Primary voters in seven states, including California and New Jersey, go to the polls on Tuesday to select their party’s candidates for statewide offices, like the governors of New Mexico and South Dakota; for mayor of Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city, and for dozens of House seats.
Crime is very much on the minds of Californians: San Franciscans are deciding whether to remove their district attorney, and Angelenos are weighing whether to elect as their next mayor a longtime Democratic insider or a billionaire former Republican who promises to crack down on crime and homelessness and clean up the city.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is not expected to have much opposition as he seeks an eighth term this November at age 89. Other races offer more drama.
Here’s what to watch for in Tuesday’s contests in New Jersey, Mississippi, Iowa, South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and California:
A true battleground map comes into view
In most of the country, congressional redistricting shored up incumbency for both parties. Tuesday will showcase much of the battleground that remains. Of the 53 House seats that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report sees in play, nine are in California, New Mexico and Iowa.
And for eleven, Democrats will be watching districts where they can play offense: four Republican House seats in California, now held by Representatives David Valadao, Mike Garcia, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, and one in New Mexico, held by Yvette Herrell.
If those races do not add a little suspense to the vote Tuesday, California’s unusual primary system could give political obsessives a very late night. Under the system, established under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the top two vote-getters on primary night face off in November, regardless of party.
Invariably, a few races end up with a Republican facing off with a Republican or a Democrat meeting a Democrat, leaving one party iced out. Some seats could be guaranteed to change hands based on Tuesday’s results.
Democratic miscalculations and lost opportunities
In New Mexico, Democrats in full control of the state capital in Santa Fe took a chance, making a safe seat in the state’s picturesque north less safe by dipping the district’s boundaries south, in hopes of taking southern New Mexico’s Republican seat.
But in a bad Democratic year, they may have overplayed their hand: Rather than hoping for a sweep of the state’s three House seats, Democrats now are worrying that Republicans could hold that seat and grab another.
Redistricting in California was in the hands of a nonpartisan commission, which put Democrats into position to take some Republican seats and elect the first Hispanic representatives in the Central Valley.
But Democrats could also lose some House seats, including the one held by Katie Porter, one of the party’s rising stars. Besides Ms. Porter, Representative Mike Levin on the Southern California coast is sweating his re-election, and a new seat in central California, the 13th District, should be Democratic in an ordinary year, but this is not that.
Democrats had also hoped to make a play for the Iowa Senate seat held by Mr. Grassley. But Mr. Grassley opted to run for re-election, though he would be 95 by the end of his next term. And the Democrats’ favored candidate, Abby Finkenauer, 33, who served one term in the House, has even struggled to get on the ballot.
Ethics lapses can be costly. Except when they aren’t.
Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat, had the makings of a foreign policy heavyweight in his party. He was the Washington director of Human Rights Watch before becoming a top human rights official in the Obama administration’s State Department.
Mr. Malinowski turned his attention to electoral politics in 2018, beating a moderate Republican, Leonard Lance, in that year’s Democratic wave. In 2020, I edged out Thomas Kean Jr., the son and namesake of a popular former New Jersey governor, by 5,311 votes.
On Tuesday, Mr. Kean is the odds-on favorite to win his party’s nomination to challenge Mr. Malinowski again, but this time, the Democrat is one of the most endangered incumbents in the House, thanks to three factors. Redistricting made his narrowly Democratic seat narrowly Republican.
Despite Mr. Kean’s loss in 2020, the governor’s son is a strong opponent in a state where surnames matter (Robert J. Menendez, Senator Bob Menendez’s son, is the heavy favorite in the Democratic primary for another House seat). And Mr. Malinowski admitted he had failed to properly disclose thousands of dollars in stock trades, the subject of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
On the other hand, another House candidate with a checked ethics record, Ryan Zinke, is expected to win his GOP primary and return to the House from Montana’s First District. Mr. Zinke left Washington in 2018 as Mr. Trump’s first Interior secretary under a cloud of conflict-of-interest investigations and questionable taxpayer expenditures.
Trump’s swing and miss in South Dakota
Former President Donald J. Trump vowed to punish Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, for not sufficiently promoting the lie that Mr. Trump had won re-election in 2020. “South Dakota doesn’t like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!” the former president declared on Twitter in December 2020, before he was barred from the platform.
But South Dakota’s governor, Kristi Noem, opted to run for re-election instead of for the Senate, and no serious challenger heeded Mr. Trump’s call to take on Mr. Thune. Consequently, Republican voters in South Dakota are likely to easily nominate Mr. Thune — dismissed by Mr. Trump as a “Republican in name only” and “Mitch’s boy” — for re-election, lifting him up as the heir apparent to Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.
They will also put Ms. Noem in position to run for president or, if Mr. Trump runs, to make a play for vice president.
Law and order on the Left Coast
Los Angeles and San Francisco are famously rich and liberal, but the rise in homelessness and a growing sense of disorder have unsettled voters in both cities just as California was retreating from the tough-on-crime policies of the past.
Crime rates are nowhere near 1990s-era heights, but city dwellers have spent the pandemic’s two and a half years increasingly grappling with gutted business districts, squalid tent camps, smash-and-grab holdups and gaping economic disparities.
In Los Angeles, the race to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is term-limited, has shaped up as a showdown between the local Democratic establishment and unnerved property owners.
Representative Karen Bassa former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a longtime party stalwart, and Rick Caruso, a formerly Republican billionaire who served on the city’s police commission, are the front-runners. Mr. Caruso has spent tens of millions of dollars on television, radio and digital ads depicting Los Angeles as a traumatized hellscape besieged by crime.
In San Francisco, similarly lingering pandemic neglect and a jump in anti-Asian hate crimes have fueled a campaign to recall Chesa Boudin, a progressive who was elected district attorney on a promise to wean the city from its reliance on incarceration. As in Los Angeles, the call in San Francisco for a crackdown on criminals is being underwritten by some of the city’s wealthiest residents. But it has tapped into middle-class fears.
More broadly, the race for attorney general in California will test the state’s shift away from mass incarceration and its appetite for leaders from outside the Democratic Party. The incumbent, Rob Bonta, a progressive Democrat whom Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed in 2021 when Xavier Becerra joined the Biden administration, is running for a full term. Two Republicans and a Republican-turned-independent are vying to face him in November.
The independent, Anne Marie Schubert, is the district attorney in Sacramento County and prosecuted the Golden State Killer. She has strong law-enforcement support and is widely seen as a moderate. Still, of the three candidates arguing that progressive reforms have made California less safe, she’s the only one without the backing of a major party.