Heart of the Primaries 2022, Democrats-Issue 1

Welcome to the first edition of the 2022 election cycle’s The Heart of the Primaries! We’ll be sending a new issue to your inbox every two weeks on Thursdays until January, when we’ll begin sending weekly.

This week: Vermont’s newly open U.S. Senate seat puts eyes on Sanders for endorsement, New York AG and NYC public advocate join governor’s race 

Click here to follow developments on the Republican side. 

With Sen. Leahy retiring, eyes are on Sanders for endorsement in Vermont

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced on Nov. 15 that he won’t run for re-election in 2022. Leahy, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1975, is the longest-serving senator currently in office. Leahy said, “While I will continue to serve Vermont, Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it is time to put down this gavel. It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state.”

The filing deadline is set for May 26, and primaries are scheduled for Aug. 9. 

According to Axios‘ Hans Nichols, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is “indicating to colleagues he’s preparing to run” for the seat. 

Nichols said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has “the potential to play kingmaker.” The Intercept’s Ryan Grim wrote, “If Sanders endorses Welch, he functionally forecloses any challenge from the left. State Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky is also contemplating a run for Senate … but told The Intercept she won’t do so if Sanders gets behind Welch.”

The Associated Press‘ Lisa Rathke wrote that Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of Congress. Rathke named Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, and state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale as other potential Democratic candidates. VTDigger‘s Lola Duffort and Sarah Mearhoff said the three have indicated they wouldn’t run against Welch if he ran for Senate but may run for the House district he represents if he doesn’t seek re-election.

State, county Democratic Party conflict in Nevada affecting campaigns

In March, the Democratic Party of Nevada held elections for its five leadership positions. Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed candidates won all five posts. After the election, the party’s executive director, Alana Mounce, told Judith Whitmer, the new chair, that Mounce and the remaining staff and consultants were resigning.

The Hill’s Reid Wilson wrote in June that the Washoe County Democratic Party voted “to take over coordinated campaign duties for the entire state, effectively becoming the conduit through which national party organizations will funnel campaign money into Nevada.” That money is directed to an organization called Nevada Democratic Victory. Wilson noted that similar state and local party splits occurred in Nevada’s Republican Party in 2012 and North Carolina’s Democratic Party in 2014.

As of early November, the shift in coordinated campaign duties meant candidates, including incumbents Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak, who hold offices considered competitive in 2022, did not have access to voter files. Whitmer said Nevada Democratic Victory had not tried to purchase that data yet and that “they’ve had contracts on their desks for a while now.” According to Politico‘s Holly Otterbein, “A person close to Nevada Democratic Victory said it has not been offered any contract to get hold of the data.” 

Whitmer told a group in May, “We’ve been advocating a lot of progressive policies. … Our legislators, obviously, aren’t all on board, but they’re going to have to be really, really soon. … We’re going to start holding those elected officials accountable which is something they’re not used to here in Nevada.” 

We’ll be following the happenings within Nevada’s state and county party organizations throughout 2022 for any effects this conflict may have on primary elections. The state’s filing deadline for candidates is scheduled for March 18 and the primaries are scheduled for June 14.

Clyburn, Sunrise endorse candidates for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin  

Twelve candidates are currently running in Wisconsin’s Democratic Senate primary. Incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R), who first took office in 2011, has not yet announced if he will run for re-election. On Nov. 8, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, saying, “Mandela is hands-down the best candidate to defeat Senator Ron Johnson, expand our majority in the United States Senate, and deliver results for the people of Wisconsin.” 

The Wisconsin chapter of the Sunrise Movement endorsed Outagamie County executive and former state Assemblymember Tom Nelson on Nov. 11. A local coordinator said Nelson “understands the moment we are in where our country has billionaires and corporations controlling our corrupt Congress while the rest of us and the planet suffer.” 

The Hill’s Julia Manchester wrote that Sunrise’s endorsement “shows a growing endorsement battle in the Democratic primary between progressives and more establishment figures and organizations.” Manchester said Barnes’ campaign “has also touted their own slate of progressive endorsements including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and the Working Families Party.”

Other candidates include state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry. EMILY’s List has endorsed Godlewski, and Lasry has endorsements from local Democratic Party leaders.  

The filing deadline for this race is June 1. According to Wisconsin Public Radio’s Laurel White, this is the first contested Democratic primary for one of Wisconsin’s Senate seats since 1992. Primaries are scheduled for Aug. 9. 

James, Williams enter New York gubernatorial primary

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) announced on Oct. 29 that she is running for governor of New York. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D) announced his primary candidacy on Nov. 16.

Incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said in August that she would run for a full term. Formerly lieutenant governor, Hochul succeeded Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) following his resignation amid sexual harassment allegations.  

Here’s some early messaging from the three candidates:

  • Hochul is campaigning on her actions as governor, including enforcing a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, passing an eviction moratorium, and releasing $200 million for food assistance. Hochul emphasizes that she is the first female governor of New York and supports legalized abortion. Hochul says she has “brought a fresh and collaborative approach to governing.”
  • James, who played a role in investigating the allegations against Cuomo, said her guiding principle has been, “Stand up to the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable to be a force for change.” James said her record includes suing the Trump administration 76 times, working to divest pension funds from fossil fuels, and holding powerful people accountable who mistreat women in the workplace.
  • Williams said, “Without new, courageous, progressive leadership creating change, the way things have always been will stand in the way of what they can be.” Williams says he is an activist and that he passed more laws than any public advocate in history. (The public advocate may introduce, but does not vote on, legislation in the city council).

The primary is scheduled for June 28.

Third state lawmaker joins Democratic primary for Wisconsin lt. governor

On Nov. 15, state Rep. David Bowen (D) said he would seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin. Bowen joins a primary field that includes state Sen. Lena Taylor and state Rep. Sara Rodriguez. (As mentioned above, current Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is running for U.S. Senate.)

Bowen said in his announcement, “I am confident with my campaign we can build a winning coalition to help Democrats and Gov. (Tony) Evers win the governor’s office again.” Bowen said he would focus on “vulnerable voters who deserve to have something to vote for, not just something to vote against.”

Rodriguez said, “I can be a really good partner to Gov. Evers in something as large and as complicated as the Wisconsin state government, but most importantly, public health is my passion.” Rodriguez has a background as a nurse and public health professional.

Taylor said, “I believe that it’s important to strengthen the ticket and I look forward to being a team player to help bring Gov. Evers across the finish line.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Molly Beck wrote that Taylor plans to focus on “agricultural and food issues and music.”

Since 2000, two Democrats—Barbara Lawton and Barnes—and two Republicans—Margaret A. Farrow and Rebecca Kleefisch—have served as Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor. 

Beto O’Rourke to run for governor of Texas

On Nov. 15, Beto O’Rourke (D) announced he would run for governor of Texas. O’Rourke spoke about the February 2021 power outage in Texas and said, “Together, we can push past the small and divisive politics that we see in Texas today — and get back to the big, bold vision that used to define Texas.”

O’Rourke joins a primary field that includes three candidates who have not held elected office: Deirdre Dickson-Gilbert, Michael Cooper, and Larry Baggett. The Democratic and Republican primaries are scheduled for March 1. Incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is seeking a third term. 

This will be the second time O’Rourke has run for statewide office in Texas. He ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 against Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who defeated O’Rourke 51% to 48%. 

O’Rourke also ran in the Democratic presidential primary in 2020. He served in the U.S. House from 2013 to 2019.

The NY state legislators facing primary challenges (so far)

City & State New York‘s Zach Williams and Jeff Coltin published a list of 11 Democratic New York state Senate and Assembly members with primary challengers as of Nov. 12, with background information on the candidates. Four of the contested primaries include a challenger endorsed by a chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The following incumbents have challengers:

  • Sen. Brian Kavanagh
  • Sen. Kevin Parker
  • Sen. Luis Sepúlveda
  • Sen. Simcha Felder 
  • Asm. Michael Benedetto
  • Asm. Kevin Cahill
  • Asm. Erik Dilan
  • Asm. John McDonald III
  • Asm. Cathy Nolan
  • Asm. José Rivera
  • Asm. David Weprin

Cahill, Dilan, Kavanagh, and Parker face DSA-backed challengers.

In 2020’s Democratic primaries, six Assembly members and no incumbent Senate members were defeated. In 2018, seven senators and two assembly members lost in primaries.

Find City & State‘s list and candidate information here.