At least 11(+) state legislative incumbents lost primaries on Tuesday

Welcome to the Friday, June 17, Brew. 

By: Douglas Kronaizl

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 5.1% of state legislative incumbents who filed for re-election have lost in primaries
  2. A look at Virginia’s upcoming primary elections
  3. #FridayTrivia: How many members of Congress are not running for re-election (so far)?

5.1% of state legislative incumbents who filed for re-election have lost in primaries

State legislative incumbents are losing to primary challengers at an elevated rate this election cycle. Here’s our latest update – so far this year, 104 incumbents—18 Democrats and 86 Republicans—have lost to primary challengers.

That means, across the 21 states that have held primaries, 5.1% of incumbents running for re-election have lost, an 86% increase from 2020.

In addition to earlier primaries, these totals now include preliminary results from those held in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Carolina on June 14. So far, 11 incumbents have lost across those states:

  • One Democrat and five Republicans in North Dakota; and,
  • Five Republicans in South Carolina.

No incumbents have lost in Maine or Nevada primaries so far.

Republican incumbents have lost at a higher rate than Democrats. Of the 1,265 Republican incumbents who filed for re-election, 86 (6.8%) have lost to primary challengers. For Democrats, 18 of the 786 who filed (2.3%) have lost.

Fewer Democratic incumbents are facing primary challengers than their Republican counterparts. Around 20% of Democratic incumbents filed to run in contested primaries compared to 34% for Republicans. Overall, across these 21 states, 2,053 incumbents filed for re-election, 588 of whom (29%) faced primary challengers, another increase compared to recent cycles.

Redistricting has played a role in this increase of these incumbent defeats. Twenty-seven of the 104 incumbent defeats (26%) were guaranteed even before the polls closed. These were incumbents running in incumbent v. incumbent primaries, something that becomes more common after redistricting when lines are redrawn, which can place multiple incumbents in the same district. 

In these incumbent v. incumbent primaries, there are more incumbents running than nominations available, meaning at least one is guaranteed to lose.

Of the 21 states that have held primaries so far, five have Democratic trifectas, 13 have Republican trifectas, and three have divided governments with Democrats controlling the governorship and Republicans controlling both legislative chambers.

Across these 21 states, there are 2,650 seats up for election, 43% of the nationwide total.

There are currently 61 uncalled primaries featuring incumbents—31 Democratic and 30 Republican—which includes two uncalled incumbent v. incumbent primaries, guaranteeing at least two more defeated incumbents.

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A look at Virginia’s upcoming primary elections

Next week will be a quiet one in terms of elections. Only one state—Virginia—is holding statewide primaries on June 21. Adding to the quietness is the fact that, unlike most other states, Virginia holds its state-level elections—for offices like the governor and legislature—in odd-numbered years, leaving only federal offices on the even-year statewide ballot.

With no U.S. Senate races on the ballot, that leaves just the state’s 11 U.S. House districts up for election in 2022. But not every voter will see a primary election on their ballots because of Virginia’s rules regarding unopposed candidates and nominating contests. Here’s how it works.

  • If a candidate is running unopposed, that primary is canceled and the unopposed candidate automatically advances to the general election.
  • Eight Democratic primaries were canceled for this reason, including those for six of the seven Democratic incumbents who filed for re-election. Three Republican primaries were also canceled because candidates ran unopposed, including those for two of the four incumbents running for another term.
  • Virginia allows parties to form committees at different levels of government to decide how they will nominate candidates. 
    • Some committees may choose to use the state-run primaries, those scheduled for June 21. 
    • Others may choose to run their own nominating contests like conventions, which are typically open to a smaller number of voters who register as delegates, or firehouse primaries, which operate like regular primaries but at a limited number of venues and under the oversight of the party.

Two district Democratic committees chose to hold nominating contests, so they have already decided their general election nominees. Four district Republican committees also chose to hold nominating contests, including that of one incumbent.

This leaves one Democratic primary on the June 21 ballot: the contest between U.S. Rep. Don Beyer and Victoria Virasingh in the Alexandria-area 8th District.

There are four Republican primaries scheduled across the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th Districts. The contests in the 2nd and 7th Districts will determine Republican nominees to face Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger in what are expected to be some of the most competitive general elections in the state this year.

In those districts holding primaries, candidates can advance with a plurality, rather than a majority, of the vote. Virginia does not hold runoff elections. This means the candidate with the most votes—even if less than 50% of the total—advances to the general election.

If you have primaries coming up, use Ballotpedia’s Sample Ballot Lookup to see what’s on your ballot and bring your choices to the polls with our My Vote app!

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#FridayTrivia: How many members of Congress are not running for re-election (so far)?

In the Monday Brew, we brought you an update about the decade-high rate of congressional retirements this cycle. Roughly 12% of the Democratic caucus is not seeking re-election, a high point over the last five cycles. Of the Republican caucus, just under 9% are not seeking re-election, the party’s lowest rate since 2016.

By the numbers, how many members of Congress are not running for re-election (so far)?

  1. 55
  2. 82
  3. 33
  4. 71