California, Iowa, New Jersey: Midterm primaries to watch on Tuesday that will reshape next Congress

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WASHINGTON – Voters are going to the polls Tuesday in seven states to vote in consequential primary elections.

California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota are holding primaries for federal and local offices that will help determine whether Republicans can win back control of Congress and who will occupy key executive and legislative seats in their states.

The roster of those running includes a California congressman who voted to impeach then-president Donald Trump, a well-known party switcher in New Jersey who angered Trump by supporting an infrastructure bill, the last Democrat in Iowa's congressional delegation, and an ethically scarred former Interior secretary trying to win back a House seat in Montana.


California is home to a number of races that are expected to be some of the most competitive in the country in November's general election as Republicans aim to retake the House.

Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat appointed to fill the remainder of Vice President Kamala Harris' term, is on the ballot for the first time as senator. He's expected to win easily in the primary and the general, as is Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. The most competitive race in the state could be Tuesday’s mayoral election in Los Angeles, where candidates are engaged in an expensive race to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The Golden State has a unique top-two jungle primary system, meaning that the top two placing candidates in state and congressional races Tuesday head into the general election – regardless of their party. If two Democrats receive the most votes on Tuesday in a blue district, for example, they will face off in November, rather than one Democratic nominee facing one Republican nominee.

Both parties see the state as key in the race for control of the House in November.

"California offers major pick-up opportunities for House Democrats," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Madison Mundy told USA Today. "Coming out of California’s June 7th primary, Democrats will be in a strong position to go on the offense."

California Republican primaries to watch

Rep. Young Kim poses for a portrait at her campaign office in Yorba Linda, California, October 6, 2018.
Rep. Young Kim poses for a portrait at her campaign office in Yorba Linda, California, October 6, 2018.

In California’s open third congressional district, Republicans are eager keep the seat held by Rep. Tom McClintock in their column.

McClintock is running for a different seat following redistricting but he's endorsed Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones to replace him. Jones previously ran for Congress but lost to incumbent Democratic Rep. Ami Bera. The Sacramento Bee reported during Jones’ prior run that he was accused of making unwanted sexual advances towards a subordinate, which he denied in a sworn statement. Jones faces a challenger: California GOP assemblyman Kevin Kiley, who has the backing of Trump and the California Republican Party. Whichever Republican receives more votes will likely face Democrat Kermit Jones, a doctor and veteran.

Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach Trump, is the only one of the 10 Republicans who did so to not face a Trump-backed primary challenger. Still, he faces two primary challengers from the right. Valadao’s seat – California’s 22nd – is a Democratic leaning district. The jungle primary will reveal how an impeachment Republican fares without Trump’s direct involvement. Valadao's likely Democratic opponent is state assemblyman Rudy Salas, who has the backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm and the Blue Dog PAC, which backs centrist Democrats.

In California’s 40th district, GOP Rep. Young Kim is running for a second term in a district that's more red thanks to new congressional lines. Kim upset Democratic incumbent Democrat Gil Cisneros in 2020, becoming one of the first Korean Americans elected to Congress. She was a Republican success story in an election that saw Biden win the presidency and Democrats retake the Senate. Now, she represents a district where the majority of voters are new constituents and faces a challenge from the right from Marine corps veteran and former Mission Viejo mayor Greg Raths. Kim’s campaign and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC aligned with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have spent money against Raths in what's become an unexpectedly competitive race.

Republicans will also duke it out Tuesday to take on Democratic Rep. Mike Levin in the state’s 49th district, a seat made less Democratic by redistricting. 2020 candidate Bryan Maryott is running again, with the support of the California Republican party, but first he must defeat fellow Republicans, most notably Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and veteran Christopher Rodriguez.

California Democratic primaries to watch

Mayor of Long Beach Robert Garcia speaks after a tour of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach during a press conference at the Port of Long Beach on January 11, 2022 in Long Beach, California.
Mayor of Long Beach Robert Garcia speaks after a tour of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach during a press conference at the Port of Long Beach on January 11, 2022 in Long Beach, California.

Tuesday's primary will also offer an early look at which Democrats emerge in safe blue seats where they are expected to win in November.

In California’s 15th congressional district, a field of Democrats are running to replace retiring Rep. Jackie Speier, including state Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Kevin Mullin, whom Speier has endorsed. San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa is also vying for the seat with the backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC, as is veteran and former Burlingame Mayor Emily Beach.

Likewise, in California’s 37th district, Sen. Sydney Kamlager’s is expected to ride a substantial lead in the polls and replace longtime Rep. Karen Bass, who also is retiring. Kamlager is backed by Bass, Padilla, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and a wide bench of other lawmakers.

In the 42nd district, several Democrats are vying for a new open seat that meshed together parts of Rep. Alan Lowenthal and Lucille Roybal-Allard’s districts, both of whom are retiring. Much of the Democratic establishment (including Lowenthal) is backing Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia who is the favorite for the seat. If a Republican steals the second spot in the primary, Garcia – who would be the first LGBTQ immigrant to serve in Congress – is all but guaranteed to win come November in the deep blue district. But state assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, another Democrat who wrote the first bill in the nation to eliminate a tax on menstrual products, could advance to the general election.

Democrats are also facing off Tuesday to determine who will compete in a few competitive general elections.

In the 13th congressional district, Republicans have largely coalesced around businessman John Duarte, a farmer named a Young Gun candidate by the National Republican Congressional Committee. State assemblyman Adam Gray and businessman Phil Arballo are vying to take him on in November. Gray is the favorite on the Democratic side of the aisle with a big bench of endorsers, but Arballo has hit him for his record in the state legislature and received the backing of a number of large Democratic groups.

In the state’s 27th district, Democrats Christy Smith and military veteran Quaye Quartey are competing to take on Rep. Mike Garcia, a Republican who represents decidedly blue seat. Smith ran against Garcia twice previously, and came within just 333 votes (out of nearly 339,000 votes cast) of defeating him in 2020, but Quartey has been keeping pace with Smith in the race thus far.

Iowa GOP targets lone Democrat in Congress

Iowa Republicans are vying for the chance to run against the lone remaining Democrat in the Hawkeye state's congressional delegation: Rep. Cindy Axne.

GOP State Sen. Zach Nunn is the frontrunner in the race against political newcomer Nicole Hasslo, a financial services professional. Nunn, a veteran, has the backing of a several current members of Congress and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Construction consultant Gary Leffler, who is also running in the primary, was at the capitol on Jan. 6th, but said he did not enter the building.

Mississippi: Palazzo faces primary

In Mississippi's fourth congressional district, Rep. Steven Palazzo faces a primary from six candidates, including Jackson county sheriff Mike Ezell.

The six-term representative is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for misspending campaign funds and his official congressional allowance, and for misuse of his office, according to the Clarion Ledger. Palazzo has dismissed the allegations as politically motivated.

Zinke plots comeback in Montana

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke enjoys a horseback ride in the Bears Ears National Monument with local and state representatives, near Blanding, Utah in May 2017.
Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke enjoys a horseback ride in the Bears Ears National Monument with local and state representatives, near Blanding, Utah in May 2017.

Former Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, who served two years in the House before joining Trump's cabinet, seeks a return to Congress.

Zinke is the favorite to win the new congressional district Montana was awarded thanks to population shifts determined by the 2020 Census. But he also has faced controversy as Secretary of the Interior and questions of residency in the primary, with Politico reporting that his wife declared primary residency in California.

In addition, Government investigators said earlier this year that Zinke misused his position to advance a development project in his Montana hometown and lied to an agency ethics official about his involvement. Zinke’s campaign called the report “a political hit job” at the time.

More: President Trump's Cabinet shake-up continues: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke out amid ethics cloud

Pro-infrastructure bill Republicans on the ballot in New Jersey

New Jersey Republican Congressmen Chris Smith and Jeff Van Drew are two of the thirteen Republicans who supported the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that Trump has railed against, but neither looks likely to lose their seat in Tuesday's primary.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

Smith faces five primary challengers, but none appear to have broken through at the level necessary to unseat the longtime incumbent. Mike Crispi, one of the contenders, has the backing of former Trump advisers Roger Stone and Michael Flynn and has accused Smith of being a "RINO," a Republican in name only, while portraying himself as the true Trump ally in the race.

Van Drew, who famously switched parties to become a Republican in 2019, faces two challengers: John Barker and Sean Pignatelli. Both have hit Van Drew for his infrastructure vote – as did Trump who blasted the 13 House Republicans voting for the bill.

While both his challengers and accused him of not being Republican enough,  neither is expected to take him down in the primary.

South Dakota's sole Representative faces challenge from the right

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports that this is the first election in which Minority Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., faces a primary in more than 25 years.

The Senate's number two Republican behind GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Thune is considered the heavy favorite to win the race. One time Thune-ally Bruce Walen and Mark Mowry are both challenging Thune from the right. Both echo Trump's false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, unlike Thune.

Sen. John Thune
Sen. John Thune

South Dakota's lone congressman, Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson, is likewise facing a challenger from the right, state Rep. Taffy Howard. Like Thune's challengers, Howard falsely believes there was widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Johnson was not among the 147 members of Congress who objected to Joe Biden's Electoral College win following the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

More: The members of Congress who objected to Joe Biden's Electoral College win amid Capitol riot

"People have three and a half years of actual performance to grade against my claims, and I think the good news for the voters is they're going to be able to see I've done exactly what I told them I was going to do," Johnson told the Argus Leader.

Contributing: Ledyard King

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Midterm primaries in California, Iowa, New Jersey shape next Congress