The time to look ahead to 2022 is already here. The everlasting campaign in American politics has continued, as candidates have already started to declare themselves for the midterm cycle. Now, much of the focus has been on the Senate races so far. Especially ones expected to be competitive in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. But, in my opinion, the fun really lies in the House of Representatives. Last year, we saw the most incumbents get successfully primaried in a general election year since the 1970s. In 2022, I could see that number being even higher, with targets aplenty on both sides. I’m going to name my top 5 most likely here in my view, with some honorable mentions sprinkled in.
Number 1: Carolyn Maloney (Democrat, NY12)
First on my list should come of little surprise. After some discussion over whether she would run again after a surprisingly close call in 2020, Maloney recently announced she plans to run for re-election. Not long after that, her closest challenger from 2020 Suraj Patel is back for what is technically a third go round against Maloney. While he was in a split race in 2020, this time Patel will likely face Maloney one-on-one. One of his problems is the last time he went against Maloney in a one-on-one race, Maloney trounced him by 20 points. Patel will have to hope that this time with a brighter spotlight on his 2020 success, he can beat Maloney. That includes hoping for greater help by Justice Democrats and maybe even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this time around. In New York, that’s proven to go a long way for progressive challengers.
The question of redistricting does remain here, as while in its current state the district takes in some parts of Queens and Brooklyn while mainly being based in Manhattan, some redrawings of New York have made the district all in Manhattan. That would make it harder for Patel, as Manhattan has been less willing to toss out incumbents compared to the other three boroughs in the past two cycles. Even so, this race is still the top primary to watch for 2022 and Maloney should be prepared for one of her toughest fights yet.
Number 2: Anthony Gonzalez (Republican, OH-16)
Gonzalez is one of nine Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump in the aftermath of January 6th. While all of them may face some danger, Gonzalez might be the most endangered of the lot. Not only does the pro-Trump crowd seem to be coming together around one challenger, but Gonzalez’s seat will change radically as Ohio loses a congressional district. That alone makes him different than most of the other Representatives who voted to impeach Trump. While others are in swing seats, have favorable primary conditions, or just have too large a field against them, Gonzalez has none of those things.
Max Miller, a former Trump official, is the consensus pick to primary Gonzalez. With Trump already backing him, the field seems set for a one v one battle between Miller and Gonzalez. Redistricting might not help Gonzalez either. With Ohio’s sharp red turn since 2016, there’s a lot more red to go around. And his district could easily take in some of that newly red, Trump-friendly area. That alone would complicate things for Gonzalez, with the vote to impeach Trump making his primary not any easier. He is the most endangered Republican incumbent to a primary in 2022 as it stands, and if he is taken down, it is a warning shot to House Republicans for the future.
Number 3: Steven Palazzo (Republican, MS-04)
This one might be the one on the list that would surprise the most people. But this is a primary that reminds me a lot of the one that occurred in Florida’s 15th this past year – a Republican incumbent under fire for likely campaign finance violations who has already drawn a decent challenger. For Palazzo, that’s Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, who just announced his campaign last week. Jackson County is one of the largest counties in the district, meaning Ezell will have a decent base to draw from. He’s the only serious challenger so far to Palazzo so far, and if it stays that way, he’s going to have a good shot at knocking off the incumbent.
Now, rumored campaign finance violations do not always sink incumbents. But, Palazzo has also been a recent target of conservative activists in the district. They feel he is too moderate for what is and what will be a very red district. There were rumors of a possible challenge to him in 2020 that was apparently sunk due to COVID-19. Now, they feel like they have a shot, and combine that with the campaign finance issues, Palazzo could find himself in trouble. I think he is, and this is a primary that could find it’s way to number one on the list come 2022.
Number 4: David Scott (Democrat, GA-13)
This might be another one that surprises readers. But after 2020 it makes sense to think Scott could be in some trouble. He was nearly forced into a runoff with Keisha Waites in the Democratic primary, and most believed he was until late mail-ins saved him. Scott still only got 53% of the primary vote last cycle, a major downgrade in what he’s used to getting. While some may point to him being in a four way race as the reason he did so poorly, I think there’s reason to believe this isn’t a one off event.
The Atlanta area in Georgia is only getting more liberal as it grows and expands. Along with that comes a younger constituency. Combine that with sudden success in Democrats winning the state in 2020 and you can see a pathway where left wing activists may strike. After Scott’s poor 2020 performance, he might be the best target for left-wing groups to knock off an incumbent down south. Scott has also had a history of corruption that is exploitable. He at one point was considered one of the 25 most corrupt members of Congress. All this leads me to believe he is one of the most endangered incumbents in 2022.
Number 5: Adam Kinzinger (Republican, IL-16)
My personal opinions aside, Adam Kinzinger is in danger. Already an outspoken Trump critic going into 2020, Kinzinger has only gone harder against him since the election. He was one of the first Republican voices to call on the former President to resign following the events of January 6. He was also one of the first to announce he was voting to impeach the President. But, his district has trended heavily rightward since he first took office, and includes some heavily Trumpy parts of Illinois. All of that should point to him being the most likely incumbent successfully primaried in 2022. However, there are some things working in Kinzinger’s favor.
First, he has a large war chest at his disposal. He raised nearly 2.2 million dollars this past quarter, with half going to himself and the other half going to his anti-Trump PAC. That puts him near the top for fundraising for House Republicans this quarter so far. Second, four different challengers have already announced they’re running against Kinzinger. A split field like that against an incumbent is only favorable for one person – the incumbent. Unless the Trump crowd can rally around a single candidate, it’ll be hard to knock off Kinzinger. The question of how Illinois’s maps will look will also come heavily into play here. Illinois Democrats completely control redistricting again, but Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker has pledged to veto gerrymandered maps. A fair map sees Kinzinger have a similar district to the one he has now. No change would be good for Kinzinger, while any change could end him.
Here are some incumbents who didn’t make the list, but I do feel deserve some mention.
- Every Other House Republican who voted to Impeach Trump: For the other 8 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, there are different reasons for all of them not being in the top five. For John Katko and David Valadao, redistricting will make their current districts very different, but they have a strong local brand in blue districts. The same can be said for Peter Meijer, who avoided censuring from the Kent County GOP. Jamie Herrera Buehler and Dan Newhouse have Washington’s style of primaries working in their favor. Liz Cheney and Tom Rice have huge fields against them that would allow them to squeak by as incumbents. Fred Upton is probably going to retire, so he wouldn’t count.
- Richard Neal (Democrat, MA-01): Neal was nearly knocked off by Alex Morse this past cycle. While Morse seems unlikely to take a second go at it, that doesn’t mean Neal is totally safe. Progressive Democrats will want to take another swing at him, and if he doesn’t retire, a strong primary challenger is almost a certainty.
- Kurt Schrader (Democrat, OR-05): Schrader being in any danger come primary time might be up to how his seat is drawn in redistricting. If his seat stays similar to how it is now, one of the few old school Blue Dogs remaining will probably be okay. If it gets bluer however, expect activists to target him heavily. Oregon having a normal primary system makes it the best chance progressives might have at knocking off an incumbent on the west coast. And Schrader’s votes on certain items this past session make him an easy target online. Whether that can translate towards real life is yet to be seen.