LOS ANGELES (AP) – Tuesday’s seven-state primary will set the stage for this fall’s U.S. House and Senate races, with many contests marred by political rifts in both major parties and the lingering shadow of the former President Donald Trump.
In the face of control of Congress, a number of Republican House incumbents are grappling with challenges from the political right, and some rivals are embracing Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden.
No incumbent governor or senator appears to be in immediate danger. In Iowa, several Democrats are vying for a chance to take on Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s seven-term term, with the campaign highlighting the split between the progressive and mainstream wings of the Democratic Party.
Former Trump cabinet member Ryan Zinke is seeking the GOP nomination in a newly created home district in Montana.
What to watch in Tuesday’s primary elections in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota:
California is a Democratic fortress, where the party holds every state office and outnumbers registered Republicans by nearly 2 to 1. Gov. Gavin Newsom and US Senator Alex Padilla face little-known competitors.
But Republicans retain their strengths in some U.S. House districts that are expected to be among the most competitive races in the country.
In a heavily Democratic district in the Central Valley state’s farm belt, Republican US Rep. David Valadao is experiencing backlash for his vote to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 US Capitol riot. Republican Chris Mathys has made voting Valadao a centerpiece of his campaign to oust him.
In a Democratic district north of Los Angeles, several Democrats are hoping to take on Republican Rep. Mike Garcia, who is expected to head into November with one of the Democrats as the top two finishers in the race. Garcia rejected electoral votes cast for Biden from Arizona and Pennsylvania and opposed Trump’s impeachment after the Capitol riot.
The race for the crowded Los Angeles mayor unfolds into a battle between Rick Caruso, a pro-business billionaire, Republican-turned-Democrat and on the board of directors of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, and Democratic US Rep. Karen Bass, who was in office Biden’s shortlist for vice president. If no candidate gets 50%, the top two finishers go to a runoff in November.
In another closely-watched election, San Francisco voters are considering removing District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a progressive Democrat who critics say has failed to prosecute repeat offenders amid widespread frustrations over crime and homelessness.
Republicans have gained an advantage in the state over the past decade, and the Democratic Senate primary offers a snapshot of the minority party’s struggle for relevance.
Retired Navy Vice Admiral Michael Franken is leading a contest with former US Rep. Abby Finkenauer to face off against Trump-backed Grassley, 88.
Finkenauer is a 33-year-old two-term former state representative who argues that her youth and recent experiences in Iowa make her better suited to challenge a Republican first elected to the Senate in 1980. She has made term limits a core part of her campaign.
Franken, 64, is promoting a progressive agenda including adding a public insurance option to the Affordable Care Act. A native of conservative western Iowa, he argues that he could be more competitive with Grassley by slipping into the senator fringe in heavily Republican areas.
Physician Glenn Hurst, a councilman in a small western Iowa town and chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party for its rural faction, is running to the left of Finkenauer and Franken.
Meanwhile, three Republicans are competing for a chance to run against Iowa’s only Democratic congresswoman, Rep. Cindy Axne.
US Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo faces his biggest field of challengers ever after a congressional ethics watchdog raised questions about his campaign spending.
A 2021 Office of Congressional Ethics report found “substantial reason to believe” that Palazzo, a military veteran who serves on the Appropriations and Homeland Security committees, abused office by squandering campaign funds , did his brother a favor and recruited staff for political purposes personal errands. His spokeswoman at the time, Colleen Kennedy, said the investigation was based on politically motivated “false allegations.”
His six opponents include a sheriff, Mike Ezell, and a senator, Brice Wiggins. If no candidate achieves the majority of the votes, a run-off election will take place on June 28th.
Mississippi’s other two Republican congressmen, Trent Kelly and Michael Guest, face key challengers supporting Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
It’s the first time since 1993 that the state has had two seats in the House of Representatives, after one was added to accommodate Montana’s growing population.
Zinke, Trump’s former interior secretary, is technically in an open race for the new seat. But the former Navy SEAL is widely regarded as the de facto incumbent, having twice won elections for the state’s other seat in the House of Representatives before he resigned in 2017 to join the Trump administration.
His opponents draw attention to Zinke’s troubled tenure at the agency, which was marked by several ethics investigations. An investigation found that Zinke lied to an agency ethics officer about his continued involvement in a commercial real estate deal in his hometown. He faced a smear campaign from his party’s far-right wing about his military service and questions about his residency after it was revealed his wife had made a house in California her primary residence.
Among his opponents in the GOP primary is former state senator Al “Doc” Olszewski, an orthopedist and hard-line conservative who has attempted to portray Zinke as a “liberal insider.”
Three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination: public health attorney Cora Neumann, Olympic rower and attorney Monica Tranel, and former Rep. Tom Winter.
In the state’s other district, first-term Congressman Matt Rosendale, who is supported by Trump, will seek to fend off three key Republican challengers.
A dozen house districts are on the ballot.
Trump said he would back a challenger to longtime Republican Rep. Chris Smith in 2021, but that never happened. The lack of confirmation hasn’t stopped conservative talk show host Mike Crispi, one of Smith’s Republican challengers, from claiming Trump’s mantle.
In northern New Jersey, Tom Kean Jr., a former minority leader in the state Senate, has an advantage over five rivals in raising funds and establishment support. Kean, the son of former Republican Gov. Tom Kean Sr., is hoping for a rematch with Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, who won a close contest two years ago.
On the Democrat side, US Senator Bob Menendez’s son Rob is running for a seat vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Albio Sires. Menendez, a commissioner with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, barred the party’s support for entering the race.
Five Republican candidates are competing for Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The incumbent is preferred to keep her job in a state where Democrats control every statewide office and dominate the legislature.
Former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti and State Rep. Rebecca Dow are prominent GOP contenders in a contest raising concerns about U.S. border security, urban crime, inflation and the teaching of race and ethnicity in a Latino and Native American state touched.
Democratic voters are deciding on a candidate for the state’s top law enforcement post, replacing Attorney General Hector Balderas. Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raúl Torrez faces State Examiner Brian Colón in a hard-fought campaign with few ideological divisions.
A trio of Republican incumbents face key challengers running on their political right.
Gov. Kristi Noem, considered a potential White House nominee, is favored for the GOP nomination. A rival, state legislator Steve Haugaard, has argued that Noem spent more time building a national political profile than focusing on her work at home. She mostly ignored him.
US Senator John Thune faced Trump’s wrath after dismissing the former president’s allegations of voter fraud. However, no known challenger has emerged in Thune’s re-election bid. One of his opponents, Mark Mowry, was among the crowd that demonstrated near the Capitol on January 6.
In the House of Representatives, Republican lawmaker Taffy Howard is trying to dethrone GOP Rep. Dusty Johnson in the state’s lonely district. Johnson touts his Conservative voting record but retains the ability to work across party lines, but Howard has tried to cast him as a foot soldier for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Associated Press writers Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss.; Matthew Brown of Billings, Mont.; Michael Catalini of Trenton, NJ; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, NM; and Stephen Groves of Sioux Falls, SD contributed to this report.