Fireworks, But No Surprises in Michigan, Missouri and Washington House Primaries

by Jessica Taylor August 8, 2012 · 10:11 AM EDT

Two more House incumbents lost on Tuesday, but it wasn’t a surprise since they faced fellow Members in primaries in Missouri and Michigan, and one of them had to lose.

In Michigan, Rep. Gary Peters prevailed over freshman Rep. Hansen Clarke in the Democratic primary in the 14th District, and is virtually guaranteed election this November in the safe Democratic seat in Detroit.

Peters racked up nearly every endorsement and built up a hefty financial lead that his first-term colleague was never able to overcome. Both men currently represent roughly the same amount of the redrawn district, but Peters was able to turnout his longtime base in the suburbs, spurring the white congressman to a win over the African-American Clarke, who had won two years ago after knocking off embattled Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick in a Democratic primary.

In Missouri, Rep. Lacy Clay handily defeated Rep. Russ Carnahan in the 1st District Democratic primary, as expected. Carnahan was the odd man out after the Show Me State lost a congressional district, and elected to challenge Clay in the much friendlier, and more Democratic, St. Louis-based seat, rather than run in the open, GOP-leaning 2nd District.

Longtime Rep. John Conyers was viewed as the most likely incumbent to lose on Tuesday in a non-member matchup, but in the end his race wasn’t even close. The 24-term Michigan Democrat took 55 percent in the five-way field, and his supposed closest competitor, state Sen. Glenn Anderson, got just 18 percent.

Although Conyers has been plagued with problems after his wife, a former Detroit city councilwoman, pled guilty to bribery charges, his biggest challenge to overcome was a radically redrawn district that lost about 10 percent of its black voting age population and took in just 35 percent of his current district. Still, as most state observers expected, Conyers’ name ID and longtime ties to the city were ultimately too much for any candidate to cut through.

In the 6th District, Energy & Commerce Chairman Fred Upton easily defeated primary challenger Jack Hoogendyk. While the former state senator got a surprising 43 percent against Upton in 2010 without mounting much of a campaign, this time the congressman went on the offensive from the beginning, and slammed Hoogendyk in direct mail. This time, the gap widened considerably, 67 percent to 33 percent.

In perhaps the quirkiest primary of the cycle, Republicans will have to make do with reindeer rancher Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan’s 11th District as their standard-bearer to succeed former Rep. Thad McCotter (R), who botched his re-election effort after failing to turn in the requisite signatures, and then decided to resign last month.

After the libertarian-leaning Bentivolio was the only other Republican on the ballot, local GOP leaders rallied around former state Sen. Nancy Cassis to mount a write-in campaign. Despite spending over $140,000 and writing a catchy jingle, the two-month time frame proved to be too short, and she only got 34 percent. Bentivolio had help too, with a super PAC run by a young Ron Paul supporter that also spent heavily in a Kentucky congressional race earlier this year.

Democrats see a glimmer of hope thanks to McCotter’s blunder. The good news for them is that they got their favored candidate, physician Syed Taj, through the primary over a fringe candidate. While the fundamentals of this district still favor Republicans after the seat was much improved in redistricting (McCain took 48 percent in 2008, Bush 55 percent in 2004), based on the fluidity of the race, we continue to rate it as Toss Up/Tilt Republican. We’ll have a longer analysis in our August 24 edition of the Report.

On the West Coast, Democratic strategists can breathe a sigh of relief after their preferred candidate, former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene, made it through a timultuous top-two primary in Washington’s 1st District. Now she’ll face Snohomish County Councilman John Koster in November in perhaps the most competitive race general election affected on Tuesday.

As expected, Koster finished easily atop the multi-candidate field as the only major Republican, with 44 percent of the vote. But among four major Democrats, DelBene received 23 percent, followed by progressive favorite Darcy Burner (15 percent), and former state Rep. Laura Ruderman and state Sen. Steve Hobbs with just 7 percent each.

DelBene carpet-bombed the field with TV and direct mail in the race’s closing days, spending upwards of $2.2 million, including $250,000 of her own. National and state Democrats viewed DelBene, who ran a close race against Rep. Dave Reichert (R) in 2010, as their best shot to hold this competitive seat, especially due to her ability to self-finance. Progressives had hoped to propel Burner to victory, though after her own losses to Reichert in good Democratic years of 2006 and 2008, many strategists were skeptical of her general election appeal. Ruderman had created controversy after her mother opened a super PAC to help her daughter, but in the end the PAC wasn’t much of a factor.

We continue to rate this race as Toss Up/Tilt Democrat with DelBene as the nominee, and Republicans now have a tougher climb against DelBene, who can dip deep into her own pockets. McCain won just 42 percent here in 2008, while Republican Dino Rossi narrowly topped 50 percent in both his failed 2010 Senate race and 2008 gubernatorial run.