- The Washington Times - Friday, July 23, 2021

House Republicans who made a foe of former President Donald Trump face a growing number of 2022 primary challengers, whose campaigns are largely energized by a quest to redeem him.

Mr. Trump has helped put a target on the 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach him in January and challenged his claims that the 2020 election was mired in voter fraud.

Nine of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the former president face at least one pro-Trump primary challenger. The exception is Rep. John Katko of New York’s 24th Congressional District, who so far has not drawn a primary opponent despite Mr. Trump‘s offer to back a challenger in the Syracuse district. President Biden carried the area by 10 points.

The onslaught of challengers in the other nine districts reflects the ongoing rift in the Republican Party between those who align themselves with Mr. Trump and those rooted in the establishment.

Most of the anti-Trump candidates will likely survive, said a House GOP aide who is closely monitoring the midterm races, though he cautioned the incumbents to take nothing for granted.

“Facing a primary challenge, they’re going to have to take it seriously,” the aide said. “If they go into it assuming that they’ll win, that might be a recipe for disaster.”

Among those targeted in GOP primaries, South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice is the most vulnerable candidate due to state election laws that require him to capture the majority of votes in a primary rather than a plurality.

Mr. Rice represents the state’s 7th Congressional District which lies in the northeast region of the state and includes farmland as well as the state’s seaside attractions such as Myrtle Beach. The lawmaker faces the most primary challengers of any of the targeted incumbents, with 11 hopefuls taking him on.

Following Mr. Rice, Rep. Liz Cheney, the lone representative for Wyoming, is the second most vulnerable incumbent, according to polling site FiveThirtyEight.

Ms. Cheney is arguably the most anti-Trump Republican in the party, especially after being named by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Resentment for Ms. Cheney runs deep in Wyoming, according to state Rep. Chuck Gray, who is one of her at least seven primary challengers.

Mr. Gray is painting himself as the “true conservative fighter” in the race. He is running on a pro-Trump agenda, anti-Cheney rhetoric, and assertions that the 2020 election was stolen.

Mr. Trump carried Wyoming with nearly 70% of the vote last year.

“Liz Cheney does not represent us,” Mr. Gray told The Washington Times. “She is not consistent with our values. She doesn’t live here, she doesn’t represent us, and she wants to destroy our movement. That’s wrong.”

Ms. Cheney’s office did not have a comment on the status of the race but pointed to comments she had previously made welcoming the competition for her seat.

“Bring it on,” Ms. Cheney told NBC’s “Today” in May. “If they think that they are going to come into Wyoming and make the argument that the people of Wyoming should vote for someone who is loyal to Donald Trump over somebody who is loyal to the Constitution, I welcome that debate.”

After Ms. Cheney was ousted by fellow House Republicans from the job of Republican Conference chairwoman in May, a national survey found that more than 50% of Republicans held an unfavorable view of Ms. Cheney. Only 15% of Republicans held a favorable view of her.

The survey, conducted by Morning Consult and Politico between May 14 to 17, had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Mr. Trump, who said this week that he would soon endorse one of Ms. Cheney’s challengers, has loomed over the race, said Marissa Joy Selvig, a moderate Republican candidate whom the state party encouraged to drop out because she did not launch enough attacks on the incumbent.

“I’m not running an anti-Cheney campaign,” Ms. Selvig said. “I know how the people of Wyoming feel about that situation. I choose not to talk about it because I think there’s more to politics than just our current representative.”

Other primary challengers taking on anti-Trump incumbents feel differently.

Catalina Lauf, a former Trump adviser at the Commerce Department, is challenging Rep. Adam Kinzinger in Illinois’ 16th District, which houses an array of Chicago exurbs.

Ms. Lauf said she never planned on running for office but was motivated to enter the political fray by Mr. Kinzinger, one of Trump’s most vocal critics.

“A Republican doesn’t go in thinking I really want to primary somebody, but Adam really made a name for himself in a negative way,” Ms. Lauf told The Times.

Mr. Kinzinger comfortably won his district in 2020, taking more than 64% of the vote against his Democratic challenger. Mr. Trump also took several of the counties in the Illinois Republican’s northwestern district, despite Mr. Biden winning the state as a whole.

Mr. Kinzinger raised his national profile this year with his vote to impeach Mr. Trump and by being one of just two Republicans who supported a failed bid to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot. Ms. Chaney was the other House Republican to back the commission.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said Sunday that she will ask Mr. Kinzinger to join the Jan. 6 select committee, which she established when Senate Republicans killed the proposed independent commission to probe the riot by pro-Trump demonstrators.

If Mr. Kinzinger accepts, he and Ms. Cheney could be the only Republicans on the committee. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, has threatened to boycott the committee after Mrs. Pelosi rejected two House GOP appointees to the panel.

Mr. Kinzinger on Sunday accepted Mrs. Pelosi’s offer to join the Jan. 6 select committee, which Mrs. Pelosi established when Senate Republicans killed the proposed independent commission to probe the riot.

Mr. Kinzinger and Ms. Cheney are expected to be the only Republicans on the select committee. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, threatened to boycott the committee last week after Mrs. Pelosi rejected two of his GOP appointees to the panel.

Despite Mr. Kinzinger’s massive fundraising haul of $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2021, Ms. Lauf said there’s lasting animosity against the incumbent from the district’s voters who support Mr. Trump.

“He doesn’t understand his constituent base, which is largely Trump supporters. He holds them in contempt,” Ms. Lauf said.

Though Illinois is poised to lose one seat, it’s unclear which district may be drawn out.

Mr. Kinzinger has not indicated any other political decisions aside from his reelection to the House. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

First-term Rep. Peter Meijer, who represents Michigan’s western 3rd Congressional District which includes Grand Rapids, is being challenged by a handful of Republicans, including Tom Norton, a U.S. Army veteran and small businessman.

Mr. Norton argues his home district, once represented by President Gerald Ford from 1949 to 1973, is particularly in need of a change from Mr. Meijer, who succeeded former Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican-turned-independent who was among the first in his party to call for Mr. Trump’s first impeachment in 2019.

After briefly toying with a presidential run, Mr. Amash announced in 2020 he would not seek reelection, facing long odds of retaining his seat after isolating himself from the GOP.

“The voters in the district feel like they were betrayed by Amash. Now, they feel they’re betrayed by Meijer,” Mr. Norton said in an interview. “They want somebody they can send to Washington, and 10 minutes later, isn’t going to stab them in the back.”

A July analysis by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicted that Mr. Meijer’s impeachment vote may play a role in the primary, similarly to how it shaped his predecessor’s political career.

“Meijer’s vote for Trump’s impeachment is likely to be very problematic in a primary, though a big field and no runoff means that he has some chance of reelection,” the report read. “Interestingly, Amash did not seek reelection after his own support for impeachment.”

The 3rd District has been a Republican stronghold for decades, and Trump’s presence will be put to the test on whether Mr. Meijer could be a one-term representative.

Mr. Meijer has not shied away from being critical of his party, even alluding to some members as being “treacherous snakes” on Memorial Day for “salivating for civil war.”

Mr. Norton says comments such as those grab voters’ attention.

“Beforehand, I think people were gonna give him a pass since he was a freshman,” Mr. Norton said. “And then when he called us treacherous snakes, he really kind of finished putting the nail in his own coffin politically.”

Mr. Meijer’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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