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 LipinskiHouse votes to condemn alleged hysterectomies on migrant women Five things we learned from this year's primaries Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates 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 TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth 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 CruzHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Texas), while Pittenger supported Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors 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 RobyLobbying world House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit The year of the Republican woman 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 MoorePress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Roy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race MORE, is also running as a Republican.

Rep. Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoBottom line Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy 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 MoultonBill seeks to aid families of Black WWII veterans deprived of GI benefits How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan 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 WarrenWarren calls on big banks to follow Capital One in ditching overdraft fees Crypto firm top executives to testify before Congress Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker won't seek reelection MORE and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators seek to curb counterfeit toys and goods sold online Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pledged money not going to Indigenous causes 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 RohrabacherNow someone wants to slap a SPACE Tax on Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, et al 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Former Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building 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 ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion 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.