House Republicans face primary danger

Hannah Mattix/The Clarion-Ledger via AP
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A pair of Republican House members in Mississippi are in danger of losing renomination after Tuesday's primaries, which saw several other GOP incumbents trying to navigate intra-party challenges as well.

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) got pulled below 50 percent of the vote and into a GOP primary runoff later this month, after a 2021 report by the Office of Congressional Ethics found “substantial reason to believe” he had misspent campaign funds and used staff to run personal errands. And a Mississippi colleague, GOP Rep. Michael Guest, was also locked in a close Republican primary after voting last year to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

Republicans have poured in huge sums in California to keep GOP Reps. Young Kim and David Valadao from getting shut out of the top two spots, although both Kim and Valadao led Republican challengers early. But in South Dakota’s at-large district, Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson saw off a challenge from a state representative who claimed Johnson had been insufficiently loyal to former President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, San Francisco voted Tuesday to recall progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin — part of a series of high-profile California races testing the electorate’s concern around public safety. In Los Angeles' mayoral primary, Rep. Karen Bass advanced to a November one-on-one runoff against billionaire Rick Caruso, who focused his campaign focused on crime and homelessness. And voters across the state will choose among challengers to Attorney General Rob Bonta who have warned of backsliding on law and order.

And the primaries also brought the House battleground map into sharper focus, as both parties selected nominees in more than a dozen competitive swing seats across New Jersey, New Mexico, Iowa and California that could decide the House majority this fall. The GOP is driving hard for the majority and tapped nominees for two of its top 2022 targets, in Des Moines and northern New Jersey. But Democrats are also eyeing several seats that became more favorable to them in redistricting.

Endangered House incumbents

Mississippi's Palazzo led his field of challengers — but with less than one-third of the vote, an unusually poor showing for an incumbent, even considering Palazzo's ethical issues. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell and businessman Clay Wagner were vying for a second runoff spot as of early Wednesday morning. Two outside groups spent in Palazzo’s race — one for the incumbent and another for state Sen. Brian Wiggins, who finished in a distant fourth place.

Guest’s race was more surprising, and he trailed his challenger, former U.S. Navy pilot Michael Cassidy, for most of the night. Cassidy raised about $262,000 by mid-May, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. And he aired nearly $108,000 in ads, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact.

First elected in 2018, Guest served as a district attorney before running for Congress. Guest raised nearly $460,000 by mid-May and spent $123,000 on ads.

In California, the all-party primary system placed a squeeze on Valadao and Kim in California. Thanks to redistricting, 80 percent of people in Kim’s district are new to her and Mission Viejo Council Member Greg Raths, a strong Trump supporter, is looking to block her from the top two. National Republicans had to pour some $1.5 million in the race to aid Kim.

But Kim was in position early to advance to the November runoff, leading Raths by a double-digit margin on the strength of early returns.

Valadao also faces a challenger to his right, businessman Chris Mathys. National Republicans and Democrats both meddled in this primary in the hopes of keeping or blocking the incumbent from the general election. Valadao was holding Mathys off early, though many votes remained to be counted. Democrat Rudy Salas has advanced to the general election.

In South Dakota, Johnson defeated state Rep. Taffy Howard. The challenger ran to Johnson's right, citing his vote for a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attacks and his support for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to remain in House Leadership as proof he is not an ally of Trump.

California campaigns touching on crime and public safety

San Francisco voters ousted incumbent District Attorney Chesa Boudin before he completed a full term — a ringing repudiation of a broader criminal justice reform movement.

Boudin, a former public defender, defeated the mayor’s chosen candidate in 2019 as voters embraced his platform of alternatives to incarceration, police accountability and lesser sentences for lower-level crimes. But rising fears about crime — along with millions of dollars from business, real estate and technology interests — fueled a recall attempt that has led in various pre-election polls.

Meanwhile, the fact that Los Angeles’ mayoral contest is as competitive as it is testifies to a fraught public mood — as well as the power of a well-funded campaign.

Democratic Rep. Karen Bass and ex-Republican magnate Rick Caruso are neck and neck in the vote count so far, with Caruso making his mark on the race by spending millions of dollars to amplify his message of tackling crime and homelessness. Polls have shown Angelenos feel markedly more pessimistic about the status quo on both issues.

And statewide, California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s bid for a full term will also test whether anxiety about public safety has voters ready to reevaluate their embrace of criminal justice reform. Bonta has been a champion in that movement, backing policies like lesser sentencing and bans on cash bail and for-profit prisons. But polls show Californians are feeling markedly more concerned about crime — a dynamic Bonta’s opponents are trying to exploit.

The outcome will also show whether an unaffiliated candidate can break through. Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, a Republican-turned-independent, could be Bonta’s toughest opponent in November but early returns had Schubert far behind Republicans Nathan Hochman and Eric Early.

Battleground House districts

Iowa’s primaries will lock in nominees for three swing districts, though Democrats’ two open primaries are uncontested. State Sen. Liz Mathis is set to take on GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson and Democratic state Rep. Christina Bohannon will face Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Republican, meanwhile, chose state Sen. Zach Nunn to face Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne this fall in a district that twice went for Donald Trump. Nunn, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, defeated Nicole Hasso, a self-described outsider who grew up poor in the south side of Chicago.

In New Jersey, former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. clinched the nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski in a rematch in the most competitive district in the state. Republicans will also choose candidates in two more Democratic-leaning districts held by Reps. Andy Kim and Josh Gottheimer.

Former Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez will take on Rep. Yvette Herrell in a New Mexico district that became more blue in redistricting.

And California will host a series of all-party primaries for both Democratic and Republican-held swing seats. Democrat Jay Chen is the likely opponent of GOP Rep. Michelle Steel in Orange County. Democratic state Assemblyman Rudy Salas is running for Valadao’s seat in the Central Valley and physician Asif Mahmood is running for Kim’s seat in Orange County.

In a battleground seat near Los Angeles, two Democrats are vying to take on Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) in one of their party’s best pickup opportunities this cycle. Former State Assemblymember Christy Smith, the favorite of the California state party, was leading newcomer Quaye Quartey, a Navy intelligence officer who’s picked up endorsements including Rep. Katie Porter’s (D-Calif.). That would set up a third faceoff between Garcia and Smith.

Republicans will tap nominees to take on Porter and fellow Democratic Rep. Mike Levin in two southern California seats that favor Democrats. Former San Juan Capistrano Mayor Bryan Maryott led Orange County Board Lisa Bartlett Bartlett early.

Farther north, both parties will choose nominees in two open seats vacated by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Josh Harder (D-Calif.). Neither are retiring, but both chose to run in less competitive districts in the state.

Newsom’s less-contested campaign

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is a heavy favorite to win re-election after crushing a recall attempt last year. He will face Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, who faces a steep fight given Newsom's cash advantage and California's overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

GOP state Sen. Brian Dahle won the nomination, having become Newsom's principal Republican foe after other GOP hopefuls — and donors — decided to sit this one out. Some Newsom detractors had instead gravitated toward Michael Shellenberger, a Democrat-turned-independent who has become a prominent critic of how Newsom is managing California’s persistent homelessness crisis.

Safer open seats

Former congressman — and Trump-era Interior Secretary — Ryan Zinke is seeking a comeback in Montana, though he faces a contested Republican primary for one of the state’s newly drawn seats.

And another well-known local name — Robert Menendez Jr., the son of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez — is the leading contender to succeed retiring Rep. Albio Sires in New Jersey.

In California, redistricting and retirements spawned a number of opportunities that turned into crowded primaries. In the open 13th District, voters are very familiar with both Assemblymember Adam Gray and 2020 House candidate Phil Arballo, who are both hoping to represent the newly drawn district with a 14-point Democratic registration advantage. Gray was ahead of Arballo early in a race that had turned acrimonious, with Arballo attacking Gray, one of Sacramento’s most moderate Democrats, for his ties to the oil industry. Whichever Democrat prevails will likely face Republican John Duarte, who has secured the national Republican Party’s backing.

Rep. Jackie Speier joined the retirement wave this year by announcing she would not again seek her Bay Area seat. Democrats immediately lined up to represent the safely blue 15th District. Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, who won Speier’s endorsement — no surprise given that he had worked for her — and San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa were positioned to match up for the seat in a race that looks likely to yield a Democrat-on-Democrat runoff in November.

Democrats are also competing for Bass’ open Los Angeles-area seat and another newly drawn seat left open by retiring Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Lucille Roybal-Allard. Major national super PACs, including one created by AIPAC to back pro-Israel candidates and another funded by crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, have pumped in money supporting Democrats in both districts.

Statewide races on the edges of the battlefield

New Mexico was a solidly blue state in 2020, but Republicans still want to try to challenge Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham there after selecting TV personality Mark Ronchetti as their nominee in Tuesday’s primary.

Meanwhile, Democrats’ fall from competitiveness in Iowa has pushed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ and Sen. Chuck Grassley’s reelection campaigns to the sides of the national battleground map. But Democrats have a competitive Senate primary nonetheless, with Michael Franken defeating former Rep. Abby Finkenauer for the Democratic nomination.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this article.