Redistricting may reshape the electoral playing field for a U.S. House incumbent in different ways — a seat might become much safer, more vulnerable or even cease to exist. But on rare occasions, changes wrought by redistricting can also pit two incumbents against one another in the next election. In some cases, incumbents from the same party meet in a primary faceoff; at other times, members from opposing parties confront each other in a general election showdown.
Most election cycles that follow redistricting have at least a handful of incumbent clashes, and 2022 is no different. So far, six House districts in four states look set to host member-versus-member primaries, which at this point are evenly split between the two parties (there are no general election matchups yet). The share of a district’s residents an incumbent already represents may be key in these races — as the table below shows, one incumbent’s “friends and neighbors” can significantly outnumber those of the other incumbent.
|New District||Party||Incumbent||% Pop. Old District||Incumbent||% Pop. Old District|
|GA-07||D||Carolyn Bourdeaux||57.0%||Lucy McBath||12.1%|
|MI-11||D||Haley Stevens||45.1||Andy Levin||24.8|
|IL-06||D||Marie Newman||41.3||Sean Casten||23.4|
|WV-02||R||David McKinley||66.2||Alex Mooney||33.8|
|MI-04||R||Fred Upton||64.1||Bill Huizenga||24.6|
|IL-15||R||Mary Miller||31.3||Rodney Davis||28.4|
The races are about more than which incumbent has more supporters, though, as all six also feature some degree of ideological and/or intraparty conflict, too. Because of that, the result of each primary could tell us something about the direction of the parties, whether it’s a conflict over how pro-Trump a Republican member is, or a referendum over the moderate (or progressive) bona fides of a Democratic incumbent. Things could still change in some of these races — one incumbent could drop out, for instance — but for now here’s a look at how the six contests are shaping up:
At first glance, Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux looks like a heavy favorite against Rep. Lucy McBath in the Democratic primary in Georgia’s 7th District: She already represents 57 percent of the district’s residents, while McBath represents only 12 percent. But Bourdeaux may not be the most popular person in a Democratic primary right now: Last year, she was one of nine moderate Democratic representatives who threatened to vote down Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending plan unless the bipartisan infrastructure bill was passed first, making enemies of the progressive wing of the party. Ironically, Bourdeaux actually has a more liberal voting record than McBath, but McBath has stronger ties to the progressive wing of the party as a former gun-control advocate who got involved in politics after her son was shot and killed — helping her win endorsements from pro-gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety and progressive Rep. Ayanna Pressley. Crucially, though, McBath has some establishment support as well, such as the backing of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.
Progressive vs. moderate battle lines are also being drawn in the Democratic primary for Illinois’s 6th District. Rep. Marie Newman became a progressive hero when she successfully primaried conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski in 2020, and this year she has already earned endorsements from the likes of Justice Democrats, Our Revolution Illinois and Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Her opponent, Rep. Sean Casten, meanwhile, also has a very liberal voting record, but he cuts a more moderate profile as a former businessman and a member of the pro-business New Democrat Coalition.
Newman already represents 41 percent of the district to Casten’s 23 percent, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Among Democrats only — which, for convenience’s sake, we’ll define as people who voted for President Biden in 2020 — the new district is 36 percent Newman constituents, 28 percent Casten constituents, meaning Newman’s advantage is negligible in a Democratic primary. What’s more, a lot of the Democrats in the new district voted for Lipinski in the 2020 primary, so they might not be inclined to vote for Newman even if they live in her old district. Adding to the list of Casten’s assets is more than $1 million in cash on hand (Newman has only $438,000), as of Sept. 30, 2021, and a House Ethics Committee probe into whether Newman bribed a former opponent to drop out of the 2020 race. (The Office of Congressional Ethics also found this week there was “substantial reason” to believe the allegation.)
Finally, Reps. Andy Levin and Haley Stevens will face off for Michigan’s 11th District after the successor to Levin’s current district was converted into a fairly red seat. As a result, Stevens represents more of the new district (45 percent to 25 percent), but again, it’s closer when you look at only the Democratic electorate: 38 percent of the 11th’s Biden voters are currently represented by Stevens, while 29 percent are represented by Levin. In addition, while both were initially elected in 2018, Levin belongs to one of Michigan’s best-known political dynasties: His father held his congressional seat for 36 years before he did, and his uncle was a U.S. senator for the same amount of time. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s Levin who has locked up the support of many Michigan powerbrokers, including the powerful union SEIU. Stevens, though, has the valuable endorsement of EMILY’s List and has raised more than twice as much money so far ($1.9 million to Levin’s $911,000).
Meanwhile, each Republican contest features a more conservative, Trumpier incumbent pitted against a comparatively moderate incumbent. As a result, all three races present an opportunity for GOP primary voters to pick the direction they want their party to take going forward.
In West Virginia’s 2nd District, Rep. David McKinley will meet Rep. Alex Mooney. On its face, McKinley might have the upper hand because he currently represents about two-thirds of the new district. However, Mooney has Trump’s endorsement, which could be a golden ticket in arguably the “Trumpiest” state in the country. In that vein, Mooney’s campaign has worked to contrast his Trump-friendly track record against that of McKinley, including going after McKinley for being one of only 13 House Republicans to back the bipartisan infrastructure package and attacking him for voting to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol (which later failed in the Senate). Additionally, Mooney may attract backing from Trump supporters because he objected to the certification of Biden’s election victory, whereas McKinley voted to certify. For his part, McKinley has returned fire by running ads about an ongoing investigation into Mooney by the House Ethics Committee over potential campaign finance violations, in which McKinley highlighted thousands of dollars spent on a Mooney family trip and meals at Chick-fil-A.
It’s hard to say how this will play out ahead of the May 10 primary, as the most recent polling of the race comes in the form of dueling campaign-sponsored surveys (which are to be taken with a grain of salt): In early January, a poll on behalf of Mooney put him ahead 45 percent to 32 percent, but McKinley’s campaign quickly countered with their own poll showing McKinley up 40 percent to 34 percent. It should be noted, however, that McKinley’s poll was already about a month old when his campaign released it, which might be a small tea leaf that Mooney is in a better position. Regardless, it does look as if Mooney will have a financial edge in the contest: As of Sept. 30, he had $2.6 million in the bank compared with McKinley’s roughly $630,000.
Similar dynamics are at work in Illinois’s 15th District, where GOP Reps. Rodney Davis and Mary Miller are facing off. Here, too, Davis voted to certify the 2020 election and to create a bipartisan commission to look at Jan. 6, although he didn’t vote for the bipartisan infrastructure package — or to impeach Trump following the attack on the Capitol. (Miller voted against certifying the 2020 results and creating the Jan. 6 bipartisan commission.) That said, Davis has one of the most moderate voting records in the House Republican caucus, whereas Miller has one of the most conservative. It’s no wonder, then, that Trump has endorsed Miller, as has the conservative Club For Growth, which often spends large sums supporting candidates in Republican primaries.
These factors could give Miller an edge, but one wild card is how unfamiliar both incumbents are to much of the newly established 15th District. Thanks to the way Illinois Democrats drew the state’s congressional map, a majority of Davis’s current constituents ended up in the Democratic-leaning 13th District, while almost half of Miller’s ended up in the 12th District. But Davis may have already cultivated more support in the 15th District: He has the backing of most of the district’s Republican county chairpeople, and he also lives there, whereas Miller’s home lies just outside it. Davis may also have a financial advantage — as of Sept. 30, he had $1.1 million in cash on hand, compared with Miller’s nearly $427,000. Although outside spending could boost Miller, Davis can use that campaign cash to play up his own Trump connections, including his work as co-chair of Trump’s 2020 campaign in Illinois, as well as his endorsements from fellow Illinois Reps. Mike Bost and Darin LaHood.
Lastly, Republican Reps. Fred Upton and Bill Huizenga are positioned to fight it out in Michigan’s 4th District. However, this one isn’t a done deal just yet: Upton hasn’t said whether he’s seeking reelection, although reporting by The Detroit News suggests he’s leaning toward running again, even though Huizenga decided to run here after Michigan’s independent redistricting commission split his old district into three different seats.
Upton would seemingly have an advantage when it comes to his connection to the new 4th District, as he currently represents about two-thirds of its constituents, compared with just one-quarter for Huizenga. However, Upton has serious vulnerabilities that Huizenga could exploit. First and foremost, Upton was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump last January, which infuriated many Republicans in western Michigan. But Upton has committed other conservative apostasies, too, including his support for the bipartisan infrastructure package and the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission. Huizenga voted against these items, although like Upton he did vote to certify Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Unlike the other primaries examined here, this race might also be complicated by a high-profile third wheel: state Rep. Steve Carra, who earned Trump’s endorsement after announcing a primary challenge against Upton. However, Carra’s home ended up in the new 5th District next door, and while Carra maintains that he’s still running, he hasn’t yet revealed where exactly. Michigan’s candidate filing deadline isn’t until April 19, so it’s possible we may have to wait a little bit to find out just what Carra’s plans are — or Upton’s, for that matter.
Aaron Bycoffe contributed research.