(CNN)The most dangerous three letters in this year's midterm elections: Rep.
Being a member in the House of Representatives, once a launching pad for hungry politicians eager to vault themselves to gubernatorial offices or across the Capitol to the Senate, has become an anvil on many of these politicians looking to move up, making it easy for opponents in primaries to tie them to dysfunction in Washington and the nationwide sense that DC legislators get nothing done.
The latest example of this was Rep. Raul Labrador's loss to Lt. Gov. Brad Little in the race to become the Republican Party's nominee for Idaho governor. Republican operatives in Washington conceded that the race is yet another warning sign to all House members seeking higher office this year: Be aware that your time in the House may not be the selling point it once was.
"If the matchup is a member of Congress running a lackluster campaign and an outsider or non-politician who is running an average or slightly above average campaign, the tie will go to the non-politician in this climate," said a senior Republican operative. "No matter what party you are in, it is certainly not a great time to be a member of Congress. Usually there are some institution advantages there, but they seem to have been clearly wiped away this year."
Mixed bag for House members
House members seeking higher office in the 2018 midterms have had a mixed bag of results in the first series of primaries this year.
Labrador, a conservative member of the House and champion in far-right circles of Congress, gave up his safe Republican seat to run for governor. That seat will now likely be represented by Russ Fulcher, an Idaho state senator.
Republicans beat Labrador by attacking his congressional record, votes he missed and even his support for President Donald Trump, raising fears in Washington and highlighting the potency of such attacks.
While candidates like Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a Texas Democrat, Rep. Lou Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican and Rep. James Renacci, an Ohio Republican, won their bids to be their party's Senate nominees, more House members vying for the Senate have failed.
Rep. Evan Jenkins lost his bid to be Republicans pick for Senate in West Virginia earlier this year, falling behind West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Morrisey slammed Jenkins repeatedly for his work in Washington and aired ads that promised to shake up Congress, something the attorney general said his opponent had been unable to do. Eventually, the attacks worked, and Jenkins finished second to Morrisey.
"It is increasingly hard to run as an outsider at all when you have inside experience," said Colton Henson, a Republican operative who works in Ohio and West Virginia and helmed a primary campaign in Jenkins' former district. "How do you drain the swamp when you had to wade in it?"
Henson described a scenario where candidates from Congress are in a no-win situation: Either they buck Trump and risk drawing the ire of his loyal followers, or they stick with him and allow their opponents to cast them as nothing more than a do-nothing representative.
"I think folks need to figure out how they sell being part of Trump's Washington without giving up the perception that they are still willing to fight the sigma of Washington and for their constituents," Henson said.
Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, both Republican members from Indiana, failed to secure their party's Senate nomination earlier this year after businessman Mike Braun launched a successful upstart campaign.
Braun successfully and repeatedly cast the two lawmakers as nothing more than career politicians who are looking to fail up. In a series of ads, including one that lumped them together by featuring them as cardboard cutouts and another that parodied them as young school children, Braun effectively used Messer and Rokita's experience against them, convincing voters that Washington insiders aren't going to be able to fix the problems that ail it.
The Indiana race also hinged on who could fall most in line with Trump. For members of Congress who have been in office longer than two years, that can be tough, as many inside the Republican establishment were skeptical of the outsider businessman early in his run.
"If you are campaigning in 2018 as a Republican member in office before 2016, you were probably not bullish on Donald Trump's chances of getting elected," said Doug Heye, a longtime Republican operative. "But he was elected, which means the world changed. That plays a real impact and that is part of what candidates are trying to figure out."
Congress' job approval rating has been ticking down since in the 2000s. Gallup's most recent poll taken in April 2018 found only 18% of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job, with 78% disapproving of the legislative body.
That is a weight for any House member running for a different job and Democrats in Tennessee, where Rep. Marsha Blackburn is running for Senate and Rep. Diane Black is running for governor, plan to seize on the anti-Washington fervor to hopefully sink their candidacies.
"We fully plan to highlight the lack of accomplishments and the empty record from both of these congresspeople," said a Tennessee Democrat working in the state.
A new poll from Vanderbilt that showed Congress with a 24% approval rating signaled those attacks may be successful.
Businessman Randy Boyd, one of Black's most staunch opponents in the Republican primary, has already made the congresswoman's time in Washington part of his package of attacks. In a statement earlier this month, Boyd's campaign CEO Chip Saltsman said Black was "part of creating the DC swamp."
The failures of members of Congress also serve as a warning to people like Martha McSally, a member of Congress in a highly contentious three-way primary for Arizona's Republican Senate nomination.
McSally, facing two Republicans to her right -- state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio -- has been pushed to the right in the primary, most clearly when she recently removed her support for a more moderate immigration bill in an effort to highlight her support for a more conservative plan.
The switch was an easy attack for Ward, who has looked to make McSally's time in Washington a stain on her candidacy.
"I don't take my name off of bills when they become politically unpopular," she said while speaking to voters in Tuscon, according to a local reporter.
Ward also faulted McSally for voting for the most recent federal budget, even though the bill was signed by Trump. Afterwards, the President privately howled at how the budget was being received and pushed for $15 billion in cuts to the budget.
"Congress's bipartisan spending addiction was on full display earlier this year when Arizona Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally voted for the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill, which was rife with waste and funded innumerable Democratic priorities," Ward said in a statement. "The President's proposed spending cuts should be passed right away."
Also at risk given the current sentiment towards Congress: Rep. Kristi Noem and Rep. Jared Polis.
Noem, a South Dakota Republican and member of Congress, is running for governor against South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley. Both have already won statewide office in the reliably red state.
And Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, is also angling to leave Congress with a run to be the state's governor. He is in a four-way primary, though, facing former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Colorado Lt. Governor Donna Lynne.