Heart of the Primaries 2022, Republicans-Issue 26 (June 9, 2022)

Welcome to The Heart of the Primaries, Republican Edition

June 9, 2022

In this issue: Takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries and Paul Ryan counters Donald Trump in S.C.

Primary results roundup

California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota held primaries on Tuesday.

The big stories of the night: Mississippi incumbents may head to runoffs, Nunn wins IA-03

Two U.S. House incumbents in Mississippi could be headed for runoffs as neither cleared 50% of the vote in their primaries as of Wednesday morning.

Mississippi’s 3rd: Rep. Michael Guest had 47% of the vote to Michael Cassidy’s 48%. Guest first took office in 2019. 

Mississippi’s 4th: Rep. Steven Palazzo had 32% to Mike Ezell’s 25% and Clay Wagner’s 22%. Palazzo was first elected in 2010. The Associated Press wrote, “A 2021 report by the office of Congressional Ethics found ‘substantial reason to believe’ Palazzo had abused his office by misspending campaign funds, doing favors for his brother, and enlisting staff for political and personal errands. Palazzo declined to fully participate in the investigation, but his spokeswoman at the time, Colleen Kennedy, said the it was based on ‘false allegations’ made by an opponent in a previous primary.” 

Runoffs in Mississippi are June 28.

Iowa’s 3rd: Zach Nunn defeated Nicole Hasso and Gary Leffler. As of Wednesday morning, Nunn had 66% of the vote to Hasso’s 19% and Leffler’s 15%. Nunn is a state senator and Air Force veteran.

After the primary, The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed their general election ratings from Toss-up to Lean Republican

Democratic incumbent Cindy Axne was first elected in 2018, defeating incumbent David Young (R) 49%-47%. In a 2020 rematch, Axne defeated Young 49% to 48%.

Other marquee primary results

California’s 27th: Incumbent Mike Garcia (R) and Christy Smith (D) advanced from a seven-candidate, top-two primary. Garcia had 50% of the vote and Smith had 35% as of Wednesday morning. 

In 2020, Garcia defeated Smith in the general election by 333 votes, making it the third-closest U.S. House race that year. Brianna Lee of LAist said the 2022 race should be more competitive because redistricting “jettisoned the district’s most conservative outpost in Simi Valley, giving Democratic voters even more of an edge.” Election forecasters consider the race a Toss-up.

California’s 40th: We wrote last week that Rep. Young Kim (R) was spending big on ads opposing Greg Raths (R). As of Wednesday morning, Democrat Asif Mahmood had 40%, Kim had 34%, and Raths had 25%. Forecasters call the district Lean or Likely Republican.

California Attorney General: Incumbent Rob Bonta (D) is likely to advance from the top-two primary. Who will join him in the general election is TBD. Bonta had 55% of the vote as of Wednesday morning. Republican Nathan Hochman and Eric Early had 19% and 17%, respectively, and independent Anne Marie Schubert had 8%.

State legislative incumbents defeated

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

At least 13 state legislators—two Democrats and 11 Republicans—lost in primaries on June 7. Including those results, 91 state legislative incumbents have lost primaries this year. This number will likely increase: 58 primaries featuring 59 incumbents remain uncalled.

Across the 17 states that have held state legislative primaries, 5.3% of incumbents running for re-election have lost

Ninety-one primary defeats and a 5.3% loss rate are the largest number and highest incumbent loss rate in these 17 states since 2014.

Of the 17 states that have held primaries so far, three had Democratic trifectas, 11 had Republican trifectas, and three had divided governments with Democrats controlling the governorship and Republicans controlling both legislative chambers. Across these 17 states, there are 2,189 seats up for election, 36% of the nationwide total this year.

Media analysis

The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake discussed two U.S. House primary results in the context of Jan. 6 commission votes and the difficulty of determining how those votes have factored in GOP primaries so far:

Later this week, the House Jan. 6 committee will begin holding public hearings on the Capitol insurrection. And on Tuesday, lawmakers’ previous votes on a 9/11-style bipartisan Jan. 6 commission suddenly became a flash point.

Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), who was one of 35 House Republicans to vote for the commission, found himself unexpectedly fighting for his political life. He trailed Michael Cassidy with 88 percent of the vote in, in a result few saw coming. Either candidate would need 50 percent plus one to avoid a runoff.

Another House Republican who voted for the commission was Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.). He wound up surviving his primary against state Rep. Taffy Howard but was taking only about 59 percent of the vote — less than other statewide South Dakota GOP officials facing primaries. Howard has attacked Johnson for being too bipartisan, including by declining to sign on to then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

As the Johnson example shows, it’s difficult to say how much of these dynamics stemmed from that particular vote. Unlike votes to impeach Trump, votes for the Jan. 6 commission (which failed in the Senate before the House launched a less bipartisan select committee) have yet to register as a major issue. But that’s in part because there is overlap between that issue and others in which members crossed partisan lines (such as the impeachment votes).

Another of the commission’s supporters in the House GOP, Rep. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.), lost his primary last month. But that was against a fellow incumbent, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) who also targeted McKinley for the latter’s vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Iowa Starting Line‘s Amie Rivers wrote that challengers Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) supported against state House incumbents performed well on Tuesday:

“[A]fter her much-touted school voucher bill failed to gain traction in the Iowa Legislature this year, Gov. Kim Reynolds took her ire out at several fellow Republicans in the Iowa House who called out the bill as not being supportive of public schools and ensured it wouldn’t pass.

With the unofficial election results coming in tonight, it looks like Reynolds got her way in many of the Republican primary contests.

Her bill, Senate File 2369, would have diverted $55 million from public school budgets for up to 10,000 scholarships to pay for students to attend private schools. Legislators, particularly in rural areas with no private schools, were hesitant on the bill, including up to 15 Republicans by some reports.

Reynolds publicly began endorsing primary challengers to some of those legislators up for election this year, while out-of-state organizations that support vouchers have been pumping five-figure donations into their campaign coffers.

It’s unprecedented, Iowa political watchers say.

Republicans who did not support Reynolds’ bill also received some funding from the Iowa State Educational Association, which is against the bill. But they received far less than their primary opponents …

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump clash over SC-07 primary

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) endorsed Rep. Tom Rice in South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. This is Ryan’s first 2022 endorsement.

Rice was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in 2021, after which the state GOP censured Rice. He faces six primary challengers, including state Rep. Russell Fry, who Trump endorsed. Fry calls Rice a Republican in name only (RINO).

Rice says his impeachment vote defended the constitution. Myrtle Beach Sun News‘ Dale Shoemaker wrote, “Rice has argued that Republicans ought to stick with Trump’s policy ideas but abandon the man himself. He’s argued that he voted for Trump’s policy priorities 94% of the time and was a key player in shaping the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, along with Ryan.”

Ryan said, “There were a lot of people who wanted to vote like Tom but who just didn’t have the guts to do it. … This is just such a crystal clear case where you have a hard working, effective, senior member of Congress who deserves reelection vs. people who are just trying to be celebrities who may be trying to help Trump with his vengeance.” 

Following Ryan’s endorsement, Trump said, “Did anyone notice that Fox News went lame (bad!) when weak RINO Paul Ryan, who is despised in the Great State of Wisconsin for being ‘a pathetic loser,’ went on the Fox Board.” Ryan joined the Fox Corp. board in 2019.

Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, served in the House from 1998 to 2019 and as speaker from 2015 until his retirement. Ryan was critical of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election. 

In a 2019 interview, Ryan said about Trump’s win, “I felt a major onset of responsibility to help the institutions survive. … So, from the next day on, my mantra was: ‘Only one person can be speaker of the House. … Our job from now on is to build up the country’s antibodies … to have the guardrails up, to drive the car down the middle of the road, and don’t let the car go off into the ditch.’” 

Last week, Ryan said the GOP is undergoing growing pains and that “if you become a majority party you have to be a big tent party that can accommodate all different kinds of conservatives.”

South Carolina’s primaries are June 14.

The first-ever top-four congressional primary is on Saturday

Alaska will conduct the first top-four congressional primary in U.S. history on June 11—a special U.S. House primary election held in the wake of former Rep. Don Young’s (R) death. 

The special general election will be on Aug. 16, the same day as the regular primary election. The special election winner will serve until Jan. 2023, when the regular election winner—if someone different—will take office for a full two-year term.

Forty-eight candidates are on the special election ballot. The regular primary features 31 candidates, including 24 who are also running in the special election. All primary candidates for each election run on the same ballot with their affiliation listed next to their names. On the special primary ballot are:

  • 22 candidates running as nonpartisan or undeclared 
  • 16 Republicans
  • 6 Democrats
  • 2 Libertarians
  • 1 American Independent Party member
  • 1 Alaskan Independence Party member

Here’s the sample ballot from the Alaska Division of Elections:

As we wrote last month, an Alaska Survey Research poll found former governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R), Nick Begich III (R), and 2020 U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross (I) in the top three spots. A cluster of independents, Democrats, and Republicans were tied within the margin of error for fourth. 

The New York Times‘ Emily Cochrane wrote, “Most observers here believe that Mr. Young’s seat is likely to remain in Republican hands given the state’s conservative slant, but the new ranked-choice system, which tends to advantage candidates in the center, could upend the conventional wisdom.”

Young was first elected Alaska’s U.S. representative in 1973, when he defeated Emil Notti (D) in a special election. Notti is running in the 2022 special primary election. Young also ran for the House in 1972, when Nick Begich Sr. (D) defeated him. Begich Sr. is Begich III’s grandfather.

Alaska voters approved the top-four primary/ranked-choice voting general election system via ballot measure in 2020. Maine is the only other state that uses ranked-choice voting for federal and state-level elections, though several other states have jurisdictions that use the voting system. Learn more here.

Gun policy an issue in IL-15 incumbent matchup 

On June 7, U.S. Rep. Mary Miller began airing an ad criticizing U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis over a bill he cosponsored in 2019. Miller and Davis are running in Illinois’ 15th Congressional District, one of six incumbent-vs.-incumbent primaries taking place this year due to redistricting.

The ad says, “Rodney Davis sided with Joe Biden, voting for red flag gun confiscation that allows the government to seize your guns. … That’s why President Trump endorsed Mary Miller for Congress. Mary is ‘A’ rated by the NRA, unlike Rodney Davis.” 

The NRA gave Miller an “A” rating and Davis an “A-” this year. The group has not endorsed in the primary.

The bill in question did not advance. The bill summary said it would have “authorize[d] grants for states to implement extreme risk protection order laws (also known as red flag laws). An extreme risk protection order law permits a state court to issue an order that prohibits an individual from purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm.” The bill text said that a court could issue such an order “upon finding by a preponderance of evidence that the respondent poses an imminent, particularized, and substantial risk of unlawfully using a firearm to cause death or serious physical injury to himself or herself or to another person.”

Davis’ campaign responded to the ad, in part: “Rodney is a proud gun owner, Concealed Carry License holder, NRA member, and strong supporter of the Second Amendment. He has fought Democrat gun control attempts in the past and will oppose their gun control legislation this week. Rodney has been endorsed by the NRA in every previous election. … Rodney was shot at by a crazed liberal gunman in 2017. He more than anyone in this race knows how important the Second Amendment is.” Davis was at the 2017 congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, where a gunman shot five people. 

In related news, Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.) announced his retirement last week after voicing support for stronger gun regulations. 

On May 27, Jacobs said, “If an assault weapons ban bill came to the floor that would ban something like an AR-15, I would vote for it.” According to The Buffalo News, Jacobs “also said he would back raising the age on some gun purchases to 21, limiting the capacity of magazines and banning the sale of military-style body armor to civilians.” Jacobs currently represents New York’s 27th Congressional District, which includes the Buffalo suburbs. Jacobs knew one of the victims of the recent mass shooting at Tops supermarket. 

Jacobs ended his re-election campaign on June 3, saying Republican officeholders and party officials withdrew their support after his statements. Jacobs said, “We have a problem in our country in terms of both our major parties. If you stray from a party position, you are annihilated. … For the Republicans, it became pretty apparent to me over the last week that that issue is gun control. Any gun control.”

Percentage of each congressional caucus not seeking re-election

Fifty-five members of Congress are not running for re-election this year, including 32 Democrats and 23 Republicans. For Democrats, this is the largest percentage of the party’s House and Senate caucuses to retire in one cycle—11.9%—since 2014. For Republicans, this represents 8.8% of the party’s caucuses.

The highest recent percentage of Republicans retiring was in 2018, when 12.6% of the party’s caucus—37 members—didn’t run for re-election. That year, Republicans gained two Senate seats and lost 35 House districts.

The lowest recent percentage of Democrats retiring was in 2020, when 10 members—3.6% of the caucus—didn’t run. Democrats gained three Senate seats and lost 10 House districts. 

The lowest recent percentage of Republican congressional retirements was in 2016. Twenty-six Republicans retired—8.6% of the caucus. Republicans lost two Senate seats and five House districts.

Competitiveness data: Maine and North Dakota

Maine and North Dakota hold primaries on June 14. We’ve crunched some numbers to see how competitive the primaries will be compared to recent election cycles.


North Dakota

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.