House Incumbents on Track for Highest Number of Primary Losses in Decades

The 2022 midterms have seen an unusually high number of incumbents lose their primaries, with several more primaries still left to go that could potentially raise the final number to a 30-year high.

Axios reports that thus far, 11 House incumbents – seven Republicans and four Democrats – have lost their primaries. The high number of primary losses is due to a number of factors, including the effects of redistricting after the 2020 census, as well as a major political realignment within both parties away from so-called moderates and in favor of more hardline, grassroots candidates.

Five of the ousted incumbents were defeated by fellow incumbents due to their districts being combined, as a result of their states losing one seat following the census. Three of the four Democrats – Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), and Andy Levin (D-Mich.) – lost to their colleagues Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.), and Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), respectively. The fourth was Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of the most moderate Democrats in the House, who lost to far-left challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner despite receiving an endorsement from Joe Biden, which marked the 46th president’s first primary endorsement in 2022.

On the Republican side, the primary cause of incumbent losses has been the powerful endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who remains by far the most popular figure in the Republican Party. In both of the only two redistricting races involving Republican incumbents, the Trump-backed candidates, Reps. Alex Mooney (R-W.V.) and Mary Miller (R-Ill.), defeated their colleagues David McKinley (R-W.V.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), respectively.

Three incumbent Republicans were toppled by Trump-backed challengers as a result of the incumbents’ votes in favor of the second impeachment of President Trump: Reps. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) were defeated by challengers Russell Fry (R-S.C.), John Gibbs (R-Mich.), and Joe Kent (R-Wash.), respectively.

The remaining two Republican incumbents who have lost thus far ultimately fell short due to a number of scandals: Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) was accused of mishandling campaign funds by giving donors’ money to family-owned businesses, while Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) was plagued by accusations of sexual misconduct, as well as a leaked nude video of him with another man. They were defeated by challengers Mike Ezell (R-Miss.), and Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.), respectively, even though Cawthorn was endorsed by President Trump, marking an extremely rare primary loss for the 45th president’s endorsement record.

There will be at least one more incumbent who loses their primary, when Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) face each other in the new 12th congressional district of New York due to redistricting. In addition, two more incumbents are in danger of losing their party’s nominations: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the last of the pro-impeachment Republicans who is up for re-nomination this year, is widely expected to lose her Tuesday primary to Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman. And freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) faces a crowded primary field in a new seat that mostly covers areas he did not represent in his prior district.

The highest number of primary losses in any election year in modern history is 1992, the first election cycle after the 1990 census, in which 19 incumbents lost their primaries. The previous election cycle in 2020 saw the highest number of primary losses for incumbents in a non-redistricting year, with eight incumbents – five Republicans and three Democrats – falling to challengers that year.

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About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.

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