16 Primaries To Watch In Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico And South Dakota
On Monday we ran through the 20 key races to watch in California today, but now we’re back with a preview of 16 key races in the six other states holding primaries today. And the big races headed into tonight are high-profile Republican primaries that could affect the GOP’s chances in a number of competitive House seats. Additionally, a number of incumbents from both parties face primary challenges in deep blue or red seats, and Democrats have a competitive Senate primary in Iowa.
So let’s dig into the interesting primaries in Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota, starting with the states whose polls close earliest today. And make sure to join us at 7:30 p.m. Eastern for our live blog of the results!
Races to watch: 3rd Congressional District, 4th Congressional District, 5th Congressional District, 7th Congressional District, 8th Congressional District, 10th Congressional District, 11th Congressional District
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern
When the tiebreaker on New Jersey’s redistricting commission chose the Democrats’ congressional map in December 2021, the new lines boosted the survival chances for three of the state’s four vulnerable Democratic House incumbents. But the odd-man out was Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, whose 7th District in the affluent suburbs west of Newark shifted from D+4 to R+3, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.1 Even before redistricting, though, Malinowski was already in danger, having barely survived the 2020 general election. He’s also attracted scrutiny since then for failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock transactions. Tom Kean Jr., a former state Senate Minority Leader and Malinowski’s 2020 opponent, is now seeking a rematch, and he’s favored to win the Republican primary.
But while Kean is the choice of the national GOP and local party committees, his long legislative career and status as a scion of a well-known New Jersey political family has attracted opposition from his right. Kean’s main opponents are former evangelical pastor Phil Rizzo, state Assemblyman Erik Peterson and businessman John Henry Iseman, all of whom garnered some support at county conventions ahead of the primary. Rizzo is Kean’s most notable foe, having attracted attention as a proponent for former President Donald Trump in his second-place performance in the 2021 GOP primary for governor. But it doesn’t seem that Rizzo’s “America First” message has put Kean in much danger, as Rizzo has raised roughly one-tenth of what Kean has ($228,000 versus $2.2 million). And with the five other candidates mostly stressing similar themes as Rizzo, the potential anti-Kean bloc of voters will probably fail to coalesce around one candidate, which should make Kean a strong favorite to win today.
Primaries will also decide the GOP challengers for the three potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents who benefited from the new map. The 5th District along the state’s northern border shifted from even to D+7, which could help Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer withstand the GOP-leaning national political environment. Viewed as one of the most moderate Democrats in Congress, Gottheimer is also a top fundraiser as he had $13.4 million in the bank as of May 18. Gottheimer’s GOP opponent will most likely be Marine veteran Nick De Gregorio, who has the support of the local Republican organization in Bergen County, which makes up most of the district’s population. (New Jersey’s party organizations are very powerful, as their endorsement gives a candidate the “county line” on primary ballots, which ensures prominent placement on the ballot and usually ensures victory.)
De Gregorio has argued his military experience and outsider background make him the GOP’s best bet to defeat Gottheimer, but he first has to get past former banker Frank Pallotta, who lost to Gottheimer by 7.5 points in 2020. However, that shouldn’t be a problem as De Gregorio has outraised Pallotta $837,000 to $310,000, despite Pallotta’s past support from Trump in 2020. Democrats seem to agree that De Gregorio is the stronger Republican, seeing as Gottheimer and his allies have sent mailings to Republican voters attacking Pallotta as being too Trump-like in a not-so-subtle attempt to get them to back Pallotta instead of De Gregorio.
Next door to Gottheimer in the North Jersey suburbs, Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill’s 11th District also moved to the left in redistricting, going from D+1 to D+11. This has made Sherrill, another strong fundraiser (she’s got $5.6 million in the bank), more of a reach target for Republicans. Her most likely GOP opponent is Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen, who has the backing of the party committees in Morris and Essex counties, which contain most GOP primary voters in the district. However, former assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot has that county organization’s backing, and the two candidates have raised similar amounts, with Selen bringing in $256,000 and DeGroot $244,000. That said, DeGroot has self-funded most of his campaign and barely raised anything in the pre-primary fundraising period. Regardless, the GOP nominee here will need the environment to be especially favorable to defeat Sherrill, but that isn’t out of the question.
No incumbent got more help in redistricting than Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, whose 3rd District in South Jersey swung 14 points to the left, from R+5 to D+9. Like Sherrill, this shift has made Kim more of a reach target for the GOP, but the leading GOP contender, Bob Healey, could prove a formidable foe. Healey owns a yacht construction company and has the backing of every county GOP organization in the district. He’s also raised $1.2 million, including $260,000 out of his own pocket. His spending has dwarfed that of fellow Republican and gym owner Ian Smith, who has only raised $154,000. But Smith did attract national attention in 2020 for refusing to obey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s directive to temporarily close his gym to reduce the spread of COVID-19, even speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year.
There are also three seats that are either safely in Democratic or Republican hands that are worth a quick glance, too. In the Jersey City-based 8th District, Democratic Rep. Albio Sires is retiring, leaving behind a D+47 open seat. Democratic leaders have coalesced around Port Authority Commissioner Robert Menendez Jr., the son of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who represented this area in the House before he moved to the Senate. Despite charges of nepotism, the younger Menendez has only attracted minor primary opposition, so he’ll likely be the district’s next representative. Meanwhile, next door in the Newark-based 10th District, Democratic Rep. Donald Payne Jr. is likely to win renomination in a D+58 seat that’s about half Black. But progressive activist Imani Oakley has raised almost half as much money as the incumbent, $426,000 versus Payne’s $947,000 and is trying to run to his left. Still, Payne has a very liberal record, making it difficult to paint him as too moderate. He also has the backing of all local Democratic organizations.
Finally, redistricting shifted the South Jersey-based 4th District, sharply to the right, from R+13 to R+28. This gave 21-term Republican Rep. Chris Smith a more conservative seat, which, on the one hand, was good news for Smith as it made his seat easier to defend in November. But on the other hand, it has also meant that he could attract a challenge from his right, but Smith’s intraparty opponents haven’t raised much money, and he maintains strong local party support, so the thing to watch here is just how much of a protest vote he draws.
Races to watch: 4th Congressional District
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern
There’s only one race to keep a close eye on in Mississippi, and that is the GOP primary in the deep red 4th District along the Gulf Coast. Six-term Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo has found himself in hot water since the Office of Congressional Ethics reported in late 2020 that there was “substantial reason to believe” Palazzo had misused campaign funds for personal expenditures, a scandal that encouraged six primary challengers to jump into the race. And while they might end up splitting the anti-incumbent vote, that won’t help Palazzo much because Mississippi is one of seven states that requires a candidate to win an outright majority to clinch a nomination. Should no candidate cross the 50 percent threshold, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will occur on June 28.
With no recent polling, it’s unclear how endangered Palazzo is, but his main opponents appear to be Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, state Sen. Brice Wiggins and retired banker Clay Wagner. Each has brought in at least $240,000, compared with Palazzo’s $598,000 (a weak figure for an incumbent), with Wagner having raised $535,000 overall thanks to $300,000 in personal loans. All of the candidates running have criticized Palazzo for the campaign finance investigation and for not attending candidate forums, but Wiggins might have his own campaign finance troubles, as his state Senate campaign committee has entirely funded the pro-Wiggins super PAC spending in the congressional race, a potential violation of federal law. We should also mention that the challenger with the most cash is actually businessman Carl Boyanton, who loaned his own campaign $550,000. But Boyanton only won 9 percent against Palazzo in the 2020 GOP primary, so one of the other Republicans is a better bet to force a runoff — or even defeat Palazzo.
Races to watch: At-Large Congressional District, governor
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern
Barring any big surprises, both South Dakota’s lone representative and governor should easily cruise to renomination, but both incumbents face primary challenges from their right that are worth keeping an eye on. First, in the state’s At-Large District, Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson faces state Rep. Taffy Howard, who has criticized Johnson’s vote to certify the 2020 presidential election results. Howard, however, has raised just about $310,000, which pales in comparison to Johnson’s $1.9 million. And a May survey from South Dakota State University found Johnson leading Howard 53 percent to 17 percent among likely GOP primary voters.
Meanwhile in the primary for governor, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem faces an intraparty challenge from state Rep. Steven Haugaard. Haugaard had criticized Noem for vetoing a bill in 2021 that would have banned transgender girls from participating in high school sports, but Noem likely dulled conservative frustration by signing similar legislation into law in 2022. Haugaard’s also tried to take Noem to task for her flights on a state-owned plane to political events, which is subject to a complaint that’s before the state government accountability board. But Haugaard just hasn’t made inroads against Noem, who notably has Trump’s endorsement. That SDSU survey also found Noem well ahead, 61 percent to 17 percent.
Races to watch: U.S. Senate, 3rd Congressional District
Polls close: 9 p.m. Eastern
In the race for Senate, seven-term Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is favored to win reelection in November. Nevertheless, Democrats do have a competitive primary between former Rep. Abby Finkenauer and retired Navy Admiral Michael Franken. On paper, Finkenauer looks like the favorite. Despite narrowly losing reelection in her former district in 2020, she’s outraised Franken $3.7 million to $2.8 million, and she’s also acquired endorsements from high-profile organizations like EMILY’s List, the League of Conservation Voters and organized labor groups.
But Finkenauer only made the ballot after the Iowa Supreme Court overturned a lower-court decision that ruled she’d failed to qualify for the ballot, and Franken has actually outraised Finkenauer $2.4 million to $1.8 million in 2022. Moreover, a Franken campaign poll conducted by Change Research found him running neck and neck with Finkenauer in early May, a big shift from a 27-point deficit a month earlier. This finding, however, ran sharply counter to a Finkenauer-sponsored poll from early April by GBAO that found her up 49 points. But Franken may indeed have gained ground, as Inside Elections reported in mid-May that Franken had spent far more than Finkenauer on ads for TV and Facebook. This race looks genuinely uncertain heading into today, although the mission of unseating Grassley will remain a tall order for whoever wins come November.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne will face a difficult reelection contest this fall in the 3rd District, an R+2 seat that includes Des Moines. That’s why it will be important to see who wins the GOP primary today. And it’s shaping up to be a two-way battle between state Sen. Zach Nunn and financial planner Nicole Hasso. An Air Force veteran, Nunn has tried to promote his conservative accomplishments in the Iowa legislature, while Hasso, who is Black, has played up her outsider credentials and religious faith. Nunn held a slight fundraising edge heading into the final stretch, as he’d raised $882,000 to Hasso’s $602,000 and had slightly more than twice as much cash on hand. But regardless of who wins, the GOP will have a real chance to capture this swingy seat in the fall.
Races to watch: 1st Congressional District, 2nd Congressional District, governor
Polls close: 9 p.m. Eastern
The race for governor is the main event in the Land of Enchantment, where Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham could be vulnerable come November in this D+7 state. Public opinion appears to be pretty split on her, too, as a KOB-TV/SurveyUSA poll of registered voters released in early May found Lujan Grisham’s approval/disapproval rating at 48 percent/46 percent, similar to what Morning Consult found earlier this year. As a result, a crowded Republican primary field has developed, but there’s a clear favorite: Former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, who lost the state’s 2020 U.S. Senate race by 6 points, running somewhat stronger than Trump did in New Mexico.
Ronchetti leads in the polls and in fundraising over his primary opponents, who include state Rep. Rebecca Dow, retired Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Greg Zanetti and Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block. Ronchetti has raised $2.7 million, with Dow the next-closest at $1.5 million. Two recent surveys also put Ronchetti in the mid-40s, with no other candidate polling above 20 percent. In the same KOB-TV/SurveyUSA poll, Rochetti garnered 44 percent, 32 points ahead of Block, while the front-runner attracted 45 percent in a mid-May survey from Albuquerque Journal/Research & Polling Inc., 28 points ahead of Dow. Looking ahead to the likely Lujan Grisham-Ronchetti general election matchup, the KOB-TV/SurveyUSA poll found the incumbent only up 4 points, 47 percent to 43 percent, indicative of how competitive the race could be.
Meanwhile, in the 2nd District, Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell will face a tough reelection fight in November after the state’s new, Democratic-drawn congressional map shifted the southwestern New Mexico seat all the way from R+14 to D+4. Herrell’s November opponent will probably be Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez, whom the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has named to its Red to Blue candidate list running in seats the party hopes to flip. Vazquez has raised $776,000 so far, significantly outstripping the $65,000 raised by physician Darshan Patel, the other Democrat in the primary. However unlikely, it’s still possible that Patel gives Vazquez a run for his money as he’s is running to Vasquez’s left to some extent. Patel supports Medicare for All and, as the former president of a resident physician union, has benefited from $64,000 in outside spending by the Service Employees International Union (which his union is affiliated with).
Lastly, Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury won a special election in 2021 to represent the Alburquerque-based 1st District, and while it’s a D+11 seat, a difficult environment for Democrats in 2022 could put it in Republicans’ range. The two Republicans in the race are retired police officer Michelle Garcia Holmes, who lost the 2020 election in this seat, and businessman Louie Sanchez, who co-owns an indoor shooting range. Garcia Holmes may have a slight upper hand in the primary contest, considering she has name recognition from her 2020 run. She also entered the final stretch of the race with about three times as much money as Sanchez had, although Sanchez had raised slightly more overall. Without any polling, though, it’s tough to say which Republican will come out on top.
Races to watch: 1st Congressional District
Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern
For the first time in three-plus decades, Montana will host two congressional elections after the census reapportionment process gave Montana back its second district, which it lost in the 1990 census. Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale is running in the safely red 2nd District (R+30), so the Montana race to watch is the 1st District, an R+10 seat located in the western third of the state. This district leans Republican, but it could still be competitive in some years. For instance, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester would have carried it by 10 points in 2018, which was a Democratic-leaning environment. But in a GOP-leaning environment, the race will likely favor whomever Republicans pick today as their nominee. And that primary is mostly a question of whether Ryan Zinke, a former Secretary of the Interior and Montana congressman, can win.
Having raised $2.9 million, Zinke holds a substantial monetary edge over former state legislator Al Olszewski, who’s raised just $710,000, and businesswoman and pastor Mary Todd, who’s raised $448,000 (with $323,000 in self-funding). Zinke also has Trump’s endorsement. But the anti-establishment Olszewksi and Todd might still attract support with their criticisms of GOP leaders in Congress and arguments that the 2020 election was stolen. Zinke’s critics have also seized on the amount of time he’s spent living in California, and they’ve pointed to a Department of the Interior report published in February that concluded Zinke had behaved unethically while in the Cabinet by working on a land deal that involved a foundation he’d established.
Still, Olszewski and Todd may end up splitting the anti-Zinke vote, making it easier for him to win the primary. Meanwhile on the Democratic side, public health expert Cora Neumann had almost four times as much money in the bank as attorney Monical Tranel heading into the campaign’s home stretch, so she is the Democrats’ likeliest choice for the fall campaign, although this election cycle will likely prove to be an uphill slog for her.
With seven states headed to the polls today, there’s a lot to watch in these six states and California, so please make sure to join us for our live blog covering all the races, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.