As the prospects for passing comprehensive immigration reform have dwindled, a favorite pundit talking point has emerged: "House Republicans are voting so conservatively because they fear a campaign challenge from their right." The mere threat of primaries has become the catch-all for explaining Republican opposition in the House.
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But as the argument became ubiquitous in 2013, something funny happened. The number of conservative challengers going up against GOP members of Congress hasn't developed as had been expected. In fact, there are currently as many notable Democratic primary challengers to incumbents as Republican intraparty battles. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho is the only Republican currently facing a credible primary challenger, who is backed by the Club for Growth. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, facing blowback over passing a subsidy-filled farm bill, is the other member facing a similar threat. Freshman Rep. Rodney Davis is facing former Miss America Erika Harold in the Republican primary in Illinois, but few expect her to win.
Unlike in 2010 and 2012, when Republican divisions were front and center, there are as many noteworthy Democratic primary challengers this time around. Rep. Mike Honda of California is facing a serious challenge from well-funded former Obama campaign staffer Ro Khanna. Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina is favored to win renomination, but faces an African-American challenger who could give him a headache in a district where blacks make up a majority of the Democratic electorate. Against Rep. Gary Miller, their top GOP target in California, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is backing a different challenger (Pete Aguilar) than EMILY's List (Eloise Reyes)—with a well-known former congressman (Joe Baca) also in the mix.