2022 Midterms: Seven state primaries shape US legislative races

The elections in November will decide the makeup of the US legislature, shaping the final two years of Joe Biden’s term.

Empty poll kiosks await voters at the Mississippi Second Congressional District Primary election precinct in Jackson, Mississippi [File: Rogelio V Solis/The Associated Press]

Several races that will determine the makeup of the US legislature in November have taken shape in the latest round of primary polls in the United States.

The primaries in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota on Tuesday determine which candidates will represent the major US parties in the upcoming midterm elections, as well as who will vie for several influential posts at the state level.

Tuesday’s polls were particularly significant for upcoming US House of Representative races, in which Democrats will seek to maintain their fragile control of the chamber, where they currently hold 220 seats to the Republicans’ 208. Seven seats remain vacant.

Tuesday’s races were less impactful for the US Senate, where 34 seats in the 100-member chamber will be contested.

Democrats, and independents who caucus with them, currently hold 50 seats in the Senate, while Republicans hold the other 50. In votes that require a simple majority, ties are broken by Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat.

However, most legislation currently requires 60 votes to pass.

Family walks near an elections poster
Democratic congressional candidate Representative Andy Kim votes in New Jersey’s primary election [File: Michael Perez/The Associated Press]

Tight House races and toss-ups

Tuesday’s polls set up what are expected to be several tight House races in November.

In California, Republican US Representative Michelle Steel, a South Korean immigrant, claimed her place to face off against Democrat Jay Chen in a diverse district that is widely considered a toss-up.

Results also poised Democrat Christy Smith to take on Republican US Representative Mike Garcia, a vocal proponent of former President Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Garcia had previously beat Smith for the seat in the 2020 election in the typically Democratic-leaning district.

In New Jersey, Representative Tom Malinowski won the Democratic ticket. He will face Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr, who he narrowly beat in 2020 in a district that has since tilted more Republican.

In Iowa, Representaive Cindy Axne, the state’s only Democrat in the US House of Representatives, will take on Republican State Senator Zach Nunn in a newly redrawn district that is expected to lean further Republican.

Ryan Zinke
Former Trump Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is a favourite to win a new House seat in Montana despite a series of ethics investigations while in office [File: Cliff Owen/The Associated Press]

Trump’s sway

Tuesday’s races were again closely watched as a litmus test of Trump’s sway over the Republican party.

In California, early results showed Republican Representative David Valadao, who broke from the party and voted to impeach Trump for his role in the January 6, 2021 US Capitol riot, edging out Republican challenger Chris Mathys, whose campaign largely focused on Valadao’s lack of loyalty to Trump.

In South Dakota, Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota won his state’s Republican primary against state lawmaker Taffy Howard, who repeated Trump’s unfounded claims that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Johnson, who has shown a willingness to work across the aisle in Congress, focused his campaign on his conservative voting record and largely avoided the former president’s election claims.

In Montana, Trump’s former interior secretary Ryan Zinke entered as the favourite to win the Republican primary in a newly created congressional district, despite a raft of ethics investigations while he was in office. However, the race remained too close to call on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, incumbent Republican Representative Steven Palazzo was set for a runoff against two Republican challengers. He failed to win enough votes to claim the nomination after an ethics investigation found “substantial reason to believe” he has abused his office by misspending campaign funds.

Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom has easily progressed in his re-election bid. [File: Rich Pedroncelli/The Associated Press]

Few surprises for incumbent senators, governors

In Iowa, Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral, won the Democratic primary and will take on 88-year-old Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the favourite to win in November.

In South Dakota, Senator John Thune defeated two little known challengers to become the Republican candidate and heavy favourite to win in the conservative state during the general election.

Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom easily defeated challenger Brian Dahle and is the heavy favourite to win his re-election bid in November, while Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem won the Republican primary. She will face off against Democrat Jamie Smith, who ran uncontested in the Democratic primary in the conservative state.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies