Tagincumbent

Ninety-two percent of state legislative incumbents filed for re-election in 2021

In 2021, state legislative incumbents filed for re-election at a higher rate than any other year in the past decade other than 2013. When an incumbent does not run for re-election, his or her seat is left open, meaning it is guaranteed to a newcomer at the start of the next state legislative session.

Of the 220 seats up for election this year, 92.3% of incumbents (203) filed for re-election, leaving 7.7% of seats (17) open. From 2011 to 2021, only the state legislative elections held in 2013 saw a lower percentage of open seats at 6.8%.

Two states—New Jersey and Virginia—are holding state legislative elections in 2021. These states hold elections every two years in odd-numbered years.

In New Jersey, 120 seats are up for election, 10.0% of which (12) are open. Of those open seats, six were most recently held by Democrats and six by Republicans.

Compared to previous elections, New Jersey’s rate of open seats in 2021 is tied with 2017 for the state’s second-highest percentage of open seats in the past decade.

In Virginia, 100 seats are up for election, 5.0% of which (5) are open, a decade-low rate for the state. Of those five open seats, one was most recently held by a Democrat and four by Republicans.

Neither New Jersey nor Virginia has state legislative term limits, meaning all open seats this year were left by incumbents voluntarily choosing not to file for re-election. Of the four states that hold state legislative elections in odd-numbered years, only one—Louisiana—has term limits. 

As shown by the chart below, term limits can have a varying effect on the total number of open seats. In 2011, 15.2% of open seats were caused by term limits, while in 2019, term limits accounted for 45.6% of all open seats.

In the chart below, a voluntary open seat is one where an incumbent chose not to file for re-election. A term-limited open seat is one where an incumbent could not seek re-election due to term limits.

This analysis was conducted as part of Ballotpedia’s annual state legislative competitiveness study. In addition to open seats, this study includes an analysis of incumbents in contested primaries and seats with major party competition in the general election. 

To learn more about open seats in the 2021 state legislative elections, click here.



Eighteen congressional incumbents not running for reelection in 2022

As of June 2021, 18 members of Congress—five members of the U.S. Senate and thirteen members of the U.S. House—have announced they will not seek re-election in 2022. Ten members—five senators and five representatives—have announced their retirement.

All five retiring Senate members are Republicans, and of the retiring House members, three are Democrats and two are Republicans. Eight U.S. House members are running for other offices. Three Republicans and two Democrats are running for U.S. Senate, one Republican and one Democrat are running for governor, and one Republican is running in a different district. No U.S. Senate members are running for other offices.

Reps. Val Demings (D) and Vicky Hartzler (R) were the most recent congressional members to announce they would not seek reelection. On June 9, Demings announced that she would challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R) for one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats rather than seek reelection in Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Hartzler, who represents Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, announced on June 10 that she is running for U.S. Senate to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R).

Between 2011 and December 2020, 245 members of Congress announced they would not run for re-election. Fifty-five members did not run for re-election in the 2018 cycle (three Senators and 52 members of the House), the most in any cycle in that period. Forty members did not run for re-election in 2020 (four Senators and 36 members of the House), the fewest in that period.

Additional reading:

United States Congress elections, 2022



Two state legislative incumbents defeated in New Jersey primary elections, a decade-high

Two members of New Jersey’s General Assembly lost to primary challengers on June 8, 2021, a decade-high number for the legislature.

Serena DiMaso (R) in the multi-member District 13 lost to Gerard Scharfenberger (R) and Victoria Flynn (R). Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D) from Assembly District 31 unofficially withdrew from the race before the primary, but his name remained on the ballot.

The Democratic primary in Assembly District 18 and the Republican primary in District 26, both featuring two incumbents each, remain too close to call as of June 11.

All four state Senate incumbents facing primary challenges won.

Primary defeats for incumbents in the New Jersey State Legislature are uncommon. Before 2021, only one state legislative incumbent had lost in a primary election: Assm. Joe Howarth (R) in 2019. No incumbent state Senator has lost in a primary since 2003.

In addition to the two primary defeats, five Democrats and three Republicans chose not to seek re-election in the General Assembly. In the state Senate, one Democrat and three Republicans opted against re-election.

Use the following links to learn more about New Jersey’s 2021 state legislative elections:



Seventy-nine percent of state legislative incumbents in New Jersey will not face a contested primary this year

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

Ninety percent of state legislative incumbents in New Jersey are seeking re-election in 2021. Of these 108 incumbents, 79%—85 legislators—will advance to the general election without a primary challenge, according to Ballotpedia’s primary election competitiveness analysis.

The remaining 23 incumbents—nine Democrats and 14 Republicans—will face contested primaries on June 8, 2021.

When an incumbent faces a contested primary, there is the chance he or she might be defeated before the general election, typically guaranteeing the seat to a newcomer. These defeats—along with retirements and general election losses—contribute to the overall incumbent turnover during each election cycle.

The most common cause of incumbent turnover is retirement, which, over the past decade, accounted for 70 percent of all state legislative turnover. Primary election defeats—at 10 percent—were the most uncommon cause of turnover.

Primary election defeats in New Jersey are especially rare. Since 2011, only one state legislative incumbent has been defeated in one: Assm. Joe Howarth, who lost in a 2019 Republican primary.

Contested incumbent primaries became more common in New Jersey during the 2017 state legislative elections. In 2019, the state saw a decade-high rate with around one-third of all incumbents facing primary challenges. The rate decreased to around one-fifth of all incumbents facing contested primaries in 2021 but remains higher than rates from the first half of the past decade.

Virginia is also holding state legislative elections in its House of Delegates in 2021. Based on preliminary data, the state is slated to see a decade-high rate of incumbents facing contested primaries at 18.1%. Out of the 100 incumbents, 94 are seeking re-election, 17 of whom will face contested primaries. Parties in Virginia use a mixture of primaries and conventions to select nominees. All primaries will take place on June 8 whereas convention dates are selected by district parties. Ballotpedia will update its primary competitiveness data for Virginia as it becomes available.

Ballotpedia is collecting primary election competitiveness statistics for all regularly-scheduled state legislative and state executive elections ongoing in 2021. Learn more here. Use the links below to view coverage of the New Jersey and Virginia state legislative elections:



Former incumbent Ashford (D) endorses Bacon (R) in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District

Brad Ashford (D), the former representative of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, endorsed incumbent Don Bacon (R) on October 7. Bacon defeated Ashford for the seat in 2016. Ashford said Bacon “demonstrated time and again … that he will put people above party to find bipartisan solutions.”

Ashford ran again in 2018, losing to Kara Eastman in the Democratic primary. Ashford previously ran for the district in the 1994 Republican primary. He was elected in 2014 as a Democrat. Ashford served in the nonpartisan Nebraska Unicameral legislature from 1987 to 1995 and again from 2007 to 2015. In 2011, he announced having changed his registration from Republican to independent.

Bacon, Eastman, and Tyler Schaeffer (L) are running for the 2nd District this year. Eastman defeated Ann Ashford, wife of Brad, in the 2020 Democratic primary.

State Sen. John McCollister (R) endorsed Eastman on October 9. McCollister has been critical of President Donald Trump and said Bacon had voted in favor of the president’s policies more than 90% of the time. He said Bacon was not independent and that Eastman wouldn’t “buckle under any pressure from the Democrat Party.”

On October 7, Roll Call named Bacon the most vulnerable House member of the 2020 election cycle, citing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s 7-point lead among district voters in a recent poll and spending by national Democrats. As of October 8, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee had each spent $1.2 million in the 2nd District.

Biden endorsed Eastman in the race.

In 2018, Bacon defeated Eastman 51% to 49%. Bacon won the 2016 election against Ashford 49% to 48%.

Additional reading:



Share of incumbents defeated in contested primaries grows for third even-year cycle in a row

Ballotpedia’s annual state legislative competitiveness study shows that for the third even-year election cycle in a row, the share of incumbents defeated in contested primaries has grown. In the 44 states that held state legislative elections this year, 153 incumbents—61 Democrats and 93 Republicans—were defeated by primary challengers.

Overall, 15.2% of the 1,016 major-party incumbents who faced primary challengers in 2020 lost, the third consecutive increase compared to 2018 (13.8%) and 2016 (12.3%). The loss rate in 2020 also exceeded that of 13.0% in 2014.

Highlights:

  1. 18% of Republicans who faced challenges in 2020 were defeated—the highest since at least 2014.
  2. 12% of Democrats who faced challenges were defeated, lower than the 14% rate in 2018.
  3. More Democrats were defeated in states with Democratic trifectas, as was the case for Republicans in Republican trifectas.
  4. The loss rate for incumbents in states with divided governments exceeds the national average altogether and by party.
  5. Democratic incumbents were defeated at the highest rate in states with Democratic trifectas and at the lowest in those with Republican trifectas. In states with divided governments, the rate exceeded the national average for Democrats.
  6. Republican incumbents facing contested primaries were more likely to be defeated in states with divided governments than in states with trifectas.

To read more about the state legislative incumbents defeated in primaries this year, click here: https://ballotpedia.org/Incuhttps://www.pexels.com/photo/stickers-with-i-voted-inscription-and-flag-of-usa-1550339/mbents_defeated_in_2020%27s_state_legislative_elections