With Texas’s primary on March 1, the 2022 primary election season has officially begun. For most incumbents, that means working to win renomination by appealing to their party’s supporters and fending off any serious primary challengers. But for a small group of House Republicans, their primary campaigns are complicated by their vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump in January 2021, a move that outraged many Republican voters and earned condemnations from many local and state Republican officials.
Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021, three have retired instead of running again, while all but one of the other seven has a Trump-endorsed primary opponent.1 That means primary voters in nearly all of these districts will be able to choose whether they want to punish disloyalty to Trump and move the GOP into even closer alignment with Trumpism.
|In primary, faces …|
|Representative||District||Retiring||… Trump- endorsed opponent||… Fellow GOP incumbent||Partisan Lean|
|Jaime Herrera Beutler||WA-03||✓||R+11.2|
Opposition to these incumbents ramped up in February, most notably when Trump decided to put his stamp of approval on primary challengers in two of the three reddest districts represented by pro-impeachment Republicans: South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District and Washington’s 4th Congressional District. Trump’s endorsement isn’t guaranteed to make someone a winner, but there is reason to think it can be helpful: Republican pollster Echelon Insights found in February that an endorsement by Trump without support from local GOP leaders would give a Republican primary candidate a narrow edge of 3 percentage points, for instance. And while that was far weaker than a candidate who had backing from both Trump and local party leaders (+29 points), Trump’s support by itself was valuable, as candidates backed by only local officials (-10 points) or by neither Trump nor local leaders (-22 points) performed notably worse.2
Let’s start with South Carolina’s 7th District. At the start of February, Trump endorsed state Rep. Russell Fry in his bid to take down Rep. Tom Rice. Trump was likely attracted to Fry in part because the state legislator has backed Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was illegitimate. But Fry may also be best positioned to challenge Rice: He has outraised all the other challengers still in the race, and he came in third in a primary poll conducted by SoCo Strategies back in early December. (Moreover, in a boon to Fry, the second-place candidate dropped out just before Trump announced his support for Fry.) As such, Trump’s endorsement could help opposition to Rice consolidate around Fry in the still-crowded primary field, improving Fry’s chances of advancing to a possible runoff against Rice, as South Carolina is one of seven states that requires a candidate to win a majority of the primary vote to capture a party’s nomination.
Then, about a week after backing Fry, Trump endorsed Loren Culp, the former police chief of a small Washington town, in Washington’s 4th District against Rep. Dan Newhouse. Culp isn’t as strong of a pick as Fry — he’s struggled with fundraising, raising less than $150,000 through the end of 2021 — but he may have caught Trump’s eye in his 2020 gubernatorial bid when he refused to accept defeat, citing unsubstantiated claims about election irregularities. He lost by 13 percentage points. It remains to be seen whether Culp will gain more traction with Trump’s endorsement.
Washington has its own primary wrinkle, though. It uses a top-two system in which candidates from all parties run on the same ballot and the top-two finishers advance to the general election, regardless of party. This could potentially help Newhouse, as it’s not just Culp running against him. Jerrod Sessler, a former NASCAR driver, has thrown down about $350,000 of his own money and could attract some Republican-leaning support in the primary, too. But if Culp and Sessler are able to split the GOP voting base while Democrats largely back one candidate, it’s possible Culp or even Sessler edge out Newhouse for one of the two spots and join the Democrat in the general. Still, this district has sometimes sent two Republicans to the November election, so it’s possible that it ends up being Newhouse and one of his GOP challengers.
Another endorsement raised eyebrows in February, but this one wasn’t from Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced his support for former Republican National Committee member Harriet Hageman, the most prominent opponent of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (who has been a vocal critic of Trump). Trump had already backed Hageman in September, but it’s still highly unusual for a party’s legislative leader to endorse a colleague’s primary challenger.
The Wyoming GOP appears to be done with Cheney, too, having passed a resolution in November that essentially excommunicated her from the party. Helpfully for Hageman, most other high-profile Republicans have left the race, which should make it easier for anti-Cheney forces to coalesce around a challenger. Cheney already looks to be in real trouble. The early December SoCo Strategies poll found Hageman leading Cheney 39 percent to 19 percent, and prior surveys found Cheney struggling. Cheney does have a massive financial advantage, though: By the end of 2021, she had raised $7.2 million and had $4.7 million in the bank. By comparison, Hageman had garnered roughly $750,000 and had around $380,000 cash on hand. Cheney also appears set on staying in the race despite her difficulties, and some observers have speculated that she may even be looking to take on Trump and his supporters nationally in 2024.
Cheney isn’t alone in having to push back against fierce intraparty opposition, though. While he hasn’t officially announced that he’s seeking reelection, Republican Rep. Fred Upton’s campaign began running ads at the end of February, so it looks like he’s angling to run again, or at least testing the waters. In the ad, Upton told the camera, “If you want a rubber stamp as your congressman, I’m the wrong guy,” and Upton isn’t kidding: He’s likely to be the only pro-impeachment House Republican seeking reelection who also voted for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package — the other three have announced their retirements — which has made him a target of the right.
But while Upton has given his opponents plenty of ammunition, he might also be in a better position than Cheney thanks to the particulars of his primary race in Michigan’s new 4th District. Upton faces fellow Rep. Bill Huizenga, a more conservative incumbent who opted to run here after his old district was carved up in redistricting. This makes Upton the only pro-impeachment Republican also running against another incumbent, but both Upton and Huizenga must face Trump-endorsed state Rep. Steve Carra, who has pushed Trump’s fraudulent claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Provided Trump sticks with Carra, whom he endorsed before Huizenga also challenged Upton, that could actually make it easier for Upton to win a plurality if opposition to Upton splits between his two challengers.
As for the other three pro-impeachment Republicans who are running again, two of them face potentially competitive primary contests. In Michigan’s 3rd District, freshman Rep. Peter Meijer must contend with John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who has the former president’s backing. Meijer has dominated Gibbs in fundraising, but a poll sponsored by EMILY’s List found Meijer only leading Gibbs 26 percent to 13 percent, and trailing once voters were told that Trump supported Gibbs. This survey could definitely point to potential danger for Meijer, although we need to treat it with caution considering EMILY’s List, as an organization that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, would like to see Meijer lose his primary to improve the Democrats’ chance of winning the swingy 3rd District.
In Washington’s 3rd District, meanwhile, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler faces veteran Joe Kent, who has Trump’s endorsement. This is another top-two primary, but there’s already reason to think Herrera Beutler might find herself coming up short, as a February poll from GOP pollster Trafalgar Group found her running close to even with Kent in the low-to-mid 20s while Democrat Brent Hennrich led with 33 percent. If Hennrich does win most Democratic support in the top-two race, Herrera Beutler will have a challenging time finishing in the top two, as other polling has also shown her struggling to keep up with Kent among Republican voters.
Lastly, Republican Rep. David Valadao is the only pro-impeachment Republican in the House who lacks a Trump-endorsed primary challenger, and it’s unclear whether Trump will wade into this race. (Like Washington, California also uses the top-two primary system.) That may be in part because Valadao looks to have the toughest general election path, as California’s new 22nd District is notably bluer than any of the other districts discussed here. Still, Valadao has previously won on Democratic-leaning turf, so it could be Valadao who faces the least amount of electoral danger compared to the other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year.
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