Five things to watch in California and beyond in Tuesday’s primaries

Election worker Donna Young inspects a mail-in ballot
Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli
Election worker Donna Young inspects a mail-in ballot for damage at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters in Sacramento, Calif., on June 3, 2022.

Voters in the nation’s largest state will head to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots in a series of marquee races. 

In San Francisco, voters will decide whether to boot their top prosecutor out of office, while Los Angeles residents will move a step closer to choosing their next mayor. There are also a pair of closely watched House races that will test the power of two GOP incumbents. 

But California’s not the only state with primaries on Tuesday. There are also nominating contests in a half-dozen other states, including Iowa, Montana and New Jersey.  

Here are five things to watch in Tuesday’s primaries. 

Does San Francisco recall flash warning signs for progressives on crime?  

San Francisco voters are set to answer a key question on Tuesday: Should the city’s progressive top prosecutor stay, or should he go? 

The election to decide the fate of District Attorney Chesa Boudin has emerged as a local race with national implications. Boudin is among the most progressive top prosecutors in the country, and the election to recall him is widely seen as a referendum on the left’s approach to crime. 

Proponents of the recall — including both Republicans and some Democrats — have spent massively on the campaign to oust Boudin. What little polling there has been in the recall effort suggests that the San Francisco DA is at serious risk of losing his job.  

To be sure, there’s little evidence that Boudin’s tenure in the district attorney’s office has led to a significant increase in crime. But critics say that his lenient approach to the issue has empowered perpetrators and made many residents feel unsafe.  

If the recall vote ultimately succeeds, San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) will appoint a replacement until voters choose a new DA in November.  

Does spending tip the scales in the LA mayor’s race?  

Billionaire Rick Caruso has pumped tens of millions of dollars of his personal fortune into the race to become Los Angeles’s next mayor, dropping some $34 million on the race so far. 

Whether that staggering investment pays off is one of the most intriguing questions heading into Tuesday. 

His main rival in the mayoral race is Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who emerged as a potential running mate for President Biden during the 2020 election.  

Bass and an affiliated super PAC have only spent about $2 million on TV advertising in the race, putting her far behind Caruso, a former Republican who changed his party affiliation to Democrat this year around the time he launched his campaign for mayor. 

The mayor’s race is an all-party primary, and if no candidate on the ballot manages to surpass the 50 percent threshold, it will advance to a November general election where voters will choose between the top two vote-getters. 

Still, Caruso’s hefty spending in the race is only the latest test of influence for wealthy individuals and super PACs as they look to elect Democratic candidates cut from a more moderate cloth, especially at a time when progressives are trying to flex their political muscles.

What does California turnout say about Democratic motivation? 

Turnout in California is lagging, with just 1 in 10 registered voters having cast their ballots in the primaries so far.  

The lackluster early turnout is a major change from last year, when California voters weighed in on the state’s gubernatorial recall election. 

The outlook could change, but the uninspired voter turnout so far could offer some hints about just how motivated voters are this year in the nation’s largest — and one of its bluest — states. 

Of course, there may be other reasons for the low turnout. Unlike in many other states, there are few, if any, major races at the top of the ticket in California this year.  

Nevertheless, it’s easier than ever to cast a ballot in California. The state sends every registered voter a mail ballot and allows people other than the voter to collect and return those ballots.

Does a blue wave Democrat pull it off in Iowa?   

Former Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) was among the candidates who helped Democrats win back the House majority in 2018 in a wave election year for the party. But her time in the House was short; she was ousted in 2020 by Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa).  

Now, Finkenauer is hoping to return to Washington, this time as a U.S. senator.  

But she’s facing an unexpectedly stiff primary challenge from retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Senate nomination in Iowa two years ago and has shown signs of closing the gap with Finkenauer in recent months. 

Franken has outpaced Finkenauer in the money race in each of the past two fundraising periods and has drastically outspent her on advertising.  

Polling in the primary has been scarce, though an internal poll from Franken’s campaign last month showed the two candidates statistically deadlocked, with 42 percent of likely Democratic primary voters backing Franken and 40 percent backing Finkenauer.  

Whoever emerges from the primary will still have to face Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in November, and defeating the seven-term GOP senator is likely to be an uphill battle for any Democrat. 

Do GOP incumbents fall to right-wing challengers?

A handful of GOP incumbents are facing challenges from their right on Tuesday, turning the primaries into tests of how far Republican voters have swung. 

In South Dakota, Rep. Dusty Johnson is up against state Rep. Taffy Howard, who has the backing Drain the Swamp, a PAC that is pushing former President Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. 

In California, Rep. Young Kim is getting help from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, as she looks to fend off a primary challenge from Mission Viejo City Councilman Greg Raths.  

And in New Jersey, conservative commentator Mike Crispi is running to oust Rep. Chris Smith, who drew Trump’s ire after he voted in favor of a bipartisan infrastructure bill last year. 

Trump himself hasn’t weighed in for any of the primary challengers, and Johnson, Kim and Smith all have wide financial advantages over their GOP opponents. Still, the primaries are the latest instance of right-wing challengers looking to reshape the House Republican Conference into an even more conservative image.

Tags 2022 primaries Abby Finkenauer Ashley Hinson California Chesa Boudin Chris Smith Chuck Grassley Dusty Johnson Iowa Karen Bass London Breed Mike Franken Montana New Jersey Young Kim
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