Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.
Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.

Incumbents Losing In Primaries? It Doesn't Happen Often

08/02/22 02:26 PM By Emily Michienzi

(Source: MIRS.news, Published 08/01/2022) In state legislative races over the last 25 years, incumbents don't typically lose.


Not counting situations in which incumbents lost in primaries when drawn into the same district as a fellow member, in a review of legislative districts going back to 1994, MIRS counted 10 incumbents who lost to challengers.


For the Senate Republicans, an incumbent has not lost in a primary since 1986.


For the House Republicans, it's happened only three times in the last 25 years. It happened in consecutive elections in 1996 and 1994.


For the Senate Democrats, it's happened three times in the last 25 years.


For the House Democrats, it's happened two times in the last 25 years.


MIRS brings up this bit of history as several American First candidates look to unseat incumbent Republican legislators who they feel have not been aggressive enough investigating alleged fraud in the 2020 election – a claim that has been repeatedly debunked.


In other cases, former President Donald Trump or people operating under his name are challenging sitting Republican members of the Legislature.


The following are the situations in which incumbents lost primaries. Again, the list does not include cases in which incumbents were drawn into the same district due to redistricting.


- 2018, Matt Hall defeated Rep. Dave Maturen on the Republican side, due to Hall's more conservative policy positions, strong work ethic and sizable wallet.


- 2018, Betty Jean Alexander defeated Sen. David Knezek on the Democratic side in a one-on-one battle between a Black grassroots Detroit candidate and a white suburban candidate.


- 2014, Lee Chatfield defeated Rep. Frank Foster 54.3% to 45.6% after Chatfield framed Foster as "free lunch Frank" who supported expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.


- 2012, Dan Grimshaw, the Tuscola County Register of Deeds, defeated Kurt Damrow, 55% to 45% due to several issues. Damrow faced charges of filing a false report, was heard falsely claiming to be an Iraq veteran and was kicked out of the local Republican party. Ten years later, Damrow is a candidate in the 98th House District.


- 2008, Jim Slezek snuck up on Rep. Ted Hammon, 54% to 46% in the Democratic primary with an aggressive door-to-door campaign. Slezek ended up running unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican years later.


- 2002, then-Rep. Hansen Clarke defeated Sen. Ray Murphy after redistricting left him running in a fairly unfamiliar district. Also, Clarke appeared to have outworked Murphy at the doors.


- 2002, Steve Tobocman defeated Rep. Belda Garza after Tobocman mounted an aggressive door-to-door campaign and a strong fundraising effort.


- 1998, then-Rep. Burton Leland defeated Sen. Michael O'Brien.


- 1996, Jerome Burns defeated Rep. Roland Jersevic over the incumbent going to police with an extortion attempt from his former girlfriend and his former friend over some sex video tapes that had Jersevic having sex with the girlfriend and another woman.


- 1994, former Rep. Gerald Law knocked off Rep. Jerry Vorva.


- 1986, Rep. Doug Carl defeated Sen. Kirby Holmes in what was described as a nasty Macomb County primary.