The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

6 takeaways from primaries in California, Mississippi and other states

Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) arrives with his family to vote in the Mississippi primary Tuesday in Brandon, just outside the capital, Jackson. (Hannah Mattix/Clarion-Ledger/AP)

The United States held its biggest primary night of 2022 — by volume, at least — on Tuesday, with voters in seven states nominating candidates for November: California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

California’s much-watched results will take longer to come in, as will results in some races. So keep checking back for updates. But here are some early takeaways from the races we know about so far.

1. Voters in blue cities send a message on crime — again

It’s become apparent that voters even in blue cities are willing to punish Democrats who are perceived as too soft on crime. Tuesday resulted in some particularly pronounced examples of that trend.

In San Francisco, voters made the historic decision to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who won office in 2019 while running on the idea of a less punitive criminal justice system, including ending cash bail and sending fewer people to prison. The latest results show voters recalling him by a strong margin, 60 percent to 40 percent, with an estimated 61 percent of votes counted.

In Los Angeles, Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who was once considered a contender to be President Biden’s vice president, look to be headed for a runoff in the mayor’s race. But Caruso, a former longtime Republican who made fighting crime the centerpiece of his campaign, led Bass by 42 to 37 percent early on.

The results come after voters delivered similar verdicts in the 2021 elections. In Minneapolis, Buffalo, Seattle and on Long Island in New York, they voted against candidates and measures related to the “defund the police” movement and ending cash bail. But Boudin might now be the chief example, given his policies and San Francisco’s reputation as one of the most liberal cities in the country.

President Biden and other top Democrats have tried to steer their party away from “defund the police” and other related efforts, clearly worrying about the potential cost at the ballot box. And few in Congress have actually embraced that movement. But the local level has often been another matter, and Tuesday provided the latest warning sign about the potency of this issue.

2. Jan. 6 commission suddenly an issue?

The House Jan. 6 investigation committee has conducted over 1,000 interviews with insurrectionists and Trump aides. Here’s what’s next. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Later this week, the House Jan. 6 committee will begin holding public hearings on the Capitol insurrection. And on Tuesday, lawmakers’ previous votes on a 9/11-style bipartisan Jan. 6 commission suddenly became a flash point.

Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), who was one of 35 House Republicans to vote for the commission, found himself unexpectedly fighting for his political life, in a result few saw coming. Guest and Michael Cassidy are now headed for a runoff, with neither getting a majority of the vote.

Another House Republican who voted for the commission was Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.). He wound up surviving his primary against state Rep. Taffy Howard but was taking only about 59 percent of the vote — less than other statewide South Dakota GOP officials facing primaries. Howard has attacked Johnson for being too bipartisan, including by declining to sign on to then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

As the Johnson example shows, it’s difficult to say how much of these dynamics stemmed from that particular vote. Unlike votes to impeach Trump, votes for the Jan. 6 commission (which failed in the Senate before the House launched a less bipartisan select committee) have yet to register as a major issue. But that’s in part because there is overlap between that issue and others in which members crossed partisan lines (such as the impeachment votes).

Another of the commission’s supporters in the House GOP, Rep. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.), lost his primary last month. But that was against a fellow incumbent, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) who also targeted McKinley for the latter’s vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

So we’ll have to keep an eye on that.

3. More incumbent trouble

Guest wasn’t the only Mississippi Republican struggling.

Rep. Steven M. Palazzo is also headed for a runoff after trying to fend off a challenge stemming from his alleged misuse of funds. He was at 32 percent, well shy of the majority needed to avoid a runoff, with 97 percent of the votes counted. That’s also a number that suggests an incumbent is likely to lose their runoff. (It appears his runoff opponent will be Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell.)

And in California, Reps. David G. Valadao (R) and Young Kim (R) were trying to finish first or second in their respective districts in the state’s top-two primary system.

Valadao was one of 10 Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment, but he escaped having to face a high-profile Trump-backed challenger. (His opponent, Chris Mathys, lost GOP primaries in New Mexico in 2018 and 2020.) Despite that, though, Valadao was taking 26 percent to Mathys’s 19 percent, with about one-third of the vote in. Whoever emerges will face Democrat Rudy Salas in a blue-leaning district.

Kim was running in a substantially unfamiliar district after redistricting. So far, it looks like she’ll make the general election, taking 34 percent to Republican Greg Raths’s 24.5 percent, with more than half of the vote in.

Were more incumbents to fall, they would join four predecessors. McKinley and Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) lost incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchups, while moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) fell to a more liberal challenger in a substantially redrawn district, and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) lost after a string of personal problems.

4. The Trump update

Virtually every primary night has allowed us to glean some clues about Trump’s hold over the GOP and status as a kingmaker — with a decidedly mixed verdict thus far.

Tuesday’s primaries, by contrast, included few big tests. But there still were some notable results.

In New Jersey, Trump-aligned Republican Frank Pallotta pulled an upset against Nick De Gregorio. Democrats had attacked Pallotta for being too Trumpy, in a clear effort to elevate him. Though Trump had backed Pallotta in his failed 2020 bid for the same seat, he didn’t endorse him this time. But De Gregorio had the backing of the Bergen County GOP, a status which gives a candidate prominent ballot placement in New Jersey and almost always means they’ll win. (The winner faces Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer in a blue-leaning seat.)

And in Montana, former Trump interior secretary Ryan Zinke was in a very tight race in his bid to return to Congress, leading former state senator Al Olszewski 41-40 with about 92 percent of expected votes in. Trump backed Zinke despite his resigning from the administration in 2018 amid ethics investigations. Zinke was attacked from the right as supposedly being too liberal.

It looks like he’ll emerge, but it was another nail-biter for a Trump candidate.

5. Effort to thwart Medicaid expansion fails in S.D.

In South Dakota, an attempted workaround to thwart Medicaid expansion failed badly. Opponents of the expansion, which will be on the ballot in November, tried to get the state to adjust the threshold for it and similar ballot measures to 60 percent, rather than a simple majority. The practical impact of this proposed rule, which was on the primary ballot Tuesday, would’ve been a majority of voters deciding to prevent another majority from expanding Medicaid later this year.

In the end, it came nowhere close to a majority: constitutional Amendment C was defeated 67-33 early Wednesday. The thrust of the effort was clear: Proponents of Medicaid expansion have succeeded in the face of GOP opposition even in red states by using ballot measures, but the measures only once exceeded 60 percent approval — in Idaho, in 2018.

If a majority votes in favor of expanding Medicaid in November, South Dakota will the 39th state to do so.

6. A rare father-son duo in New Jersey

Come January, it appears New Jersey will be sending two Robert Menendezes (Bobs Menendez?) to Congress. That’s after the senator’s son, Robert Menendez Jr., easily won a primary in the 8th Congressional District.

It’s very common for family members to win the House seats previously held by their relatives. Far less common is two generations of one family serving in Congress simultaneously; the New York Times reported this has happened only a handful of times. The last time appears to be when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) overlapped for two years with his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a decade ago.

The younger Menendez, a lawyer and first-time candidate, will be a heavy favorite come November to take the House seat his father vacated to join the Senate in 2006.