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After Surprise Incumbent Primary Loss, Who's Next?

Image: After Surprise Incumbent Primary Loss, Who's Next?
Dr. Greg Brannon, Rep. Renee Ellmers, Rep. George Holding at GOP primary debate in May (Raleigh, N.C.) (AP) 

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Wednesday, 08 Jun 2016 10:14 AM Current | Bio | Archive

North Carolina’s Renee Ellmers earned the dubious distinction of being the first GOP representative anywhere to lose re-nomination in the primaries.

Her crushing defeat — despite a last-minute endorsement and robocalls from Donald Trump — raised immediate speculation about which incumbent GOP lawmaker would be next to fall in a primary following attacks such as those that brought down three-termer Ellmers.

Labeled as a “sell-out” on spending issues by groups ranging from the Club for Growth to Tea Party Patriots, three-termer Ellmers barely clung to second place in a four-candidate primary.

The winner, by a margin of 53 percent to 24 percent, was fellow Rep. George Holding. (Following court-ordered redistricting of North Carolina’s U.S. House Districts in February, freshman lawmaker Holding moved from his old 13th District to run in Ellmers’ Second District in the East and Northern parts of the state.)

Although the Club for Growth never officially endorsed Holding, it did run a TV salvo highlighting Ellmers’ votes for raising the debt ceiling and enacting the Omnibus Spending bill.

Also weighing in to defeat Ellmers was the Tea Party Patriots, whose president Jenny Beth Martin slammed the congresswoman as a “card carrying member of the Washington establishment.”

“We’re looking at 8-to-10 other districts [for involvement],” Club for Growth spokesman Doug Sachtleben told me, although he declined to say which districts his organization is eyeing.

With eighteen states left to choose U.S. House and Senate nominees by September, there are few serious challenges from the right to incumbent Republicans. One possible exception is in Tennessee’s Sixth District, where former State Rep. Joe Carr is waging a spirited primary race against three-term Rep. Diane Black (who, ironically, is a former nurse like Ellmers).

“She voted for the omnibus spending bill, the ‘cromnibus’ spending bill (2014), and the Ryan-Murray budget — all of which raise spending government spending,” said Carr, who drew an unexpected 40 percent of the vote against Sen. Lamar Alexander in the 2014 primary.

Noting that he carried 12 of the 19 counties in the Sixth District against Alexander two years ago, Carr told me “if I get the same votes against [Black] in the primary [Aug. 4], I win easily.”

Until Ellmers’ defeat, all of the major efforts to dislodge incumbent Republican House Members had fallen short. Among the lawmakers who survived primary challengers were 20-year Rep. John Shimkus (Illinois), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (Texas), and House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (Pennsylvania).

As to why none of the insurgents were successful, Club for Growth’s Sachtleben told me: “There is no easy answer and each race is different. But after [tea party favorite] David Brat defeated [House Majority Leader and Virginia Rep.] Eric Cantor in the 2014 primary, the Republican establishment began to shore up the incumbents.

"They are warier now and all work a little harder. The Cantor defeat may have awakened a sleeping giant.”

Whether more Republican are defeated in primaries between now and September may well determine the ongoing political punch packed by the tea party and similar groups.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.



 

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North Carolina’s Renee Ellmers earned the dubious distinction of being the first GOP representative anywhere to lose re-nomination in the primaries.
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Wednesday, 08 Jun 2016 10:14 AM
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