Written by Austin Sekel
Earlier this week Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia each held their party primaries which means we are now exactly halfway through this primary election cycle. Of the 490 primary elections for congressional seats in 2018 to date, 167 races have been uncontested and 225 incumbents won reelection. This is an embarrassment to any American who values fair and competitive elections.
More than one third of all primary elections held have played out exactly like this: someone filed and qualified to run for office, didn’t lift a finger and won fair and square. So is it really any wonder how so many politicians become complacent and pompous once in office?
Twenty out of the 55 races on June 12th were uncontested and 14 incumbents were reelected as nominees without opposition. Compared with the other 24 states that have held primaries so far, Maine’s astounding uncontested election rate of 83 percent ranks the highest in the nation. The only congressional election that was held for Maine voters was the District Two Democratic primary — where the victor will go on to face an incumbent in the general election. Nevada on the other hand had zero uncontested elections and is the only state to meet that threshold so far this cycle.
There have been 16 races overall in the primaries where there was no challenger from the other major party, giving two Republicans and 14 Democrats an all but guaranteed win in the general election. Incumbents held onto all 16 of those seats in the primaries, and only three of them faced challengers where each of them decisively won.
Of the 227 seats being defended by incumbents, on average they faced just 1.5 challengers. Open seat races, on the other hand, saw hundreds more candidates participate — in total 806 filed to run.
Only one incumbent candidate for Congress, Mark Sanford, lost his reelection bid this past week. This brings the total number of losing incumbents this cycle to just two, while one more, Martha Roby, may lose in a runoff election in the coming weeks. If things keep playing out the way they have, the 2018 congressional elections might turn out to be less competitive than those in 2016.
One can conclude that open seats are most competitive, and the most logical deterrent for anyone considering running for Congress against an incumbent is the quintessential fact that they will lose over 90 percent of the time.
The biggest winner from this round was Congressman Kevin Cramer who received 87.8 percent of the vote in the North Dakota GOP Senate primary. This should come as no surprise. Cramer has been in politics for nearly his entire adult life and has been building up statewide name recognition as a candidate, appointed official and policy advocate for more than three decades. The first office he held was an appointment to North Dakota’s statewide position of Public Service Commissioner in 2003 and was then elected in 2004 to a full six-year term. Instead of sticking around, Cramer moved onto the next big thing by winning the state’s only at-large congressional district election, which was vacated in 2010. He won decisively by a margin of 26 percentage points.
Since then, he’s been serving in the House, he’s voted like an average and mundane Republican member of Congress; all while raking in the big bucks from a taxpayer-funded, six-figure congressional salary, premium insurance policies, and a more than sizable pension. Did I mention taxpayer-funded? Cramer will now face off in the general against incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who has yet to face a primary challenger.
Aside from the lousy election results, what made June 12th a day to remember was the revelation that Mitch McConnell became the longest serving Republican Senate Leader in U.S. History. It’s worth noting that only in legislatures without term limits can you break records for being the longest serving official like McConnell has.
At 78 years old, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt as to if McConnell will be running for a seventh, six-year term in 2020, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us from dreaming he’d finally go home to live under the laws he’s made.
Starting his political career as a lowly intern for Senator John Sherman Cooper in 1964, McConnell’s breakthrough at the national level wouldn’t be for another two decades until he defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Walter Dee Huddleston by less than 0.5 percent of the vote. Though 1984 is known as a wave year for Republicans due to President Ronald Reagan’s electoral sweep of 49 states, McConnell was the only challenger to beat an incumbent Senator that entire cycle.
Fast forward 34 years, Mitch has been reelected in every primary with nearly 80 percent of the vote. In his last general election match-up, he pulverized his Democratic opponent by spending more than $33 Million and beat her by a margin of 15 percent. Aside from his iron-like incumbency, you best believe, he’s as corrupt as they come.
These are the people leading and governing our nation: self-serving career politicians. If term limits for all members of Congress are established, the top-down, seniority-based power structure built by incumbents would be demolished and finally give back we, the people, the power at the ballot box.
Congressional bills HJR6 in the House and SJR2 in the Senate follow a proven example of success from Michigan, a state legislature with the shortest term limits in the country and the only one where every election is contested. Another eight congressional candidates who signed our pledge – Eric Brakey, Zak Ringelstein, Danny Tarkanian, Jeff Duncan, Lee Bright, William Timmons, Ralph Norman, and Dave Brat – won their recent primary elections and will continue working towards passing a constitutional amendment for term limits. Collectively, throughout the twenty-five states that have held their primaries thus far, 156 congressional candidates have signed our pledge for term limits, 52 of them having won their race.
Austin Sekel is a staff member at U.S. Term Limits. Follow him on Twitter @AustinSekel