Back in April I wrote an article discussing the five members of Congress I thought were the most likely to be primaried in 2022. A lot has changed in the three months since I’ve written that article. New challengers have emerged and some incumbents have hurt themselves more than others. So I feel it’s time for an update. I’ve also expanded the size of the list to seven, because the list itself has gotten a bit bigger and I feel some aren’t just honorable mentions anymore.
Number One: Liz Cheney (Republican, WY-AL)
- Last Ranking: Honorable mention
It has been a heck of a three months for Liz Cheney. Last time, I put her in the honorable mention category with multiple other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Her leadership position in the caucus wasn’t under strain yet and none of her opponents seemed that good yet. While I still don’t think that second part has changed, the first part has and it is costing her.
Cheney lost her position as Republican conference chair after she upset her colleagues too many times. My personal opinions on that aside, Cheney has lost friends at an alarming rate. And that’s including those who voted with her to impeach former President Trump. The congresswoman has also taken on a more Kinzinger role of being a thorn in the caucus’s behind. That set of circumstances has me putting her at the top of this list. Even if I do still think her opposition is pretty weak, she’s made her own case weaker to primary voters in the last three months.
Number 2: Carolyn Maloney (Democrat, NY-12)
- Last Ranking: Number 1
With the seeming implosion from Liz Cheney, Carolyn Maloney no longer holds the top spot. That doesn’t mean she’s in any less danger. In fact, one could argue she’s in even more danger now. Justice Democrats are openly targeting her seat, recruiting Rana Abdelhamid to run against her.
Abdelhamid is a much stronger candidate than Suraj Patel, and will have the strong donor base of Justice Democrats backing her. Abdelhamid’s background also fits previous successful primary challengers for Democrats: young, female, a minority, and with connections to the Democratic Socialists of America. While another decently-sized field could end up saving Maloney, this is clearly going to be her toughest challenge yet.
Number 3: Adam Kinzinger (Republican, IL-16)
- Last Ranking: Number 5
Maybe a surprising move up here to some, but I do think it makes sense. And it’s not necessarily because he’s in any more danger. It’s more because others seem to be in less danger. The story with Kinzinger is the same as it’s always been. Anti-Trump for a while, deteriorating relations with the base and the caucus, and potentially getting a gerrymandered seat or being drawn out entirely. It’s looking worse for him with every passing day.
Number 4: Anthony Gonzalez (Republican, OH-16)
- Last Ranking: Number 2
Last time around, it seemed Anthony Gonzalez was the most endangered Republican. He represents an area that is Trumpy and trending red, and he actually has a one on one opponent. This was until we all met that opponent. A key point about the Trump MAGA movement is energy. The bombastic claims, the loud rallies, the big personalities. You would think that would happen for their primary candidates as well.
After meeting Max Miller for the first time at a recent Trump rally, it seems clear he has none of these traits. He is relatively boring, low energy, and all-in-all an empty suit Trump yes-man. His poor candidacy alone helps Gonzalez, especially since the congressman seems to have an actual personality. That doesn’t take away though that the seat will look different, hurting Gonzalez. He’s most certainly not out of the water, but he seems to be in less danger than he was before.
Number 5: Steven Palazzo (R-MS04)
- Last Ranking: Number 3
Like Gonzalez, Palazzo has fallen in part due to others clearly being in more danger than him. But, if there’s a Republican who didn’t vote to impeach Trump who would lose this cycle, it’s Palazzo. His ongoing ethics investigation has drawn three primary challengers. The most notable of those is Sheriff Mike Ezell, who seems to be the most serious challenger to Palazzo if fundraising is the best indicator. Ezell raised $150,000 in his first period as a candidate, decent enough for a first-time congressional candidate.
Palazzo also has come under more scrutiny as it turns out he used $61,000 dollars in campaign funds to defend himself against the ethics investigation. That doesn’t help his case. Palazzo had drawn three different challengers though, which will make it tougher to beat him. It’s another reason why he’s fallen behind Kinzinger and stays behind Gonzalez in these rankings.
Number 6: Jim Cooper (Democrat, TN-05)
- Last Ranking: Not Ranked
The only new addition to the list, Jim Cooper could be in trouble in more ways than one. Not only is his district potentially about to be cracked apart, he has drawn a strong primary challenger too. This comes off the back of Cooper only getting 57% of the vote against a no-name challenger in 2020. Now he has a bigger name and one that has stronger backing. Smelling blood in the water, Justice Democrats recruited local activist Odessa Kelly to run against Cooper this cycle. Kelly ticks all the usual boxes we’ve seen in successful Democratic primary challengers recently.
So you may then be asking, why isn’t Cooper higher on the list? A big part of that is the fact that the 5th district could very easily be cracked up in redistricting this cycle; the sudden weakness of Cooper may actually have Republicans wanting to do it more instead of having a bleeding-heart progressive replace a blue dog Democrat. If the split happens, it’s quite possible that Cooper and Kelly either no longer live in the same district, or at least gives a more favorable primary base to Cooper. If we were more sure of the 5th staying the same, Cooper would be higher on the list. But as of right now, that isn’t the case.
Number 7: Tom Rice (Republican, SC-07)
- Last Ranking: Honorable Mention
Rice barely sneaks into the list this go round instead of staying in the honorable mentions. It seems the wide number of candidates going against Rice have slowed down and there’s a set field. Usually that large field would make me give a higher chance to the incumbent. But in South Carolina, you do need to win more than 50% in a primary to avoid a runoff, and anti-Rice candidates may be large enough in numbers to keep the incumbent under 50% and force him to a runoff.
The real question becomes whether any of those candidates can unite the field enough to beat Rice one-on-one. And none of the challengers seem particularly strong enough to do so yet. That’s why Rice stays at the bottom of this list, and why if he runs again, I lean towards thinking he’ll be ok.
- Richard Neal (Democrat, MA-01): Neal hasn’t drawn any challenger yet, but he’s still the most rumored incumbent in the northeast to be in trouble. Neal barely survived a challenge from Alex Morse in 2020, and that was only after allegations sunk Morse. If he runs for re-election, I still see Neal having trouble, but until he draws that opponent, he stays as an honorable mention.
- Jaime Herrera Beutler (Republican, WA-03): Herrera Beutler is the only Trump impeachment vote to stay in the honorable mention list. Main challenger Joe Kent has drawn attention and does seem to be gaining some ground. But, a very poorly done Trafalger poll on the primary still shows Kent down five to Herrera Beutler. Considering Trafalger’s Trumpy background, that’s good news for Herrera Beutler in the long term.
- Danny Davis (Democrat, IL-07): A new addition to the list as a honorable mention, Davis has drawn a Justice Democrats-backed challenger in Kina Collins. Collins was the best of three challengers against Davis in 2020. But that was only good enough for 14% of the vote. I question if she’s going to be able to get over that in what seems to be a one-on-one against Davis. But she’s got enough backing from outside groups for me to consider Davis in at least a bit of trouble.