Five lawmakers facing tough primary races

Five lawmakers facing tough primary races
© Greg Nash

House members from both parties are facing difficult primary challenges as they try to win reelection amid a voter backlash against Washington.

Incumbents have built-in advantages, including name recognition and more established fundraising networks and campaign operations. But in one of the first primaries of 2018, anti-abortion Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiThe Hill's Morning Report - 2020 jitters hit both parties in the Senate Justice Democrats issues 3 new endorsements for progressive candidates GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions MORE (D-Ill.) was nearly unseated by a first-time candidate running to his left with the help of national progressive groups. 

Now, other primary challengers — from those who have never held office to former House members — are hoping to topple incumbents across the country.

Here are the five incumbents most at risk of losing a primary:

Rep. Robert PittengerRobert Miller PittengerBottom Line North Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race MORE (R-N.C.)

Pittenger came exceptionally close to losing a 2016 primary race, defeating Republican primary opponent Mark Harris by just 134 votes.

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Two years later, Harris, a retired reverend, has launched another bid to unseat Pittenger in the May 8 primary.

Using President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE’s “drain the swamp” slogan in his latest TV ad, Harris has sought to tag Pittenger, who has served in Congress since 2013, as a creature of Washington.

But Pittenger has also tried to tie himself to Trump, who won his district by nearly 12 points in 2016. He accused Harris in an ad of trying to “stop Trump” in the 2016 election.

Support for Trump has become a flashpoint in this race, with both sides accusing their opponent of disloyalty to the president.

But both Republicans initially supported other Republicans in the presidential primary before ultimately backing Trump when it was clear he’d clinch the nomination. Harris backed Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHow to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Cruz calls for 'every penny' of El Chapo's criminal enterprise to be used for Trump's wall after sentencing Conservatives defend Chris Pratt for wearing 'Don't Tread On Me' T-shirt MORE (R-Texas), while Pittenger supported Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Fla.). 

So far, recent polls show Pittenger is in much better shape this cycle than he was in 2016. A poll from Civitas Institute found the congressman leading Harris by 32 points.

Rep. Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse Members to have little time to question Mueller Judiciary issues blitz of subpoenas for Kushner, Sessions, Trump associates MORE (R-Ala.)

In a district that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, Roby had a surprisingly close election against her Democratic competitor after the Republican condemned Trump after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Now, Roby faces several Republicans in the June 5 primary and her strong rebuke of Trump from 2016 could come back to haunt her. 

One of her most notable challengers is Bobby Bright, who held the district from 2009 to 2011 as a Democratic congressman. Roby defeated Bright for the seat in 2010, a wave election when Republicans took back the House amid the rise of the Tea Party.

Bright has defended his switch to the GOP, pointing to other high-profile Republicans in the state who were former Democrats. Bright voted against ObamaCare while serving in the House.

"I tried to be a Democrat, and I didn't do the job as a Democrat that I wanted to do, mainly because my beliefs are conservative and that held me back," Bright said when he announced in early February. 

Other Republican opponents are looking to seize on Roby and Bright’s pasts. State Rep. Barry Moore has cast himself as a close ally of the president’s. And he sent an email casting both of them as “Democrats running as Republicans,” specifically pointing to Roby’s past criticism of Trump.

Rich Hobson, the former campaign manager for failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreAlabama GOP senate candidate says 'homosexual activities' have ruined TV, country's moral core The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Alabama senator says Trump opposed to Sessions Senate bid MORE, is also running as a Republican.

Rep. Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats Ayanna Pressley launches leadership PAC MORE (D-Mass.)

Capuano has been a progressive staple in the Massachusetts delegation for nearly two decades.

But he’s facing a primary challenge from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who says the Boston-area district needs fresh leadership, although she doesn’t differ with him much on policy.

Pressley, who was the first African American elected to Boston City Council, told Politico that she’s raised $100,000 a week since announcing her campaign.

The primary challenge has kept some of Capuano’s colleagues on the sidelines. Reps. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonStanley McChrystal endorses Moulton for president 2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally 2020 Democratic candidates rip Trump remarks at campaign rally MORE and Niki TsongasNicola (Niki) Sauvage TsongasMassachusetts New Members 2019 Dem House candidate says she'll file Clarence Thomas impeachment resolution if elected Lawmakers demand action, hearing in response to VA improperly denying sexual trauma claims MORE and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren adds her pronouns to Twitter bio Biden leads, Warren and Sanders tied for second in new poll The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants MORE and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator FTC looks to update children's internet privacy rules MORE are planning to stay neutral in the race.

Still, Capuano is expected to get some political heavyweights in the state behind him, reportedly including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D).

Massachusetts has one of the latest primaries of the cycle, with the vote set for Sept. 4. That gives Pressley time to build up her campaign in what’s expected to be a tough fight.

Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Former GOP Rep. Rohrabacher joins board of cannabis company MORE (R-Calif.) 

Rohrabacher, one of the most vocally pro-Russia members of Congress, has been a prime target for Democrats in 2018 after Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Majority of Democratic voters happy with their choices among 2020 contenders No presidential candidate can unite the country GOP lawmakers speak out against 'send her back' chants MORE won his district in 2016.

But Rohrabacher could also be vulnerable to a challenge from a fellow Republican and former ally.

Scott Baugh, a former Orange County GOP chairman and state assemblyman, jumped into the race days before the filing period ended in early March, scrambling the crowded field of candidates taking on Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher once mentored Baugh, and recruited him to run for the state assembly back in 1995.

Baugh had previously said he wouldn’t run unless Rohrabacher retired. And he angered the congressman in 2016, when Baugh raised about $576,000 for his own bid. 

Now Baugh has gone after Rohrabacher by arguing that he’s changed since he first started representing Orange County nearly three decades ago. Baugh specifically targeted Rohrabacher over his Russia ties, claiming that he’s more interested in Russian President Vladimir Putin than the issues his constituents care about. 

Some Republicans in the state are pushing back on Baugh, arguing that he’s causing divisions within the party and jeopardizing their chances at holding the seat. But Baugh’s entry into the race could potentially be good news for Republicans.

Polling from Democratic group Fight Back CA PAC shows Baugh polling closely behind one of the leading Democrats. Because of California’s “jungle primary” system, in which all candidates regardless of party affiliation compete in a single primary race on June 5, there’s a good chance Baugh and Rohrabacher could both make it into the runoff and shut Democrats out of the seat.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.)

Donovan is another Republican on Democrats’ target list, but first he’ll face a primary challenge from a familiar face: ex-Rep. Michael Grimm.

Grimm, who finished an eight-month prison sentence in 2016 for pleading guilty to tax fraud and famously once threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony, wants to take back his Staten Island-area district. Donovan won a special election to fill the seat after Grimm resigned in early 2015.

Since launching his campaign in October, Grimm has been aggressively running to the right of Donovan and trumpeting his support for Trump. Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, is working on Grimm’s campaign.

So far, Republicans are largely sticking with Donovan as they look to fend off Democrats who are itching to flip the seat. Trump carried the seat by 10 points in 2016, after former President Obama won it narrowly in 2012.