Heart of the Primaries 2022, Democrats-Issue 34

August 11, 2022

In this issue: Highlights from this week’s primaries and a look at conflicts in NY congressional races

Primary results roundup

Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin held primaries on Tuesday. Here are some highlights.

U.S. Senate

Wisconsin U.S. Senate: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes won the primary with 78% of the vote. As we wrote last week, the three other top candidates withdrew in late July and endorsed Barnes. He’ll face incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in the competitive general election.

U.S. House

Minnesota’s 5th District: Rep. Ilhan Omar won with 50% to Don Samuels’ 48% as of Wednesday morning. We wrote in March about the conflicts in this primary over police policy and Omar’s vote against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year. Omar was first elected in 2018. This is a Safe/Solid Democratic district.

Vermont At-Large District: State Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint won with 60% of the vote. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray was second with 36%. Election forecasters view Vermont’s lone House district as Safe or Solid Democratic. If she wins in November, Balint would be Vermont’s first female and first openly gay member of Congress. 

Media analysis

The Associated Press said Barnes and Johnson are casting one another as extreme and discussed polarization in the state:  

The Johnson vs. Barnes race will likely be one of the closest watched campaigns of the 2022 cycle. It pits a Republican who has drawn the ire of Democrats for his ties to former President Donald Trump and his adoption of a string of conspiracy theories against a Democrat who holds several progressive positions that Republicans believe make him out of step with most Wisconsin voters.

Although Johnson and Barnes are political opposites, they have already begun using strikingly similar language to define the other, calling one another “out of touch,” extreme and someone out of line with the state’s voters.

Wisconsin is one of the two Senate seats up this cycle that is currently held by Republicans in a state President Joe Biden won in 2020. The state has been a political hotbed ever since the 2011 fights over union bargaining rights, leading the electorate in the state to be polarized long before the 2016 election of Trump.

CNN wrote about the conflict between Omar and Samuels: 

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar survived a primary challenge Tuesday, CNN projected — but barely, and the narrow result could encourage critics of the progressive “squad” member to try again in two years.

Omar, who is running for a third term in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, held off a primary challenge from former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels and three other Democratic primary candidates.

Samuels had run as a pro-police critic of Omar’s calls to “defund the police.” Samuels and his wife successfully sued the city of Minneapolis to force it to increase police staffing levels to the 741 officers required by the city’s charter.

Momentum behind what had been widely seen as a long-shot challenge built after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey endorsed Samuels last week. He was also backed by building trades unions, several suburban mayors and more moderate DFL leaders. His close call could inspire another effort to oust Omar in 2024.

Omar’s victory comes the week after two other liberal members of the “squad,” Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, also beat back primary challenges.

State legislative incumbents defeated

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

Six state legislative incumbents—four Democrats and two Republicans—lost in primaries over the past week in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Tennessee. No incumbents have lost in Vermont or Wisconsin, though races remain uncalled. Overall, there are 23 uncalled state legislative primaries featuring incumbents: nine Democratic, nine Republican, and five top-two.

Across the 38 states that have held state legislative primaries this year, 182 incumbents, 4.6% of those running for re-election, have lost, continuing an elevated rate of incumbent primary defeats compared to recent election cycles.

Of the 38 states that have held primaries, 10 have Democratic trifectas, 19 have Republican trifectas, and nine have divided governments. Across these states, there are 5,106 seats up for election, 81% of the nationwide total.

Recent polling and friction in NY-12

A recent Emerson College poll in New York’s 12th Congressional District primary showed Rep. Jerry Nadler with 40% to Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s 31%. Suraj Patel was third with 11%, and 17% were undecided. The poll’s margin of error was +/- 3 percentage points.

As we wrote previously, Nadler and Maloney have both served in the House since 1993 and are running against one another due to redistricting. Patel challenged Maloney in 2018 and 2020. 

At an Aug. 2 debate, the candidates largely agreed on current policy issues while responding differently to the question of whether President Joe Biden should run for re-election. Patel said, “Yes.” Nadler said it was “too early to say.” Maloney said, “I don’t believe he’s running for re-election.” (Maloney later said she’ll support Biden if he runs.)

Other responses showed friction between the candidates. According to Politico

Nadler and Maloney, who call each other friends despite their current rivalry, at times teamed up against Patel, though the long-time Upper West Side congressman pointed to policy differences he’s had with his House colleague.

He opposed both the U.S. invasion into Iraq and the post-Sept. 11 PATRIOT Act, both of which she supported; he embraced America’s Iran nuclear deal, which she opposed.

Patel said that “1990s Democrats have lost almost every major battle to Mitch McConnell and Republicans. Trumpism is on the rise, even if we defeated Trump. … To defeat it, we need people with new ideas and energy.”

Patel criticized Maloney’s 2012 comments about a possible link between vaccines and autism. Maloney said she regrets her past questioning and that she worked to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in her district. Patel also criticized Nadler for endorsing Maloney in 2020 in light of her previous comments. Nadler said Maloney was a better candidate than Patel in 2020 and still is. 

The primary is Aug. 23.

DCCC ad spending an issue in NY-17

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair Sean Patrick Maloney is facing criticism from primary challenger Alessandra Biaggi and Democratic elected officials over the DCCC’s ad spending in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, where Rep. Peter Meijer (R) lost to John Gibbs in last week’s Republican primary. 

Before the primary, the DCCC spent $450,000 on an ad calling Gibbs “too conservative for West Michigan” and highlighting Trump’s endorsement of Gibbs. Politico wrote that Democrats see Gibbs as an easier candidate to beat than Meijer in the general election.

Maloney represents New York’s 18th Congressional District and is running in the redrawn 17th against Biaggi. 

On July 27, Biaggi said Maloney was “wasting valuable Democratic resources by investing in far-right Republicans instead of funding Democratic candidates. This is a dangerous investment and asymmetric risk. Just a few years ago, many Democrats also wrongly believed Donald Trump winning the Republican primary would ensure a Democratic Presidential victory — and they were sorely mistaken.”

Maloney campaign spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said, “Unlike his primary opponent, Congressman Maloney has experience winning tough elections in a Trump district and reaching swing voters, which is why he was chosen by his peers to lead the DCCC during this critical moment. Just as he’s won close elections in the past, he will lead the party to victory this November.”

Maloney more recently responded to criticism from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) about the Gibbs ad: “It’s flat wrong to say that we were promoting an election denier. We were attacking an election denier.”

Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) are among Democratic House members who’ve criticized the DCCC ad. In addition, 35 former Democratic members of Congress and governors signed a letter saying, “The DCCC should never be working on Trump’s side in Republican primaries to bolster and promote a candidate who undermines our constitution and democratic system.”

DCCC spokesperson Helen Kalla said, “Kevin McCarthy is an anti-choice insurrectionist coddler and conspiracy enabler, and we will do what it takes to keep the speaker’s gavel out of his hands.”

New York’s U.S. House and state Senate primaries are on Aug. 23.

Union endorsers split in Rhode Island governor’s race 

On Aug. 4, the Rhode Island Council 94 American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) endorsed incumbent Gov. Dan McKee. The same day, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals endorsed Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea for governor. Each union represents more than 10,000 public and private sector employees.

McKee also has endorsements from the National Education Association Rhode Island, the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, and other unions. Gorbea’s union endorsers include the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328, the Carpenters Union Local 330, and the United Steelworkers Local 12431.

Polls have shown McKee and Gorbea leading the five-candidate Democratic primary field. 

McKee took office in March 2021 after former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was appointed U.S. secretary of commerce. McKee had served as lieutenant governor since 2015. McKee said he is running “to deliver an economic recovery from the pandemic that improves our state’s economy for this generation of Rhode Islanders and the next.” McKee said he’s “provided the experience Rhode Island needs” as governor. 

Gorbea has served as Rhode Island’s secretary of state since 2015. Gorbea said she is running “to make government more accountable to the people, to bring diverse voices to the table and connect people to hopeful opportunities that will help them thrive.” She said, “I am the only candidate who’s actually transformed an agency of government in Rhode Island[.]”

The primary is on Sept. 13.

Competitiveness data: Delaware and Hawaii

Hawaii’s primaries are on Aug. 13. Delaware holds primaries on Sept. 13. 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.