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Insiders dominate year of the outsider

Insiders dominate year of the outsider
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In a cycle in which political outsiders Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Americans have a choice: Socialized medicine or health care freedom Ocasio-Cortez says Democrats must focus on winning White House for Biden MORE (I-Vt.) have been powerful forces in the presidential race, insiders continue to win House and Senate primaries around the country.

Only five members of Congress have lost bids for renomination as the primary season draws to a close.

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Two of those losers, Reps. Corrine BrownCorrine BrownFormer Florida rep sentenced to five years in prison for fraud, tax evasion Genuine veteran charities face a challenge beating the fakes Former Florida rep found guilty of tax evasion, fraud MORE (D-Fla.) and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), were fighting federal indictments over misappropriated funds.

Two more, Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesBottom line Selection of Sarah Makin-Acciani shows the commitment to religious liberty Too much ‘can do,’ not enough candor MORE (R-Va.), lost after mid-decade redistricting forced them to court unfamiliar voters.

A fifth, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), was arguably more of a political outsider than his opponent.

Huelskamp, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, lost to a fellow Republican who had the tacit backing of party leaders angered by Huelskamp’s actions in Washington.

Three states will hold their primary elections next Tuesday. In those states, only one incumbent — Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) — faces a serious challenge following a campaign finance scandal and repeated run-ins with the Federal Election Commission.

The establishment victories come despite political winds that favored outsiders.

Angry at a political system they see as stacked against them, millions of voters turned out during the primary season to cast ballots for Trump and Sanders, both of whom railed against the establishment and promised wholesale change.

At the same time, those voters renominated the vast majority of lawmakers seeking another term in office — despite the current Congress’s terrible approval ratings.

Strategists who pay careful attention to House races attribute incumbents’ high retention rate, even amid voters’ desire for change, to a few factors.

The first, and most obvious, comes from the likes of Trump and Sanders, who gave voters a way to express their anger.

“The top of the ticket this year has provided ample room to stretch your legs and vent your anger on both sides of the ticket,” said Brad Todd, who has run independent expenditures for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRSC) for years. “Feeling the Bern or getting on the Trump Train was a lot more exciting as recreational activity than beating up on your local congressman in a primary.”

Some Republican strategists point to the fact that many of the groups who might ordinarily bolster conservative challengers have been otherwise occupied trying to stop Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee.

The Club for Growth, which funded many conservative challengers in previous years, has largely avoided taking on incumbents this year. Instead, the group has spent money funding candidates in open seats — and on advertisements during the presidential primaries aimed at wounding Trump.

The second factor aiding incumbents is partisan polarization, which gives members a chance to direct voter anger at the other party. Sanders supporters may see Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation Hillary Clinton tweets 'vote them out' after Senate GOP confirm Barrett CNN: Kayleigh McEnany praised Biden as 'man of the people' in 2015 MORE as untrustworthy or too centrist, and Trump backers may blame GOP leadership for failing to hold the line against President Obama, but their level of anger at the other party exceeds the intramural squabbling. 

Trump voters hate Democrats, and Sanders supporters despise Republicans, factors incumbents can use in what might otherwise be tough primaries.

“While they get dinged by their primary challenger for being a sellout, out of touch, et cetera, they turn around and talk about voting six times to defund Planned Parenthood, or, in the case of a Democrat, voting six times to stop the defunding of Planned Parenthood,” said Rodd McLeod, a Democratic strategist in Arizona.

Finally, incumbents have learned to be prepared. After conservative challengers denied renomination to Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorSpanberger's GOP challenger raises over .8 million in third quarter The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida hangs in the balance Eric Cantor teams up with former rival Dave Brat in supporting GOP candidate in former district MORE (R-Va.) in recent years, Republican strategists have worked overtime to make their incumbents understand the risks posed in a primary.

The NRSC and allied outside groups spent heavily last cycle to bolster Sens. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranObama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Espy wins Mississippi Senate Democratic primary Bottom Line MORE (R-Miss.) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate GOP's campaign arm releases first ad targeting Bollier in Kansas The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden hit campaign trail in Florida National Republicans will spend to defend Kansas Senate seat MORE (R-Kan.). This year, members like Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Mark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden MORE (R-Ariz.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? MORE (R-Fla.), Reps. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackBottom line Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party | More states sue Purdue over opioid epidemic | 1 in 4 in poll say high costs led them to skip medical care Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee MORE (R-Tenn.), Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresHillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it Patient Protection Pledge offers price transparency MORE (R-Texas) and Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOn The Money: GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag | Company layoffs mount as pandemic heads into fall | Initial jobless claims drop to 837,000 GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag The Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate MORE (R-Texas) heeded early warnings about potential challenges. All survived.

Even at the height of the Tea Party movement and the political tumult of the last decade, primary challengers were rarely successful. Since 2006, only 28 members of Congress have lost bids for reelection during the primaries.

The largest exodus came in 2012, when 13 members lost renomination. Nine of those members lost because they were running in districts substantially different from their old seats after the decennial redistricting cycle.

The two most visible challenges to incumbents this year came in Wisconsin and Florida, where conservatives tried to oust House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.) and liberals tried to knock off Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who until this summer chaired the Democratic National Committee. Unlike Cantor, both Ryan and Wasserman Schultz maintained strong political teams in their district, and both turned away their challengers.

“We’re at the point now that in most districts they’ve got a member who represents the leanings of the primary voting electorate, so there’s no motivation for a primary challenge,” said Carl Forti, a longtime Republican strategist involved in House and Senate campaigns.