House GOP incumbents battling primary challengers running to their right
Several House Republicans with primary elections on Tuesday face challengers running to the incumbents’ political right.
These challengers have attempted to tie themselves to the policies and ideas of former President Trump. The result, in some races, are battles on the airwaves with incumbents shelling out to mount defenses through ads.
Incumbents in these races have an advantage in polling — when it’s available — and in fundraising.
In South Dakota’s at-large district, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R) faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Taffy Howard (R), who is getting an assist from a PAC called Drain the Swamp, a pro-Trump group that pushes stolen-election theories.
“Swamper Dusty Johnson denies that the communists stole the election from President Trump,” a narrator says in the ad, first reported by Punchbowl News.
Johnson, who is seeking a third term, has shot back with his own ads, saying that out-of-state actors have “littered your mailbox with attacks and lies.”
The 45-year-old incumbent Johnson has far outraised Howard, reporting $2.5 million in his campaign war chest as of May 18 to Taffy’s $132,000. A South Dakota State University poll conducted in early May found Johnson with a 36-point lead over Howard.
In California, freshman Rep. Young Kim and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, have recently pumped more than $2 million into the primary with television ads. That is more than the next three House races in California combined, NBC News reported, citing the ad tracking firm AdImpact.
About $1 million in the race has targeted Kim’s GOP opponent Greg Raths, a Mission Viejo City Council member and Marine veteran who also works as an Uber driver, according to the New York Times.
Ads from Kim and the Congressional Leadership Fund accuse him of voting to increase taxes and characterized him as a liberal. But Rath has shot back, calling those statements lies and describing himself as the “only conservative in this race.” He has also pointed to Kim’s vote to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from Congressional committees and her support for censuring Trump.
Much of the House campaign arm’s spending could be due to having to introduce Kim to a new voter base.
Kim currently represents California’s 39th District, located at the intersection of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties. But since redistricting adjusted the 39th District to cover mostly the same area as Democratic Rep. Mark Takano’s district, Kim moved to the new 40th District, which overlaps some with her current district but consists of mostly new voters.
California uses a non-party primary system, meaning Kim, Raths, Democratic candidate Asif Mahmood and another GOP candidate Nick Taurus will all be on the ballot. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election, so splitting the GOP vote could put Kim at risk.
Kim’s targeting of Raths is particularly notable given her vast fundraising prowess compared to him. She reported $2.7 million in cash-on-hand as of May 18, compared to almost $88,000 for Raths on March 31.
Another member heading to a primary on Tuesday was one of the 13 House Republicans who voted in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year: New Jersey 4th District Rep. Chris Smith, who has been in office since 1981. Trump called for someone to primary Smith following his vote on the bill.
Smith challenger Mike Crispi, a commentator for Right Side Broadcasting, got an endorsement from Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser who resigned 22 days into the Trump administration.
Former Trump adviser Roger Stone is also reportedly consulting for Crispi.
One video from Crispi knocking Smith said that he “cosponsors gun control legislation with” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The claim appears to refer to Smith cosponsoring the Bipartisan Background Checks Act that passed the House last year.
Steve Gray, a retired FBI agent who bills himself as an “America First patriot,” is also in the race. In one interview, he knocked Smith for being first elected “when Jimmy Carter was president” and has called to “take back our country from the establishment RINOS.”
Trump, though, has not made an endorsement in the race despite challengers paying homage to his platform.
Smith also has a cash advantage, with $700,000 in the bank as of May 18, compared to almost $19,000 for Crispi and just over $15,000 for Gray.
Trump has also not endorsed Johnson, Kim, or any of their challengers in those primary races.
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