office is not a credential that’s going to play really well with the Republican base. With Congress’s approval being at such a low level, any long-term incumbent, Democrat or Republican, faces some uphill battles,” said University of South Florida Professor Susan MacManus.
Freshman Republican members have long made the case that the GOP lost its fiscally responsible edge over Democrats during former President George W. Bush’s administration. In essence, the freshmen are claiming they came to Washington to save the Republican Party. That argument could be damaging against senior Republican members this primary season.
Boustany has the geographic advantage over Landry, but he could face problems for his more centrist voting record. Boustany’s Louisiana statehouse allies made sure that Landry’s political base was shattered during redistricting to minimize his threat to the four-term lawmaker.
Landry has not officially announced, but most expect him to challenge Boustany, and Tea Party groups have sought to get him to run. The Tea Party of Louisiana is running a “Draft Landry” campaign for the district, and the national Tea Party group FreedomWorks has already endorsed him in the race.
Other long-term lawmakers facing serious primary challenges include House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). Both are facing Tea Party challengers and have been criticized by national conservative groups.
Another threat to longtime lawmakers is the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super-PAC that has spent heavily targeting incumbents in both parties. The group spent more than $200,000 against both Manzullo and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), who lost her primary in an upset. The group has shown no ideological bent — its sole stated goal is to attack long-serving members.
One member of the GOP House leadership who requested anonymity told The Hill that Kinzinger was likely an exception to the unspoken rule about leadership not getting involved in member matchups. The lawmaker said Kinzinger was a particular favorite of the GOP leaders and that it was unlikely there would be any more public endorsements in member-versus-member primaries.
“The fewer words said about that, the better,” the House member said when asked about the Adams-Mica race in Florida. “People are not going to be out front on it. … There’s a committee chairman and then you’ve got the freshman, [which makes up] a third of the Republican conference.”
Still, for the time being, freshmen will hold their heads a little higher with the knowledge that Cantor won a huge gamble in betting on the new blood in a GOP primary. It should also serve as a warning to other members in similar situations.
“Just because you’re an incumbent you can never think that you are going to win just because of that. And I think that’s good, I think that it’s good that we’re having people holding us accountable as elected officials, and that’s the right attitude that America needs to take as we move forward,” Reed said.