Elevated rates of incumbent turnover mean more state legislative newcomers in 2023

Welcome to the Monday, August 15, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

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

  1. Newcomers will win at least 26% of state legislative seats up for election this year
  2. Wyoming’s Aug. 16 primaries 
  3. Alaska’s Aug. 16 primaries

Newcomers will win at least 26% of state legislative seats up for election this year

At least 1,607 state legislative incumbents will not be returning next year—an increase compared to recent election cycles. This increase in incumbent turnover guarantees legislatures across the country will look very different in 2023.

Before we get into the numbers, let’s talk about what we mean by ”incumbent turnover.” Incumbent turnover is the metric we use to determine the number of incumbents leaving office. This figure tells us how many incumbents remained in office at the end of one cycle and how many newcomers will be entering office at the start of the next. Historically, most incumbent turnover happens because of retirements, a broad term referring to those who leave office for any reason apart from losing an election.

Even though eight states have yet to hold primaries and we are still months away from the general elections, incumbent turnover so far is greater than the total turnover in 2014, 2016, and 2020. In fact, newcomers will hold at least 26% of the state legislative seats up for election. Unless every incumbent wins their general elections in November (an unlikely scenario, historically speaking), that figure will only increase before the end of the year.   

Only the 2018 election cycle had more turnover than we currently have this year. 

The chart below shows the number of state legislative incumbents who retired or lost in primaries or general elections. 

The number of state legislative seats up for election changes every cycle, which can affect the raw turnover numbers. There are 6,278 seats up for election this year, the most compared to recent cycles.

In the chart below, you can see incumbent turnover expressed in percentage terms. 

Turnover will have a varying effect across different states. For example, Delaware currently has the lowest turnover rate at 11% of the seats up for election. Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island also have low turnover rates presently, though, apart from Indiana, these states have not yet finished their primary elections.

At the high end, in Arizona and Nebraska, newcomers are guaranteed to win more than half of the seats up for election. Michigan and Idaho also have some of the highest turnover rates. 

Reasons vary for these high rates. Nebraska’s turnover came entirely from retirements, with 12 incumbents leaving office, 10 of whom were term-limited. Arizona and Michigan had a large number of retirements and increased rates of incumbents defeated in primaries. And in Idaho, 18 incumbents lost to primary challengers—the largest number among any state so far.

We’ll continue tracking incumbent turnover through the end of the election cycle and report back on the final figure. 

Click below to read more statistics about state legislative elections this year. 

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A look at Wyoming’s Aug. 16 primaries 

Two states are holding primaries tomorrow—Alaska and Wyoming. We’ve written extensively about both states in the Brew, so let’s look at Wyoming first. 

Congressional elections

Wyoming is one of 15 states that does not have a U.S. Senate seat up for election this year. However, voters will decide Republican and Democratic primaries for the state’s one U.S. House district. Since achieving statehood, Wyoming has only had one U.S. House district covering the whole state. 

The Republican primary features incumbent Liz Cheney, Anthony Bouchard, Harriet Hageman, Robyn Belinskey, and Denton Knapp, in one of the most watched primaries this year. Cheney, Bouchard, and Hageman have led in fundraising. Cheney voted to impeach former President Donald Trump (R) on Jan. 13, 2021, for incitement of insurrection in the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Cheney also voted to support the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Hageman, who founded the Wyoming Conservation Alliance and has worked as an attorney and legal consultant, and Bouchard, a former state senator who founded the Wyoming Gun Owners organization, have criticized Cheney for both actions. Trump endorsed Hageman in the race. Over 100 current Republican members of Congress have also endorsed Hageman. Click here to see a full list.  

Lynnette Grey Bull, Steven Helling, and Meghan Jensen are running in the Democratic primary. The last Democrat to represent Wyoming in the U.S. House was Teno Roncalio, who left office in 1978. 

State elections

Voters will decide Republican and Democratic primaries for governor. The Republican primary features incumbent Mark Gordon, Brent Bien, James Quick, and Rex Rammell. Theresa Livingston and Rex Wilde are running in the Democratic primary. 

Wyoming is holding elections for four other state executive offices—secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and superintendent of public instruction.

Sixteen state Senate districts and all 62 House districts are up for election. There are 48 contested primaries across both chambers—31% of the total number of possible primaries and a 4% increase from 2020. Republican candidates drove the increase this year. Of the 48 contested primaries, there are two for Democrats and 46 for Republicans. For Democrats, this is down from six in 2020, a 67% decrease. For Republicans, the number increased 15% from 40 in 2020.

In Wyoming, the primary candidate with the most votes wins—even if that candidate receives less than 50% of the total vote. Wyoming is one of 40 states without primary election runoffs. In Wyoming, unopposed primaries are not canceled, and write-in candidates do not need to file. 

Click below to read more about Wyoming’s primaries. 

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A look at Alaska’s Aug. 16 primaries

Let’s turn our attention north to Alaska (as Johnny Horton once sang)—the other state holding primaries tomorrow. 

Congressional primaries

Voters in Alaska will decide primaries for one U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House district. Like Wyoming, Alaska has only had one at-large U.S. House district since statehood. Alaska holds nonpartisan, top-four primaries for state executive offices and state legislative and the U.S. House. All candidates run in a single primary, and the top four vote-getters, regardless of partisan affiliation, advance to the general election. In general elections, voters use ranked-choice voting. Click here to learn more about Alaska’s voting system, which voters approved via ballot measure in 2020.

Nineteen candidates are running in the top-four Senate primary. Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is running for re-election, along with 18 others—eight Republicans, three Democrats, one Libertarian, five independents, and two Alaskan Independence Party candidates. Three election forecasters rate the general election Solid or Safe Republican. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), fellow Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R), and Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) have endorsed Murkowski. Trump and the Alaska Republican Party have endorsed Kelly Tshibaka (R), a former commissioner at the Alaska Department of Administration. 

Alaska will hold two elections on Aug. 16 for the state’s at-large U.S. House district—a regularly scheduled primary and a special general election. Former Rep. Don Young (R) died in March 2022, prompting a special top-four June 11 primary to fill out the remainder of his term. Sarah Palin (R), Nicholas Begich III (R), Al Gross (I), and Mary Peltola (D) were the top four finishers in that primary (Gross ended his campaign on June 20). 

Twenty-two candidates are on the regular primary ballot, 15 of whom also ran in the special primary election. That includes Begich, Palin, and Peltola. The winner of the Aug. 16 special general election will serve until the end of Young’s term—Jan. 3, 2023. Campaign finance reports for the regular top-four primary show that, as of July 27, four candidates have raised more than $200,000—Begich ($1,326,926), Palin ($1,073,839, Peltola ($379,088), and Tara Sweeney (R) ($295,152). Three race forecasters consider the general election Solid Republican.

State elections

Alaska is holding elections for governor and lieutenant governor. Ten candidates are running in the top-four primary, including incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R). Ten candidates are also running in the top-four lieutenant governor primary. 

Nineteen districts are up for election in the state Senate and all 40 districts are up for election in the state House. Republicans have a 13-7 majority in the Senate and a 21-19 majority in the House (three members are independents and one is nonpartisan). Overall, 147 candidates are running in the state’s top-four primaries across all chambers: 39 Democrats, 81 Republicans, and 27 minor party or independent candidates.

Click below to read more about Alaska’s Aug. 16 primaries. 

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