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8 things to watch in Tuesday’s primaries

<i>Morgan Lee/AP</i><br/>A woman signs in to receive a primary election ballot at an early voting center in Santa Fe
Morgan Lee/AP
A woman signs in to receive a primary election ballot at an early voting center in Santa Fe

By Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Gregory Krieg, CNN

Tuesday’s primary elections in seven states will once again test whether Republican voters are willing to punish incumbents with track records of winning competitive races for failing to be sufficiently supportive of former President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, in California, frustrations over crime and homelessness have shaped an effort to recall San Francisco’s district attorney. And the Los Angeles mayor’s race pits a billionaire Republican-turned-Democrat against a veteran congresswoman who was on President Joe Biden’s vice presidential short list.

California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey and South Dakota are all set to hold primaries Tuesday. In California, the top two finishers regardless of party will advance to November’s general election; the other states’ parties will select their nominees for the midterms.

Here are eight things to watch in Tuesday’s primaries:

Billionaire former Republican vs. progressive Democrat in liberal Los Angeles

Can a former Republican real estate developer cash in his years of private power in Los Angeles to become the liberal bastion’s next mayor?

That is the question at stake in Southern California on Tuesday, where billionaire Rick Caruso is giving Rep. Karen Bass a stout challenge in their bids to be mayor of Los Angeles.

Caruso has poured millions of his own fortune into the race, pledging to tackle the city’s pervasive homelessness, combat corruption and address the city’s crime rate by increasing the size of the police force. In a television ad, the former Republican said he was running “because the city we love is in a state of emergency,” citing “rampant homelessness” and “people living in fear for their safety.”

Bass, a longtime congresswoman and former member of the California State Assembly, is highlighting many of the same issues — including crime and homelessness — but with a more progressive message and is touting her connection to the city. If she were to become Los Angeles’ mayor, she would be the first woman to hold the office.

There is a good chance this could be just the first time Caruso and Bass face off. If no candidate in the 12-person field gets 50% of the vote, the top two finishers in the race move on to a runoff in November.

San Francisco district attorney at risk of recall

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin was swept into office in 2019 on concerns over police misconduct, criminal justice reform and mass incarceration, a high point for the movement to elect more progressive prosecutors.

Three years — and one pandemic — later, the winds have so dramatically shifted against the progressive district attorney and his lax approach to certain kinds of crime that he is facing a recall.

The effort, and Boudin’s time in office, cannot be separated from the coronavirus pandemic, which coincided with a rise in property crime rates in San Francisco. The recall is as much about the feeling among San Francisco residents as it is about crime rates — homelessness remains a persistent issue in the city as residents report feeling uncomfortable in large swaths of commercial areas because of drug use and crime.

Boudin has sought to fight the effort by labeling it a natural reaction to the election of a progressive prosecutor, linking the effort to Republicans and police unions. But while Republican money is helping the effort, the push to recall Boudin was initially supported by Democrats.

House Republicans face challenges from the right

Across Tuesday’s primary map, House Republicans are facing challengers who have cast doubt on their conservative bona fides and their loyalty to Trump.

In California, Rep. David Valadao — one of 10 Republicans to support Trump’s 2021 impeachment — is facing a challenge from Republican Chris Mathys, who has campaigned as an ardent Trump supporter and made Valadao’s vote his core argument against the incumbent.

In South Dakota, a trio of statewide elected Republicans, Gov. Kristi Noem, Sen. John Thune and Rep. Dusty Johnson, face primaries from the right. The most serious challenge appears to be state Rep. Taffy Howard’s effort to oust Johnson. She has embraced Trump’s lies about the 2020 election results and criticized Johnson for voting to certify Electoral College votes.

And in New Jersey, Rep. Chris Smith, who was first elected in 1980, is squaring off with conservative talk-radio host Mike Crispi and former FBI agent Steve Gray, who cast the veteran incumbent as too moderate.

California’s ‘Orange Curtain’ trends back toward Republicans

In 2018, Orange County offered Democrats what it had offered millions of people before: endless opportunity and significant promise. The party seized on anti-Republican sentiments and turned the historically Republican area — known politically as California’s Orange Curtain — into a Democratic stronghold, winning all six congressional seats in the county that year.

But times have changed.

In 2020, Republicans won back two seats in Orange County — Michelle Steel and Young Kim defeated Democratic incumbents to flip two seats — and the party is hopeful it could win at least two other Orange County congressional seats this year, which could be a historically bad year for Democrats.

The shift highlights how quickly the political landscape in an area can shift. In just four years, Democrats went from newly dominant in Orange County to notably threatened.

A changing of the guard in New Jersey? (Sort of.)

The candidates might be new, but the names are not.

New Jersey is home to some of the most powerful political machines in the country and, though a few have been rattled in recent election cycles, their strength is expected to be on display again this year.

In northern Jersey’s 8th Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Albio Sires’ retirement announcement did not trigger a rush of candidates to the safe blue district across the Hudson River from New York City. Instead, Sires and other local leaders quickly endorsed Robert Menendez Jr., son of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez. The younger Menendez has vastly outraised and outspent the two other candidates, David Ocampo Grajales and Ane Roseborough-Eberhard.

Nearby, in the heavily Democratic 10th Congressional District, Rep. Donald Payne Jr. is a strong favorite to win the nomination again despite a spirited challenge from Imani Oakley, the former New Jersey Working Families legislative director. Oakley’s campaign was dealt a blow during a redistricting process that helped consolidate Payne’s base. Akil Khalfani, director of the Africana Institute at Essex County College, is also in the race. He ran as an independent in the 2020 election, but won barely 1% of the vote.

On the Republican side, the big race on Tuesday is in central Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, where former state Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr., son of former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, is the leader in a crowded field vying for a general election date with Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, who narrowly defeated Kean Jr. in 2020. But Malinowski, who has faced ethics questions, will have an uphill battle to win again after the seat was shorn of some Democratic strongholds during redistricting.

Troubled Mississippi Republican faces primary challenge

Rep. Steven Palazzo, first elected to Congress during the tea party wave of 2010, faces six Republican primary challengers amid allegations he misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign and congressional funds and used his office to help his brother’s effort to reenlist in the Navy.

Among his rivals in the Gulf Coast district, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell and Hancock County businessman Clay Wagner are considered the most likely to, if not defeat Palazzo, then to send the race to a June 28 runoff. The winner on Tuesday needs more than 50% of the vote to clinch the nomination. State Sen. Brice Wiggins, Carl Boyanton, Kidron Peterson and Raymond Brooks are also in the running.

In addition to the ethics controversies, Palazzo’s opponents have criticized him over his attendance record in Congress. Despite publicly opposing proxy voting in the House, he has made good use of the option, exercising it dozens of times even after joining a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi trying to stop it.

And in another potentially damaging episode, Palazzo made headlines last month when he bowed out of a candidate forum citing “meetings dealing with national security” — then posted a picture online with his son at a restaurant during the event.

California Central Valley seat to be filled

The next occupant of former GOP Rep. Devin Nunes’ onetime congressional district will be selected on Tuesday.

The seat was vacated when Nunes, the controversial congressman who attempted to help Trump avoid scrutiny around Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, decided to leave Congress to become CEO of Trump’s media company, Trump Media & Technology Group.

The seat, which includes much of California’s San Joaquin Valley, leans toward Republicans and all indications are that Republican Connie Conway, the former minority leader in the California State Assembly, will win the race. She finished well ahead of Democrat Lourin Hubbard in the April primary.

Zinke tries for Montana comeback

Former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who left his seat for a scandal-plagued tenure as Trump’s interior secretary, is attempting a political comeback in Montana — but is facing familiar questions about whether he spends most of his time there or in California.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and Montana state senator who was first elected to the House in 2014 and reelected in 2016 before resigning to join Trump’s Cabinet, is seizing on an opening created when the 2020 census results handed the Treasure State a second congressional district. Rep. Matt Rosendale, who holds the state’s one at-large district seat, is running for reelection in the newly created 2nd District, while Zinke campaigns in the 1st District.

But Zinke is facing criticism from rivals to his right over whether he was sufficiently supportive of Trump and the former President’s effort to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

He also faces questions about whether he lives in Montana after Politico reported last month that his wife had claimed a home in Santa Barbara, California, as her primary residence on tax records and other forms. Zinke’s campaign responded to the report by saying he lives in Whitefish, Montana, and that his wife had inherited and kept her parents’ former home in California, of which she is the sole owner.

Zinke faces four other candidates in Tuesday’s primary, including former state Sen. Albert Olszewski and pastor Mary Todd.

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