House Primaries on the Horizon for Democrats in 2020

by Nathan L. Gonzales December 20, 2018 · 9:30 AM EST

We already know the Democratic presidential primary is going to be crowded and crazy as a few dozen candidates battle for the right to take on President Donald Trump.

But at least a handful of 2020 House primaries are also on the horizon for Democrats as the party fights over ideology and loyalty. And there’s still plenty of time for more intraparty races to take shape.

The district most likely to see a competitive Democratic primary is Illinois’ 3rd, considering incumbent Daniel Lipinski only narrowly defeated Marie Newman 51 percent to 49 percent in this year’s primary. That result and Lipinski’s anti-abortion position will inspire another challenge. Further complicating matters, the incoming chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, stood behind Lipinski this year and has said she strongly believes in supporting incumbents in primaries.

In Massachusetts, Seth Moulton has become a fascinating combination of a rising star who supports candidates around the country and a pariah who was part of the public opposition to Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker again. (Late Wednesday, Moulton and six other holdouts announced they would support Pelosi’s speaker bid after she agreed to back term limits for top party leaders.)

Primaries are nothing new to the 6th District congressman, considering he defeated Rep. John F. Tierney 51 percent to 40 percent in a 2014 primary. But Moulton hasn’t faced a Democratic challenger since. Outgoing state Sen. Barbara L’Italien recently told NBC10 Boston (before Moulton’s change of heart) she might challenge him in 2020, although she ran unsuccessfully in the 3rd District this year.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, who represents Oregon’s 5th District, is also taking heat for opposing Pelosi. (He was not among the Democrats who reached the agreement with her.) Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba told Oregon Public Broadcasting that it was a mistake for Schrader “to be in essence joining sides with the Republicans.”

“There’s not a progressive Democrat that I speak to that wouldn’t love to see him primary-ed,” Gamba added.

The mayor might not have the personal financial resources or network to mount a serious challenge, but if a challenger can tap into the progressive networks of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or New York Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Schrader could face a serious race.

“There is a constant undercurrent from the progressives in the district finding continued discontent for Congressman Schrader,” 5th District Democratic Party Committee Chairman Peter Toll told veteran political reporter Jeff Mapes of OPB. Schrader is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and New Democrat Coalition, and represents a Willamette Valley-area district that Hillary Clinton won by 4 points in 2016.

Other Democratic primaries could develop that aren’t centered around Pelosi.

Video game developer Brianna Wu lost to Rep. Stephen F. Lynch in an early September primary in Massachusetts’ 8th District but announced her 2020 campaign just a couple of weeks later. She lost to Lynch 71 percent to 23 percent, but after a strong showing in 2018, Democratic women (candidates, donors and voters) could be more emboldened next cycle.

Democrats could also see a batch of competitive primaries once again in California. Due to the state’s top-two system and a crowd of interested candidates, six of the new Democratic members emerged from their 2018 primaries without majority support from their party. They include Josh Harder (17 percent), Katie Hill (21 percent), Gil Cisneros (19 percent), Katie Porter (20 percent), Harley Rouda (17 percent), and Mike Levin (18 percent).

The DCCC successfully navigated the slate of primaries to maximize general election gains, but any of the unsuccessful 2018 candidates or new contenders could pop up and create headaches for the new incumbents.

And in Florida’s 27th District. Rep.-elect Donna Shalala’s underwhelming primary victory in a Hispanic-majority seat could inspire a challenger. She took 32 percent in the August Democratic primary to 28 percent for state Rep. David Richardson and 18 percent for Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.

Democrats united with each other and independents to send a message to Trump in the midterms, gaining at least 40 seats and winning back the House majority. But that doesn’t mean the party is completely unified.

“To keep the party moving left and advance progressive policies, we need a solid backbone of at least three dozen left progressives in the House to hold the line,” Sean McElwee, co-founder of Data for Progress, wrote in In These Times. “That means in 2020 running primary challenges in safe Democratic seats with a slate of young, diverse progressive candidates.”

And Ocasio-Cortez openly talked about the need for primary challengers in a video conference call hosted by Justice Democrats, according to a recent story in Politico

For the last decade or so, Democrats have enjoyed watching Republicans fight among themselves in primaries. But they may not be too far behind.