Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Upsets Foiled as Incumbents Reign in Primaries

In House on May 7, 2014 at 10:28 am

The first in a series of consecutive May primary weeks went solidly for the incumbents last night, as all US House members facing intra-party challengers, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-8), rode to victory.

In the preponderance of cases, the incumbents won in the normal landslide proportion one would expect in primary elections. In only three instances, those of representatives Renee Ellmers (R-NC-2), Walter Jones Jr. (R-NC-3) and David Joyce (R-OH-14), did the incumbents fail to break 60 percent. Speaker Boehner, after campaigning hard and hitting the television airwaves to rebuff his under-financed but creative opponents, scored 69 percent of the vote.

The best news of the evening for Republicans came in North Carolina, where state House Speaker Thom Tillis exceeded the 40 percent threshold to win the party’s US Senate nomination outright. Late polling clearly suggested that Tillis would place first in the field of eight candidates, but questions remained as to whether he would be forced to a run-off. Last night, the state legislative leader attracted 46 percent followed by physician Greg Brannon with 27 percent, while Charlotte pastor Mark Harris took 18 percent.

Tillis has won the right to face vulnerable first-term Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who easily won her own primary. Possibly the biggest surprise of the evening was the turnout complexion. Despite all the significant action being on the GOP side of the North Carolina political ledger, only 10,000 fewer Democrats voted statewide than Republicans.

Voters in two of the three open seats, for all intents and purposes, elected new House members last night. In the Wilmington area, 2012 GOP nominee and former state Sen. David Rouzer won a 53-40 percent victory over New Hanover Commissioner Woody White, and is now poised to clinch the seat in the upcoming November election. Rouzer lost the country’s closest campaign two years ago. With Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) retiring, the seat is now Rouzer’s to lose.

Turning to the Charlotte-Greensboro region, in the battle to replace former Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC-12) who left the House to accept a federal appointment from President Obama, Greensboro state Rep. Alma Adams won her Democratic primary battle against six opponents. She claimed both the nomination for the regular election and the concurrent special to fill the balance of Watt’s term. She will win the November vote in this heavily Democratic district, and assumes office immediately upon her election.

In the other open seat that touches the Greensboro area, Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., the son of the state Senate president, placed first in his drive to replace retiring Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC-6) but failed to reach the 40 percent plateau. He will now face Baptist pastor Mark Walker in a July 15 Republican run-off. Last night, Berger scored 34 percent to Walker’s 25 percent. The winner becomes the general election prohibitive favorite in the solidly Republican seat.

Rep. Ellmers scored 59 percent to win renomination for a third term. This is an under-performance since her opponent raised less than $25,000 for the race. The 2nd District was radically reconstructed in redistricting, with Ellmers retaining only 29 percent of the constituency that first elected her. This performance shows she has yet to develop a firm presence within the base Republican vote. The Democratic side is too close to call, as singer Clay Aiken has only a 372-vote margin against his primary opponent.

Rep. Walter Jones Jr. scored only a 51-45 percent victory against former George W. Bush Administration official Taylor Griffin, in what was expected to be a close race. Jones is an enigma in the House, often going out of his way to oppose his own party’s leadership. Therefore, little in the way of partisan voting trends can be drawn from the results in this unique contest.

Ohio freshman Rep. David Joyce (R-OH-14) was nominated in 2012 after the Republican primary when then-Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) resigned from the ticket. Therefore, despite being the incumbent, this is the first regular primary election in which Joyce has participated. He won a 55-45 percent contest against state Rep. Matt Lynch, who was clearly a credible candidate but suffered from insufficient fundraising.

Indiana voters also went to the polls, though no upsets were expected. None occurred, as the six House incumbents with primary challenges all won in landslides.

This primary night clearly went to the incumbents, across the board.

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