Twenty-six incumbents face contested primaries in California, down from recent cycles

Twenty-six of the 69 California state legislators running for re-election this year—21 Democrats and five Republicans—face contested primaries. This is fewer than the 37 incumbents in contested primaries in 2018 and 2020, but more than in earlier cycles.

California began using top-two primaries in 2012, where every candidate, regardless of party affiliation, appears on the same ballot, and the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election. In 2010 and before, California held partisan primaries where candidates from each party competed against one another to win their parties’ nominations for the general election.

While the number of incumbents in contested primaries increased after the switch in 2012, most ultimately advance to the general election. Only two state legislative incumbents have lost in a top-two primary in California: Assms. Tyler Diep (R) and William Brough (R) in 2020.

One reason for the decrease of incumbents in contested primaries is the increase in open districts. Thirty-four of the state’s 100 legislative districts holding elections this year are open, meaning no incumbents filed to run. This is the most open districts since 2012.

Open districts can exist for a number of reasons. An incumbent might choose to retire or seek another office. They might also be prohibited from running due to term limits. Open districts are also common after redistricting when incumbents might be drawn into a new district, leaving their old district open.

This year, there are 31 retiring incumbents: 20 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and one independent. Of that total, seven incumbents were term-limited, all in the Senate. The remaining three open districts were caused by incumbents running against other incumbents in Assembly Districts 34, 73, and 75.

Overall, 295 candidates filed to run in top-two state legislative primaries this year: 168 Democrats, 119 Republicans, and eight independent or third-party candidates.

California has had a Democratic trifecta since 2011 following the election of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Democrats currently hold a 31-9 majority in the Senate and a 58-19-1 majority in the Assembly.

California’s state legislative primaries are scheduled for June 7, the sixth statewide primary date of the 2022 election cycle.

Additional reading:

Primary watch: number of contested state legislative primaries is up 41% compared to 2020

The number of contested state legislative primaries is up 41% this year compared to 2020. Democratic primaries are down 6%, Republican primaries are up 76%, and top-two/four primaries are up 18%.

These figures include data from 16 states that account for 1,850 of the 6,166 state legislative seats up for election this year (30%).

A primary is contested when more candidates file to run than nominations available, meaning at least one candidate must lose.

Three states in this analysis have Democratic trifectas, 10 have Republican trifectas, and three have divided governments.

Of the 16 states in this analysis, 14 are holding partisan primaries. Two states—California and Nebraska—use top-two primaries.

The number of Democratic primaries has increased in six states, decreased in six, and remains the same in two. The number of Republican primaries has increased in 13 states and decreased in one. The table below shows partisan statistics for the three states with the largest increases and decreases so far.

In addition to a state’s political makeup and party activity, redistricting is another reason for an increase in primary competitiveness.

After redistricting, some states—like Arkansas—hold elections for every district, while in other years, fewer districts are up each cycle. This creates more opportunities for primaries to occur. Or, like in West Virginia, redistricting creates new districts and, by extension, more primary opportunities.

Ballotpedia will continue to update these figures as information becomes available. In addition to this analysis, Ballotpedia collects competitiveness statistics at all levels of government, available here. This data is calculated following candidate filing deadlines and readjusted at the time of the primary to account for any changes to candidate lists.

North Dakota has its most contested state legislative primaries since 2014

From 2014 to 2020, the number of state legislative primaries in North Dakota with more than one candidate ranged from four to six. This year, the number of contested primaries rose to 24, a 300% increase from 2020. This represents 18% of all possible primary contests.

Of those candidates involved in primaries, 27 are incumbents, representing 37% of incumbents seeking re-election, the largest such percentage since 2014. As a result of redistricting, two incumbents—Sens. Robert Fors (R) and Randy Lemm (R)—were drawn into the same district, setting up an incumbent versus incumbent primary.

The filing deadline for candidates running for state or federal office in North Dakota this year was April 11. Candidates filed to run for 66 of the 97 House seats and 32 of the 47 Senate seats.

Twenty-seven of those seats were left open, meaning no incumbents filed to run, the most since 2014. That represents 28% of the seats up for election this year, all of which are guaranteed to be won by newcomers.

Overall, 168 major party candidates filed to run this year: 45 Democrats and 113 Republicans. That’s 1.7 candidates per seat, down from 1.9 in 2020 and 1.8 in 2018.

North Dakota has been a Republican trifecta since Republicans won control of the Senate in 1994. Republicans currently hold a 40-7 majority in the Senate and an 80-14 majority in the House.

North Dakota’s state legislative primaries are scheduled from June 14, making them the 21st in the nation.

Additional reading:

Vargas defeats Shelton in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary election

Tony Vargas defeated Alisha Shelton in the May 10 Democratic Party primary for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, receiving 72% of the vote to Shelton’s 28%.

Vargas served on the Omaha Board of Education from 2013 to 2016 and won election to Nebraska State Senate District 7 in 2016, defeating John Synowiecki in the general election with 62% of the vote to Synowiecki’s 38%. He was re-elected in 2020, defeating Jorge Sotolongo 78% to 22%. Before taking office, Vargas worked in the nonprofit sector and as a public school teacher. Vargas said he was a bipartisan leader in the state senate and would work with Republicans in Congress. “I’ve served on the Appropriations Committee, passing balanced budgets that also focus on people, on businesses, on our schools, and our healthcare. I’ve worked and chaired our planning committee. I’ve been in leadership in the legislature not because of anything other than the way I lead and the way that I operate,” Vargas said. If Vargas wins the general election, he would be the first Latino Congressman to represent Nebraska.

Shelton worked as a clinical supervisor, program director, and therapist and ran for U.S. Senate in 2020, where she finished third in the Democratic primary behind primary winner Chris Janicek (D) and Angie Philips (D). In a campaign email, Shelton said “we need a leader who will fight for change,” and said she was “an everyday Nebraskan who understands what it is like to try and succeed in an economy that does not work for all of us and navigate a healthcare system that is ridden with red tape.” Shelton also said she was “always going to be for whatever is going to be best for this community, what’s best for Nebraska, and what’s best for Nebraska is someone who can think clearly and level-headed without money dangling in front of them.”

Since 1999, the only Democrat elected to represent Nebraska’s Second Congressional District was Brad Ashford (D), who assumed office in 2015. Ashford defeated incumbent Lee Terry (R), who held the seat from 1999 to 2015, in the 2014 general election with 49% of the vote to Terry’s 46%. Ashford was then defeated 49%-48% in the 2016 general election by the current incumbent, Don Bacon (R). Bacon won the Republican primary in the district.

The Cook Political Report rated the 2022 general election for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District as Likely Republican, and both Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated it Lean Republican.

No incumbents defeated in Nebraska’s state Senate primary elections

All 11 incumbents seeking re-election to the Nebraska Senate will advance to the general election after winning their respective primary elections on May 10.

Since 2010, only one incumbent state senator has lost in a contested primary in Nebraska: Sen. Nicole Fox (R) in 2016.

Six of the incumbents running for re-election faced contested primaries with the remaining five guaranteed to advance due to a lack of challengers.

The following three races featuring incumbents remain too close to call, though the incumbents currently lead in vote totals and will likely advance. The closeness, instead, is to determine the second-place candidate:

Nebraska uses nonpartisan, top-two primaries for its Senate where every candidate appears on the same primary ballot regardless and without party identification. The top-two vote-getters then advance to the general election.

Since candidates are not identified using party labels, Ballotpedia uses a mixture of candidate statements, party endorsements, and publicly available voter registration data to determine the partisan affiliations of incumbents and challengers.

Because of Nebraska’s top-two system, two candidates from the same party can advance to the general election.

There are five races where two Republicans will compete in the general election and one race where two Democrats will compete. There are also two races where only one Republican candidate filed and will face no opposition in the general election. This list may grow as additional races are called.

Republicans hold a 31-17 majority in the state Senate, which currently has one vacancy. Senators are elected to four-year terms. This year, 24 of the 49 districts are holding elections.

Rate of state legislative incumbents facing contested primaries in Pennsylvania at its highest since 2014

Forty-two of the 190 Pennsylvania state legislators running for re-election this year—20 Democrats and 22 Republicans—face contested primaries. That equals 22% of incumbents seeking re-election, the highest rate since 2014. The remaining 78% of incumbents are not facing primary challengers.

A contested primary is one where more candidates are running than there are nominations available. After redistricting, it is common to see primaries where two incumbents run against one another. This can happen if a district’s lines are redrawn to place two incumbents in the same district.

This year, there are three incumbent versus incumbent primaries in Pennsylvania. In these races, since only one candidate can win the nomination, one incumbent is guaranteed to lose:

The total number of contested primaries—including those without incumbents—also reached its highest point since 2014. With 228 districts, there are 456 possible primaries every election cycle.

This year, 81 districts (18%) are contested: 35 Democratic primaries and 46 for Republicans. For Democrats, this is up from 33 in 2020, a 6% increase. For Republicans, the number increased 84% from 25 primaries last cycle.

The filing deadline for candidates running for state legislative office in Pennsylvania this year was March 28. Candidates filed to run for all of the state’s 203 House districts and 25 of its 50 Senate districts.

Forty of those districts were left open, meaning no incumbents filed to run, the most since 2014.

Overall, 454 major party candidates filed to run this year: 207 Democrats and 247 Republicans. That’s 2.0 candidates per district, the same as in 2020.

Pennsylvania has been a divided government since voters elected Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in 2014. Republicans currently hold a 28-20-1 majority in the Senate and a 113-90 majority in the House.

Pennsylvania’s state legislative primaries are scheduled for May 17, making them the sixth in the nation.

Additional reading:

Challenger receives 62% of vote in primary, will face incumbent in Nebraska State Board of Education election in November

Elizabeth Tegtmeier and incumbent Robin Stevens advanced from the primary for Nebraska State Board of Education District 7 on May 10, 2022. Based on unofficial returns, Tegtmeier received 62.4% of the vote, Stevens received 20.4%, and Pat Moore received 17.2%. District 7 includes 44 counties in western Nebraska.

At the center of this primary was a March 2021 proposal that would have established statewide K-12 health education standards. The proposal included teaching all students about gender identity and stereotypes. High school students would have also learned about homophobia, transphobia, and sexual assault. The Nebraska Department of Education developed the proposal as part of its regular process to update standards in several subject areas as required by state law.

The proposal went through multiple draft iterations. In Sept. 2021, the board voted 5-1 to pause the development of these new standards indefinitely. Stevens voted with the majority.

Stevens told the Lexington Clipper-Herald that the board needed to re-establish public trust. “We didn’t do a good job early on of getting the health standards out to people, it hurt us and it hurt us badly. I understand that,” he said.

At a campaign event, Tegtmeier said she chose to run after hearing a state senator speak about the proposed standards, saying, “I didn’t want to get 10 years down the road and have to tell my kids that I thought about doing something but just didn’t do it.”

Moore told the Omaha World-Herald that the proposed health standards showed the board needed change. Moore said, “Some of the processes that have been in place I believe need challenged and some of the thinking the board members have need challenged.”

The Nebraska State Board of Education is an elected executive agency of the Nebraska state government, responsible for managing the state’s public schools. At the time of the primary election, the board’s mission was “to lead and support the preparation of all Nebraskans for learning, earning, and living.” The board has eight members: four elected during presidential election years and four elected during midterm election years.

Idaho Republican gubernatorial primary includes sitting governor and lieutenant governor for first time since 1938

Eight candidates are running in the Republican primary for governor of Idaho on May 17. Incumbent Gov. Brad Little and Janice McGeachin, the state’s current lieutenant governor, lead in fundraising and media attention.

Idaho is one of 17 states where the lieutenant governor is nominated in a separate primary and elected in a separate general election from the governor. According to the Idaho Press‘s Betsy Russell, an incumbent Idaho governor has not been challenged in a primary by the lieutenant governor since 1938. 

The Idaho Statesman’s Ryan Suppe said of Little and McGeachin, “The two former allies … have had a tense relationship in recent years.” Much of that tension has revolved around responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In two instances in 2021, McGeachin issued executive orders related to COVID-19 measures—the first, while Little was at a Republican Governors Association meeting, banning mask mandates, and the second, while Little was at the U.S.-Mexico border, expanding a prohibition against state entities requiring vaccination or testing. Little rescinded both orders the following day.

The Idaho Constitution says that if the governor is absent from the state, the duties of the office transfer to the lieutenant governor. McGeachin and Little disagreed on whether the Idaho Constitution transfers the duties of the governor’s office to the lieutenant governor in the event of the governor’s physical absence or effective absence.

Little is running on his record, saying that his first term was “marked by historic tax relief, unparalleled red tape reduction, extraordinary economic growth, and unprecedented investments in education.” He said, “During my first term, together, we achieved billions in historic tax relief, record investments in transportation, and continued our strong support for education in Idaho.” Little said, “I am committed to continuing to lead Idaho with my goal for Idaho in mind to make Idaho the place where we all can have the opportunity to thrive, where our children and grandchildren choose to stay, and for the ones who have left to choose to return.” The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund and the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Little.

McGeachin said she is “running for Governor to restore the principles that have Made Idaho Great — individual liberty, state sovereignty, and traditional conservative values.” She said she is a “proven conservative leader with an established track record of working with others to promote fiscal responsibility.” McGeachin said, “My campaign has been endorsed by President Trump because I stand for America First policies including individual liberty, election integrity, a strong and secure border, school choice, energy independence, reducing taxes and regulations, and supporting American businesses.” Former President Donald Trump (R) endorsed McGeachin in Nov. 2021.

Also running in the primary are Steven Bradshaw, Ben Cannady, Ed Humphreys, Ashley Jackson, Lisa Marie, and Cody Usabel. 

Major independent observers rate the general election as Solid/Safe Republican. Republicans have had trifecta control of Idaho state government since 1995. The last time a Democrat was elected to statewide office in Idaho was for superintendent of public instruction in 2002.

Indiana primaries result in more defeated state legislative incumbents than at any point since 2012

Six state legislative incumbents—all Republicans—lost in Indiana’s May 3 primaries, the most since 2012. This represents 20% of the 30 incumbents who faced primary challengers and 5% of the 114 incumbents who filed for re-election.

The incumbents who lost are:

Only Republican incumbents have lost in state legislative primaries since 2012. The last Democratic incumbent defeated in a contested primary was Rep. Greg Simms, who lost in 2008.

Three of the six incumbent defeats were guaranteed heading into the primaries due to redistricting. In these races, two incumbents ran against each other after being drawn into the same district, meaning at least one would lose:

  • House District 22: Rep. Craig Snow defeated Nisly after Snow, who previously represented House District 18, was drawn into Nisly’s district. Nisly was first elected in 2014 after defeating incumbent Rep. Rebecca Kubacki in that year’s Republican primary.
  • House District 45: Rep. Bruce Borders defeated Ellington. Ellington previously represented House District 62 but was drawn into Borders’ district.
  • Senate District 47: Sen. Kevin Boehnlein defeated Byrne after Boehnlein, who previously represented Senate District 46, was drawn into Byrne’s district. 

Four of these primaries were among the top 10 races in terms of fundraising thus far this cycle. In three of those races, the candidate who raised the most money won. In House District 50, incumbent Leonard outraised his challenger, Lorissa Sweet, and lost.

The six incumbents defeated in Indiana’s primary elections bring the total number of incumbents defeated up to seven nationwide this cycle. One Democratic incumbent—Rep. Art Fierro—lost in an incumbent v. incumbent primary in Texas on March 1. Across Indiana and Texas, there were 74 incumbents in primary challenges with 9.5% resulting in incumbent defeats.

Additional reading:

Arkansas has the most contested state legislative primaries since at least 2014

From 2014 to 2020, the number of state legislative primaries in Arkansas with more than one candidate ranged from 21 to 27. This year, the number of contested primaries rose to 62. This represents 28% of the possible state legislative primaries this year.

The number of contested Republican primaries more than tripled from 2020, increasing from 16 to 52. The number of contested Democratic primaries doubled compared to 2020, from five to 10. These numbers represent the most contested primaries for each party since at least 2014.

Of those candidates involved in contested primaries, 29 are incumbents, representing 28% of incumbents seeking re-election, the largest such percentage since at least 2014. As a result of redistricting, two incumbents—Reps. Mark McElroy (R) and David Tollett (R)—were drawn into the same district, setting up the legislature’s only incumbent versus incumbent primary.

The filing deadline for candidates running for state or federal office in Arkansas this year was March 1. Candidates filed to run for all of the state’s 100 House and 35 Senate districts.

Thirty-two of those districts were left open, meaning no incumbents filed to run, the most since at least 2014. That represents about 24% of districts holding elections this year, all of which are guaranteed to be won by newcomers.

Overall, 263 major party candidates filed to run this year: 74 Democrats and 189 Republicans. That’s 1.9 candidates per district, an increase from the 1.6 candidates per district in 2020 and 1.7 in 2018.

Arkansas has been a Republican trifecta since 2014 when Asa Hutchinson (R) won the governorship. Republicans currently hold a 27-7-1 majority in the Senate and a 78-22 majority in the House.

Arkansas’ state legislative primaries are scheduled for May 24, making them the 11th in the nation.

Additional reading: