Besides the presidential primaries Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi, a few House Republicans are also facing primary challenges — and a measure of whether anti-incumbent fervor can still catch on.
Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), who defeated an incumbent Blue Dog Democrat in the 2010 GOP wave, is expected to easily win a rematch against his 2010 Republican primary opponent, former local mayor Henry Ross.
But more suspenseful action might take place in two deep-red districts in Alabama, one held by Rep. Jo Bonner — the other by Rep. Spencer Bachus, who has been at the center of recent controversies involving alleged insider trading by members of Congress.
Bonner and Bachus are also being opposed a group that TPM has profiled before: the Campaign for Primary Accountability. The group was founded by two conservative activists with the goal of taking on incumbents in both parties’ primaries, which tend to have low turnout, in districts where one party or the other is usually guaranteed a win in November.
“They are in one-party districts, their districts are dominated by the Republican Party in this case, so the November election is a foregone conclusion. The election that matters here is the primary election,” said spokesman Curtis Ellis. “They have credible primary challengers. There is somebody on the ballot - in Mr. Bachus’s case, there are a couple of people on the ballot who would be capable of doing the job if they were elected. And our polling shows these incumbents aren’t particularly popular, that people are ready for a change. So that’s why we picked them.”
When asked for details on the polling, Ellis said he was not at liberty to share it.
The group has spent $185,000 against Bachus, and $115,000 against Bonner. Here is a TV ad being run against Bachus:
Last week, the group may have claimed victory with the defeat in Ohio of Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost in a major upset to former Cincinnati mayoral candidate Brad Wenstrup. According to Ellis, the latest updates to the group’s spending figures will show that they spent $130,000 against Schmidt.
At the same time, though, the group also unsuccessfully spent $253,178 on the member-vs.-member Democratic primary between Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich - supporting Kucinich, who lost by a 17-point margin. This does raise the question: Did this group’s spending have an effect, or would the Schmidt loss have happened anyway?
“Well you know, that’s a good question,” Ellis responded. “What you usually see in these elections is that when turnout increases, it benefits the incumbent, right? Now let’s say in the Schmidt race, turnout was up there. Now we can’t take credit for the increased turnout. Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul may have had something to do with turnout in that race.
“But usually in that case, it helps the incumbent — people come out to vote for the big names, like Newt or Mitt or Rick or Ron, and then they look down-ballot and say, ‘Oh, I know that name, I’ll vote for her.’ But this time they didn’t.”
Ellis also added: “We’re not running a scalp of the week contest. This is a long-term project. Our goal is to increase participation in primary elections. And that means increase participation by voter,s and by challengers. That’s why we do independent expenditures against incumbents. There is a terrible mismatch — incumbents have all the advantages, and that discourages challengers. We hope by our presence, to have more challengers step forward.”
An earlier version of this post misstated Rep. Alan Nunnelee’s first name.