A tumultuous primary season jam-packed with intraparty feuds, major polling shifts, and the looming specter of former President Donald Trump has also produced another drama: More than a dozen sitting House members have been ousted in primaries.
So far, only three cycles since 1946 had more House incumbents losing primaries compared to this year’s, according to the Brookings Institution.
The losses aren’t entirely unexpected following a process that occurs every 10 years: redistricting.
That’s because the shifting of district lines can weaken the power of incumbency, splitting constituencies up or consolidating old districts into fewer new ones in ways that pit members against each other.
Such was the case with progressive Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), who lost an open primary after shifting districts to avoid running against another incumbent, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY), who lived within the bounds of Jones’s district once it was redrawn and chose to run there.
Maloney took heat from progressives because the move forced Jones to choose between facing the powerful House Democrat in a primary, challenging another progressive member in a neighboring district, or trying to clear the field in a third nearby district with no incumbent.
Jones chose the third option and came up short behind two other Democrats.
With the high-profile primary defeats this week of Jones, as well as Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the number of House incumbents who have lost their primaries this year climbed to 14.
In 2002, the last time redistricting occurred, eight House members lost their primaries ahead of that year’s midterm elections. However, the cycle before, in 2000, just three members lost in primaries. The cycle before that, 1998, just one member endured a primary defeat.
In 1992, 19 House members lost their primaries following redistricting, the most since 1946, but only one member had lost a primary the cycle before, and only four lost their primaries the cycle after.
In New York, Carolyn Maloney’s loss on Tuesday was the culmination of a fierce and often bitter contest between two seasoned members of the Democratic caucus, Maloney and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
Redistricting in the state combined parts of the districts they’d both represented for decades into one, creating an unusual situation in which two powerful committee chairs were forced to fight each other for their political lives.
Other House lawmakers lost to colleagues earlier in the primary season.
Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) prevailed over Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) in a June primary that saw the two members fighting for a district near Chicago after Illinois lost a congressional seat due to population loss.
The race ended on an unexpected and tragic note when Casten announced the death of his 17-year-old daughter days before the primary election, essentially freezing his campaign for the remainder of the race. He still beat Newman handily.
Redistricting was not the only reason sitting members faced primary defeats this year, however.
Some of the incumbents who won’t return to Washington next year lost because they incurred the wrath of Trump.
Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) lost to a Trump-backed challenger in his primary earlier this month after a significant cash infusion from Democrats on behalf of his rival, who they believed would be easier to beat in November.
Meijer was one of 10 Republicans to vote in favor of Trump’s impeachment last year. He is a first-term congressman from a competitive district that Democrats hope to pick up in November now that they are dealing with a more hard-line Republican.
Trump vowed to target all of the Republicans who supported impeachment; four of them opted to retire rather than seek reelection in Trump’s crosshairs.
Two survived their primaries, and four more lost to primary challengers whose campaigns rode waves of anger over Trump’s defeat in 2020.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) suffered the highest-profile primary defeat, capping off a journey that began with her removal from House Republican leadership over her vocal opposition to Trump; she had easily carried the district just two years earlier.
The former president’s involvement in an effort to unseat incumbents of his own party over a personal grudge scrambled primary politics for Republicans this year in ways that could affect their chances of notching majorities.
Some candidates who are performing anemically against Democratic opponents emerged from House and Senate primaries in which Trump was involved.
Still other House incumbents fell in their primaries because of scandals in their personal lives.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) lost resoundingly in a May primary amid a growing pile of controversies that included unfounded claims of witnessing drug use among fellow lawmakers, attempting to carry guns through airport security, and allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of his staff.
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) lost a primary runoff in June after failing to convince voters he was innocent of accusations that he abused campaign funds.