Politics

It’s Primary Night in America—Again!

Who will win things and who will lose them in California, Iowa, South Dakota, and more?

From left, Ryan Zinke, Rick Caruso and Young Kim.
From left, Ryan Zinke, Rick Caruso and Young Kim. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Randy Vazquez/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images, Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images, Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images, and Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Tuesday night will be a good one: By the end of it, we’ll be seven states closer to the end of primary season and the ability to move on with our lives.

These seven states are California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

There’s not any marquee, nationally obsessed-about race in these seven states the way there has been in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio or Alabama. But here’s an abbreviated list of what we’ll be keeping an eye on.

California

Politics “goes Hollywood” Tuesday as the largest state in the nation holds a seemingly endless number of local, state, and federal primaries. California uses a “top-two” primary system, where every candidate, regardless of party, runs in the same primary, and the two leading vote-getters face off in November.

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The most closely observed California races have been a couple of local ones. In San Francisco, the district attorney Chesa Boudin is facing recall, and in Los Angeles, the billionaire businessman Rick Caruso—an ex-Republican who joined the Democratic Party this year—has risen in the mayoral race with tens of millions of dollars in television advertisements. Both races have garnered national attention as proof of a law-and-order backlash against progressives in their very own backyards, much as Eric Adams’ elections as New York City mayor did last year. Polling suggests that Caruso is likely headed to a mayoral runoff with Rep. Karen Bass.

Among the most interesting house races is the new 40th district anchored in Orange County. Young Kim, a Republican who flipped the district in 2020, got a slightly safer seat in redistricting this year. But safer seats often come with the unfortunate side effect of primary challengers from the right. Such is the case with Greg Raths, a Republican who…well, take a look at this tweet and photo, and it will give you the gist of “Greg Raths” more than any words can. The challenge has drawn a late surge of money on Kim’s behalf to shore up her campaign. Democrats, lined up behind candidate Asif Mahmood, have been doing that Democratic-Party thing where they run ads “criticizing” Raths as a way of boosting his support among Republican primary voters, figuring he’ll be easier to beat. Democrats are playing the same trick in California’s 22nd district, where they’re boosting a conservative challenger to moderate Rep. David Valadao.

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Sometimes these cutesy tactics work. Sometimes Donald Trump literally gets elected president.

Iowa

Sen. Chuck Grassley, who was first elected to political office during the Eisenhower administration, will be renominated for an eighth term in the Senate—set to expire when he is 95 years old. It is what it is.

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But who will challenge him on the Democratic side? Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer was expected to face Grassley when she announced her candidacy. But she soon faced primary competition from retired admiral Michael Franken, with a recent poll showing the two deadlocked. Grassley is likely to beat either of them.

New Jersey

Remember last year when New Jersey Democrats were supposed to waltz to victory, and then Gov. Phil Murphy only survived by the skin of his teeth? When state Senate president Stephen Sweeney, and George Norcross’ vaunted South Jersey political machine, got beaten by a truck driver named “DURR” who spent 153 bucks on his campaign? Yeah, incumbent Democrats will be watching their backs more closely this election year.

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The most endangered House Democrat in the state is North Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski, whose party threw him under the bus in redistricting. The only saving grace for Malinowski would be if his expected opponent, former Republican state Senate leader Tom Kean Jr., is somehow upset by one of his many more conservative primary challengers. (Another single tweet that aptly covers the gist of a top challenger.)

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Also, Sen. Bob Menendez is giving his son Robert a vacant congressional seat, as a present.

New Mexico

Republicans hope to retake control of the state this fall as Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham runs for reelection. Polling suggests that the candidate they’re choosing to go with is Mark Ronchetti, a weatherman from Albuquerque who lost the 2020 Senate race in a surprisingly close squeaker. Ronchetti has sharp glasses, a healthy set of white chompers, and, as best we can tell, an adequate record of forecasting the weather. Here is a clip of Ronchetti giving a weather report on May 21, 2021, in which he said that a dry Thursday would give way to a chance of showers over the weekend. Did the showers materialize? Please let us know.

South Dakota

There was a time last year where it seemed like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who harbors presidential ambitions, was in a spot of trouble. There was the allegation that she retaliated against a state employee who wouldn’t give Noem’s daughter a real estate appraiser’s license. Then there were tensions with MAGA world, who felt she wasn’t mean enough to trans women participating in women’s sports. And rumors of a very personal nature went public. It was enough of a moment of weakness that Noem drew a primary challenger, former House Speaker Steve Haugaard. But that was a while ago, and Noem is now expected to win comfortably.

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In the state’s lone House district, Republican Dusty Johnson is facing a primary for the usual heresies. He didn’t vote to overturn the 2020 presidential election—or, in the words of one PAC ad against him, “SWAMPER DUSTY JOHNSON Denies that the communists stole The election from President Trump”—and then he did vote to set up a bipartisan, independent commission on Jan. 6. These two sins against God created an opening for a primary challenger, state Rep. Taffy Howard. But how much of an opening? Johnson is still expected to win.

Montana

The state earned a second seat in Congress in this round of redistricting. Among the candidates running in the new, western district is former congressman and scandal-plagued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has earned the endorsement of Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association. Do he and his family, say, live in Montana, or is it sunny Santa Barbara, California? Why not both? His main competitor is state Sen. Al Olszewski.

Mississippi

Not a whole lot going on in Mississippi. The only thing close to an interesting primary is that of Rep. Steve Palazzo, who has drawn primary challengers over a long-running ethics investigation into misuse of campaign funds. Seven Republicans are on the ballot, and Palazzo may have to take things to a runoff.

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