Heart of the Primaries 2022, Democrats-Issue 24 (May 26, 2022)

Welcome to The Heart of the Primaries, Democratic Edition

May 26, 2022

In this issue: Takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries and a look at New York’s overhauled primary landscape

Primary results roundup

Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia held their primaries on Tuesday. Texas also held primary runoffs for races in which no candidate received a majority of the vote on March 1. 

The big stories of the night: Cuellar-Cisneros matchup TBD, McBath defeats Bourdeaux in GA-07

Texas’ 28th runoff: The primary runoff between incumbent Henry Cuellar and Jessica Cisneros is too close to call. Cuellar led 50.2%-49.8%, with fewer than 200 votes separating the candidates. Mailed ballots postmarked by Tuesday and received by 5 p.m. Wednesday could be counted.

Under state law, candidates may request a recount if the margin of victory is less than 10% of the winning candidate’s vote total. That’d be a little more than 2,200 votes for this race, based on results as of Thursday morning. Candidates must request a recount within five days after election day or two days after the canvass. 

Cuellar’s backers included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) were among Cisneros’ endorsers. The San Antonio Express-News editorial board, which backed Cuellar in the 2020 primary, endorsed Cisneros this year.

Georgia’s 7th: Rep. Lucy McBath defeated Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Donna McLeod. McBath received 63% of the vote, Bourdeaux was second with 31%, and McLeod was third with 6%. Bourdeaux and McBath ran in the same primary due to redistricting. There will be no runoff because McBath won more than 50% of the vote. 

Bourdeaux is the third U.S. House incumbent who sought re-election to be defeated in a primary this year and the first Democrat.

Bloomberg Government data showed that Bourdeaux represents 57% of the residents in the new 7th District and McBath represents 12%. This is one of six incumbent-vs.-incumbent primaries this year and one of four featuring two Democrats.

McBath, whose son was fatally shot in 2012, emphasized gun policy in her campaign. At a recent debate, McBath said, “I’m running in this race because I simply believe that we should not allow Gov. Kemp, the Republican Party or the NRA gun lobby to dictate who represents our communities in Washington.”

Bourdeaux’s campaign website said she “has been a leading advocate in Congress for health care, voting rights, racial and social justice, small business, infrastructure, and critical issues of broad importance to Gwinnett County and the 7th district community.”

Atlanta magazine’s Rachel Garbus said, “While both candidates are thoroughgoing Democrats, McBath is further to the left than Bourdeaux, whose centrist stance has alienated some progressives.”

In one of our first issues of 2022’s The Heart of the Primaries, we wrote about how Bourdeaux joined a group of nine House Democrats last summer in saying she wouldn’t vote for a budget resolution needed to pass the Build Back Better agenda unless the House first voted on an infrastructure bill the Senate passed. Ultimately, Bourdeaux voted for the resolution, which contained a nonbinding commitment to vote on the infrastructure bill by late September. 

McBath had endorsements from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund. Bourdeaux received endorsements from former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young (D), former U.S. Sen Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), and four state representatives. 

McBath defeated incumbent Karen Handel (R) in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in 2018, 50.5% to 49.5%. McBath won a rematch against Handel in 2020, 55% to 45%. Bourdeaux defeated Rich McCormick (R) 51% to 49% to win an open-seat race in the 7th District in 2020. Bourdeaux lost to then-incumbent Rob Woodall (R) in 2018 by 433 votes. That was the closest U.S. House election by number of votes in 2018. 

Election forecasters rate the general election in Georgia’s 7th as Solid or Safe Democratic.

Other marquee primary results

U.S. House

  • Texas’ 15th runoff: The race was too close to call as of Thursday morning. Ruben Ramirez had 50.1% of the vote and Michelle Vallejo had 49.9%. Incumbent Vicente Gonzalez Jr. (D) ran for re-election in District 34. Three forecasters rate the general election Lean or Tilt Republican.
  • Texas’ 30th runoff: Jasmine Crockett defeated Jane Hamilton 61% to 39%. Incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) did not seek re-election. Johnson endorsed Crockett. U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D) endorsed Hamilton. Three forecasters rate the general election Safe or Solid Democratic.

State executives

  • Texas Attorney General runoff: Rochelle Garza defeated Joe Jaworksi 63% to 37%. Garza will face incumbent Ken Paxton (R) in the general election on Nov. 8.

State legislative incumbents defeated

The figures below were current as of Wednesday afternoon. Click here for more information on defeated incumbents.

At least four state legislators—all Republicans—lost in primaries on May 24. Including those defeats, 61 state legislative incumbents have lost primaries this year. This number will likely increase: 64 primaries featuring incumbents remain uncalled.

Across the 12 states that have held state legislative primaries, 4.5% of incumbents running for re-election have lost. 

Sixty-one primary defeats and a 4.5% loss rate are the largest number and highest incumbent loss rate in these 12 states since 2014.

Of the 12 states that have held primaries so far, one had a Democratic trifecta, eight had Republican trifectas, and three had divided governments with Democrats controlling the governorship and Republicans controlling both legislative chambers. Across these 12 states, there are 1,655 seats up for election, 11% of the nationwide total.

Media analysis

Politico wrote about the abortion debate in Texas’ 28th, the close runoff results, and the unique composition of the district: 

We still don’t know the fate of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the last anti-abortion House Democrat. But no matter what happens, his primary runoff makes clear that abortion rights is not a runaway winner for the party in every slice of the country.

The renewed nationwide debate over abortion access could have blown the race wide open for his progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros, who made women’s health care a more central theme of her campaign in the weeks following the revelation that the Supreme Court was preparing to strike down Roe v. Wade.

Her team’s goal was to run up the margins in the counties around San Antonio, where abortion access is popular. Cuellar, meanwhile, doubled down on his opposition to abortion except in the case of “rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother.”

But Texas’s 28th District cobbles together two parts of Texas that are very different culturally, and Cuellar’s political instincts may have played out. Cisneros outperformed her March 1 primary performance in the northern part of the district, but so did Cuellar in his home base of Laredo and throughout the culturally conservative Rio Grande Valley.

Democrats hope the abortion debate will energize their base in swing seats across the country — and it still might. But this was not the most effective trial balloon. The border counties in the region are heavily Catholic and perhaps just as motivated to vote to help restrict abortion access. And Cuellar’s brand in the southern part of the district, as a moderate Blue Dog Democrat who is pro-gun, makes him more impervious to the national political trends.

The Associated Press‘ Nicholas Riccardi said progressives have had some recent primary wins and that results in Texas’ 28th were too close to be a clear win for either progressives or moderates, regardless of the outcome: 

After the collapse of much of Biden’s agenda in Congress, progressives have gotten a boost in recent primaries. Their candidate, Summer Lee, narrowly won the primary in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District last week. In Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, centrist Rep. Kurt Schrader was trailing a progressive challenger after their primary last week; the results were delayed by ballot counting problems.

Also Tuesday, Rep. Lucy McBath handily defeated Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Democratic primary in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District in the Atlanta suburbs. While neither has embraced the left wing of the party, Bourdeaux was better known as a moderate than McBath.

Still, the left lost a key congressional primary in the Cleveland area just a few weeks ago. They had an awful track record in 2020. And some Democrats worry — and Republicans hope — that leftist wins in places like Oregon’s 5th or Texas’ 28th will make it harder for the party to hold those relatively moderate districts, especially in what’s looking like a dismal fall for Democrats.

Sometimes, though, races are so close that there’s eventually a winner but no resolution to the political debate they embody. Progressives can note Cisneros improved her margin after losing to Cuellar in 2020. Centrists can point to how the incumbent kept it close even amid the party’s fury about a possible end to the right to abortion.

New York’s new Democratic primary landscape

Last week, we wrote about a potential primary contest between Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler under New York’s revised congressional district map. On Friday, Steuben County state supreme court Justice Patrick F. McAllister approved the map, kicking off a wave of primary election developments.

In addition to the 12th Congressional District‘s Maloney-Nadler matchup, the 10th and 17th districts are also in the spotlight. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced he’s running in the 17th District, which Rep. Mondaire Jones (D) currently represents. The revised map placed Maloney’s residence in the 17th District and made the new 18th more competitive. Maloney represents the current 18th. Jones announced he’d run in the new 10th District.

That’s a lot to process. Here are the incumbents’ movements at a glance, along with the percentage of each new district’s population the incumbent currently represents based on Daily Kos data.

  • Carolyn Maloney: 12th District → 12th District. Maloney represents 60% of the new 12th. 
  • Jerry Nadler: 10th District → 12th District. Nadler represents 40% of the new 12th. His current district was divided among five new ones, and the 12th contains a plurality of his current constituents.
  • Sean Patrick Maloney: 18th District → 17th District. Maloney represents 25% of the new 17th and 71% of the new 18th.
  • Mondaire Jones: 17th District → 10th District. Jones represents 0% of the new 10th and 73% of the new 17th.

Incumbent movements aren’t the only big news out of New York.

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi switched from the 3rd to the 17th Congressional District primary to challenge Sean Patrick Maloney, saying that “having the head of the campaign arm not stay in his district, not maximize the number of seats New York can have to hold the majority” hurt the Democratic Party.

Maloney said when announcing he’d run in the 17th under the new map, “NY-17 includes my home and many of the Hudson Valley communities I currently represent.”

In addition to Jones, former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and state Asm. Yuh-Line Niou (D) announced bids for the 10th District.

The new map is expected to affect Democrats’ general election prospects. Reuter‘s Joseph Ax wrote that the map the state legislature approved would have given Democrats likely control of 22 of 26 House districts and that the special master’s map created eight competitive districts. Republicans need to gain five districts to take control of the House of Representatives.

New York’s primaries are on Aug. 23.

Candidates for U.S. Senate in Iowa participate in debate

On May 19, the three Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Iowa participated in a debate sponsored by Iowa PBS. The candidates differed on student debt and healthcare policy.

On student debt, Abby Finkenauer said, “If we do anything when it comes to relief, it should be targeted” and not made available to anybody making more than $100,000 per year.

Michael Franken said student debt relief is divisive and expressed concern about the cost of college: “Someone who graduated two years ago — do we re-compensate them? What about somebody five years from now who has a large debt? Is this an ongoing thing? And if we constantly wipe out college debt what do you think the cost of college is going to do?” 

Glenn Hurst said he supports canceling student loan debt and repaying people who have already paid their loans off: “We really need to be looking even farther forward. … Community college should be free, so should trade schools.” 

The candidates also differed on healthcare policy. Finkenhauer said she supports preserving private insurance, increasing Medicare reimbursements, and creating a public option: “If they have negotiated their health care through their union, through their employer and they like it, I’m not taking away anybody’s health care from any Iowan or any American.” 

Franken said government-run healthcare was “the future of America” but said it should be incrementally implemented, starting with expanding Medicare to young children and adults over 50. 

Hurst said he supports Medicare for All: “We can’t be just putting Band-Aids on cannonball wounds. We can’t be taking the Affordable Care Act and expanding it or adding a Medicare option to it. … Medicare for All is the solution.” 

The candidates also said why they think they’re the best choice for voters. Finkenauer said she is the best alternative to incumbent Chuck Grassley (R): “This is what this race is about. It is making sure we hold him accountable and it’s making sure you have somebody who doesn’t want to spend their life in Washington, D.C., like he has.” 

Franken said his campaign appeals to voters in the middle: “It’s that middle segment who want logical, pragmatic, smart, dedicated, national servants to work for them. Leader servants. I believe I’m that person.” 

Hurst said he is “a progressive candidate in this race that is different from the other candidates.” Hurst said other Democrats in the state have “lost because they didn’t appeal to that desire for change.”

The primary election is on June 7. 

Abortion in spotlight in IL-06 Newman-Casten matchup

On May 17, Rep. Marie Newman released an ad in which she talks about her experience getting an abortion when she was 19 and criticizes Rep. Sean Casten for having voted for Republicans. Both incumbents are running in Illinois’ 6th Congressional District primary.

Newman said Casten voted for “anti-choice Republicans like George Bush. … With the stakes this high, who do you trust?” 

In 2020, E&E News reported that Casten voted for George H.W. Bush for president in 1992 and Bob Dole for president in 1996.

Also on May 17, Casten’s campaign tweeted, “Sean Casten is 100% Pro-Choice. Sean received a perfect pro-choice voting score from NARAL, and he’s honored to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action Fund and pro-choice leaders like Marcie Love.” The tweet contained an ad with Love’s endorsement. 

Newman currently represents the 3rd Congressional District. She defeated incumbent Dan Lipinski in the 2020 Democratic primary. Lipinski was one of the only Democratic House members opposed to abortion in most cases. 

Newman currently represents 43% of the new 6th District. Casten represents 24% of it.

Competitiveness data: Iowa and New Jersey

Iowa and News Jersey hold primaries on June 7. We’ve crunched some numbers to see how competitive the primaries will be compared to recent election cycles.

Notes on how these figures were calculated:

  • Candidates per district: divides the total number of candidates by the number of districts holding elections.
  • Open districts: divides the number of districts without an incumbent running by the number of districts holding elections.
  • Contested primaries: divides the number of major party primaries by the number of possible primaries.
  • Incumbents in contested primaries: divides the number of incumbents in primaries by the number seeking re-election in the given election cycle.