It’s not just Republican House incumbents who face primary opposition


If the media coverage of shutdown politics is to be believed, House Republicans' fear of 'getting primaried' by a more conservative opponent was a major impediment to moderate GOP-ers reaching a bargain with Democrats on healthcare and federal spending. However, a survey of new fundraising reports received this week  — compiled using Sunlight's Realtime FEC tracker — shows that incumbent Democrats are also facing credible challenges from within their own party.

Money isn't everything in these races–but early fundraising is a good indication of how serious a challenge these incumbents will face in 2014. We just looked at races where a challenger had raised more than $100,000 through Sept. 30. The resulting list of ten races (coincidentally) includes five incumbent Democrats and five incumbent Republicans. Links to the candidate's Realtime filings are also included for reference. We've left out open seats–those where an incumbent has said they won't seek reelection.

The majority of these partisan challenges take place in solidly red or blue districts, as determined by the Rothenberg Political Report. Only one occurs in a "toss-up" district. 

Old age, scandal and the potential to leave office all appear to be factors, though there are plenty of challengers to seemingly solid House incumbents. Here's a look at members facing a substantial intraparty skirmish:

House District CA-17 (Democratic) Rothenberg rating: Currently Safe Democrat

  • Incumbent: HONDA, MIKE (D)Total raised: $959,637 Cash on hand: $559,746 (as of 09/30)
  • KHANNA, ROHIT (D)Total raised: $1,575,887 Cash on hand: $1,904,779 (as of 09/30)

So far, so good for Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., who faces a political unknown with a powerful fundraising machine. A late August poll showed Honda with a commanding lead in the diverse, and solidly-Democratic, California district, but Rohit "Ro" Khanna has benefited handsomely from his connections in Silicon Valley. Khanna, a high-tech lawyer who formerly worked for the Department of Commerce, has put up astronomical money numbers for a House challenger and is even outraising Honda. Khanna has benefited from fundraising appearances by the founder of Napster and endorsements from executives at Facebook and Yahoo.

House District MA-06 (Democratic) Rothenberg rating: Lean Democrat

Seth Moulton, a veteran of the Iraq War, is challenging Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., a vulnerable incumbent who narrowly held his seat in 2012 while weathering a scandal touched off by his wife's admission of involvement in an illegal offshore gambling ring run by the congressman's brother-in-law. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included Tierney in its Frontline Program — dedicated to protecting vulnerable incumbents. While his campaign has posted strong fundraising numbers, the Tierney camp has been content to 'sit' on most of their cash for the time being. As of Sept. 30 the campaign had over $500,000 in cash on hand and no debts. 


House District NC-12 (Democratic) Rothenberg rating: Currently Safe Democrat

Rep. Melvin "Mel" Watt, D-N.C. may soon be leaving his digs on Capitol Hill to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, though his confirmation has been stuck in limbo for months due to continual delays. On the campaign trail he's been setting records, though not the kind a congressman normally wants. His campaign took in a whopping $10 in receipts during the the third quarter. The 11-term member was a lock in the gerrymandered, majority-minority district, and his (potential) absence has left room for a host of newcomers, though just two have broken the six-digit mark in their campaign receipts: George Battle, the General Counsel for the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board and Marcus Brandon, a state representative.

House District NY-13 (Democratic) Rothenberg rating: Currently Safe Democrat

Adam Clayton Powell IV has the rare opportunity to unseat the very man who defeated his father (and namesake) 43 years ago. Though, he may not have to. The 83-year-old Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. is finally musing about his retirement, though nothing has been confirmed. The longtime congressman has survived ethics scandals and a close primary battle for a newly drawn district in 2012. He first faced the younger Powell in 2010 — handilly defeating him. 

House District NY-07 (Democratic) Rothenberg rating: Currently Safe Democrat

Erik Martin Dilan is a term-limited New York City Councilman who ran against Nydia Velazquez in 2012 and lost in the primary, winning just 31 percent of the vote. At the time he said he wouldn't rule out another run. Dilan came out strong, raising more than $100,000 in the second quarter of this year, but virtually halted his fundraising in the third quarter, bringing in just $875. In late July, it was reported Dilan was being considered to head the city's board of elections. But a week later, that job went to another man. If Dilan is running, he's keeping a pretty low profile for now–it's not even clear he even has a website.

House District ID-02 (Republican) Rothenberg rating: Currently Safe Republican

It appears that Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, will face the full brunt of a Club for Growth-led attack on his seat for Idaho's second district. A spokesman for the fiscally conservative outside spending group said the Republican congressman was "no friend to Idaho taxpayers" in a September release and has backed lawyer Bryan Smith's bid to upset the incumbent. Smith told Breitbart News that the impetus to challenge the "establishment" Republican stemmed from legislation that increased government spending. 

House District IL-13 (Republican) Rothenberg rating: Toss-up/Tilt Republican

A beauty queen turned would be politician, former Miss America Erika Harold will face an uphill battle in the 'money primary' against Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who is outpacing her fundraising by a 10-to-1 margin. Davis, who will be running in his first reelection bid since originally winning the purple district in 2012, has the backing of the establishment Republican outside group Main Street — the moderate counterpart to Club for Growth that aims to combat the group in upcoming elections. Whoever wins on the Republican side will face serious competition in the general election; two Democrats, Ann Callis and George Gollin have both raised more than $300,000 this cycle.

House District MI-11 (Republican) Rothenberg rating: Republican Favored

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich. — the former Santa Claus impersonator and Vietnam vet — won the race to represent Michigan's 11th in a bizarre turn of events after incumbent Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, D-Mich., failed to obtain enough signatures to qualify for his party's primary. Bentivolio will face stiff competition from attorney David Trott. Though Trott just announced his candidacy in September, he's already raised more than $600,000, of which about $200,000 came from the candidate.

House District PA-09 (Republican) Rothenberg rating: Currently Safe Republican

Bill Shuster, 52, has been in office since 2001, and chairs the house Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. With more than a million in the bank, Shuster shouldn't feel too threatened by Art Halvorson, a retired coast guard captain with 6 kids. But Halvorson may have some outside help. Shuster's already come under fire from The Madison Project, a PAC that's also gone after Mitch McConnell, and aired at least three weeks of radio ads castigating Shuster for voting "a staggering eight times" to raise the debt ceiling.

House District TN-04 (Republican) Rothenberg rating: Currently Safe Republican

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn, a social conservative who rode the Tea Party wave to election in 2010, has struggled to find funds — and public support — after a bruising scandal that revealed the staunchly pro-life congressman had previously encouraged both his wife and mistress to obtain abortions. The Republican is being outraised by two different challengers, one of whom has already pulled in nearly $1 million for his bid to represent Tennessee's fourth district. The DesJarlais campaign remains fiercely confident in their chances for success.

Photo credit: Flickr user: DonkeyHotey