Heart of the Primaries 2022, Democrats-Issue 4

January 6, 2022

In this issue: Retiring Rep. Sires endorses predecessor’s son and an Ocasio-Cortez staffer challenges state Assembly incumbent

Rep. Sires retires, endorses predecessor’s son

On Dec. 21, U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D) announced he would not seek re-election, setting up an open-seat race for New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District. Sires endorsed Robert Menendez Jr., son of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D), for the district. Sen. Menendez was Sires’ predecessor in the House. 

Sires said of Robert, “I think he’s got the right temperament. He’s got the intelligence. I think he’s very well liked and he comes from good stock.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D) also endorsed Menendez. 

Belleville Mayor Michael Melham said he is considering running for the district. Other local officials are reportedly considering bids as well. Hector Oseguera (D), who lost to Sires 27% to 70% in the 2020 Democratic primary, said, “I can guarantee that the progressives will not sit out the race. Who that candidate will be, I ultimately can’t say.” 

The Cook Political Report rated the 8th District Solid Democratic for the 2022 general election. Sires has represented the 8th District since 2013 and previously represented the 13th Congressional District from 2007 until 2012, when it was eliminated after the 2010 census. 

Since Sires’ announcement, two additional House Democrats, Bobby Rush (D) and Brenda Lawrence (D), have announced their retirements. Rush represents Illinois’ 1st Congressional District, a solidly Democratic district according to The Cook Political Report. Lawrence represents Michigan’s 14th Congressional District, which was eliminated after Michigan lost a congressional seat as a result of the 2020 census. Lawrence would have been in the new 12th District, which is solidly Democratic.   

Incumbent Reps. Levin, Stevens announce plans to run in redrawn MI-11

Democratic Reps. Andy Levin and Haley Stevens announced they will run in Michigan’s redrawn 11th Congressional District. Stevens represents the current 11th District and Levin represents the current 9th District. Both assumed office in January 2019.

Roll Call‘s Stephanie Akin wrote, “Levin, the more progressive of the two, has the advantage of a well-known family name. His father Sander Levin represented the region in the House for more than three decades and his uncle Carl Levin served as a senator for even longer. Stevens, though, brings more experience running competitive campaigns after two cycles as a top GOP target.”

FiveThirtyEight says the new 11th District has a partisan lean of D+15. Under the old map, the 11th District leaned R+2 and the 9th District, D+8.

This was the first redistricting cycle in which the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission was responsible for district maps. Voters approved a 2018 constitutional amendment that transferred redistricting authority from the state legislature to an independent commission. Michigan lost one congressional district following the 2020 census.

The filing deadline is April 19, and the primary is scheduled for Aug. 2.

Former county executive files for Maryland governor as Democrat

On Dec. 20, former Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman established a campaign finance committee to run for governor as a Democrat. Neuman said, “I’m exploring a run for governor because I believe every Marylander should have access to opportunity, regardless of where their story starts.”

In 2013, Anne Arundel County officials appointed Neuman, then a Republican, to the county executive position. She ran for a full term in 2014 and lost in the Republican primary. Since leaving office, Neuman changed her party registration to Democratic.

Candidates currently seeking the Democratic nomination include former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, and former U.S. Education Secretary John King, among others. Neuman would be the first woman to join the Democratic field.

Maryland has a divided government, with a Republican governor and Democrats holding supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature. Incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is term-limited.

Candidates have until Feb. 22 to file to run. The primary is set for June 28.

Downing drops bid for Massachusetts governor

Former state Sen. Benjamin Downing (D) suspended his gubernatorial campaign over the holiday. Downing, who represented a district in the western portion of the state for 10 years before resigning in 2017, was the first Democrat to enter the race.

In an interview with WAMC, Downing cited challenges raising funds and incumbent Charlie Baker’s (R) announcement that he would not seek re-election as reasons for suspending his campaign. Downing said that “candidates who otherwise may have chosen not to jump in will likely get in at the start of the next year.” As of Nov. 30, Downing had raised $442,000 during 2021, the third-highest fundraising total out of four declared Democrats.

Downing’s withdrawal leaves three Democrats in the running so far: nonprofit executive Danielle Allen, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, and business owner Orlando Silva. Local political observers expect Attorney General Maura Healey (D), who had $3.3 million in cash on hand as of Nov. 30, to enter the race. 

Although Democrats represent 82.5% of the state’s legislative districts—more than any other state besides Hawaii and Rhode Island—Republicans have won six of the 10 gubernatorial elections since 1982. The last Democrat to win election as governor was Deval Patrick in 2010.

The primary is set for Sept. 20.

Ocasio-Cortez staffer challenges incumbent in N.Y. Assembly primary

Jonathan Soto, a campaign staffer for U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), announced he will challenge state Rep. Michael Benedetto (D) in Assembly District 82. In a Jan. 3 tweet, Soto said, “Bad news: It’s the first day of school & I can’t protect my kid through a remote option bc [Benedetto] authorized mayoral control [of New York City public schools] & the DOE now ignores us. Good news: The law expires in June. I’m running to end it & bring control back to my community.”

Before his campaign, Soto had worked for Ocasio-Cortez since 2020. He also challenged Benedetto in 2020 but withdrew before election day. Soto was a community liaison and director of the Center for Faith and Community Partnerships in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) administration from 2015 to 2018. 

Benedetto, in addition to serving as state representative, is an adjunct instructor at Mercy College. He was a public school teacher and coordinated a special education unit. Benedetto told The City, “I welcome Mr. Soto back into the race for the 82nd District, again. Our democracy is vibrant when all challengers who feel they can do a better job decide to put their credentials forward and run.”

Benedetto was first elected in 2004 and since at least 2010 has either run unopposed in the Democratic primary or defeated challengers with at least 80% of the vote.

In 2020, six Democratic incumbents in the New York Legislature lost in primaries. That year saw the highest number of contested Democratic legislative primaries (53) in the state since at least 2014.

Parra drops U.S. House campaign to run for state Senate, Sens. Hurtado and Caballero face off 

Former California Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D) announced she was ending her U.S. House campaign to run for California State Senate after redistricting left the district open. Parra initially launched her campaign for California’s 21st Congressional District, which Rep. David Valadao (R) currently represents, in December 2020.

Parra said, “I was 100 percent ready to run for Congress, but when that Senate seat opened up … I know I could make an immediate impact. … I already have a lot of good bill ideas in my head, things that we can work on with different state agencies.” According to The San Joaquin Valley Sun, current Fresno Planning Commissioner and civil rights attorney Rob Fuentes (D) is also running for the district.

The Bakersfield Californian’s Sam Morgen wrote, “Most of the area is currently represented by Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, but redistricting has altered political boundaries, splitting Hurtado’s district in two. Hurtado now plans to run in the district in which she lives, the 14th District, leaving the 16th District with no incumbent.” Sen. Anna Caballero (D), who currently represents the 12th District, will also run in the 14th District in a race that Vida en el valle’s Juan Esparza Loera wrote “will pit friends against each other.” 

California completed its redistricting process on Dec. 27. Currently, Democrats hold supermajorities in the state Assembly and the state Senate. CalMatters‘ Sameea Kamal wrote, “Republicans need to flip at least five seats in the Senate, or seven in the Assembly, to end the [Democratic] supermajority … While the Democratic majority in the state Senate might shrink under the new map, Democrats’ grip of the Assembly could tighten.” 
The filing deadline for the primary is March 11. The primary is scheduled for June 7.