Midterm Roundup: California Dreamin’

California is the largest of the six states hosting primary elections on Tuesday, June 7. June will also feature the first four U.S. House special elections of 2022, offering a preview of the electorate’s mood before November’s contests.

State of Play – June 4

Special Election Season Kicks Off

The first month of summer features the first special elections in 2022, which offers the first preview of how voters are feeling ahead of the November elections.

The marquee race is the June 11 special election for Texas’ 34th District along the Mexican border. Rep. Filemon Vela resigned in March after he secured a cushy lobbying gig. Republicans are optimistic they can flip the seat and are spending heavily on behalf of their candidates Mayra Flores. If Flores defeats Democratic candidates Dan Sanchez and Rene Coronado, she’d be the first Republican to represent the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley in decades.

The June 11 special election to fill the late Rep. Don Young’s seat will be the first test of Alaska’s new “top-four” primary system. All 31 candidates run on a single ballot, and the top four finishers, regardless of party, will advance to the August 16 general election. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is mounting a comeback bid 13 years after resigning her office and seems likely to earn a runoff berth. Other leading candidates include Republicans Nick Begich III, Tara Sweeney and Josh Revak, 2020 independent Democratic Senate candidate Al Gross, and democratic socialist North Pole, Alaska councilman Santa Claus (his legal name).

The other two contests – in California’s 22nd, for the seat vacated by Rep. Devin Nunes (R) when he left to head up Donald Trump’s new social media venture, and Nebraska’s 1st, left open by G.O.P. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s criminal conviction – are not expected to be competitive. G.O.P. nominees Connie Conway (R-CA) and Mike Flood (R-NE) are expected to win easily.

The California Contests

California’s 22nd – Rep. David Valadao is the only G.O.P. Congressman that voted to impeach Trump who hasn’t earned a primary opponent backed by the former president. Valadao represented this San Joaquin Valley seat for three terms, lost the seat narrowly in 2018 before winning it back in the 2020 elections. Republican Chris Mathys and Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas (age 45, although his dating profiles say otherwise) are challenging Valadao.

California’s 40thG.O.P. Rep. Young Kim flipped this seat in 2020, becoming one of the first Korean American women elected to Congress. Kim’s main opponent is Democratic challenger Asif Mahmoud, although she has started spending heavily against hard-right challenger Greg Raths, suggesting she’s worried about not making the runoff. If Kim does not make the runoff, Raths’ controversial views would likely make this seat a difficult hold for the G.O.P.

Blue on Blue: Three solidly Democratic open seats will likely feature all-Democratic general elections.

  • State Sen. Sydney Kamlager has endorsements from across the Democratic Party and is the likely favorite to succeed Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass in the L.A.-based 37th District.
  • In California’s 15th District, establishment-backed Assemblyman Kevin Mullin will face off with progressive David Canepa to fill retiring Rep. Jackie Speier’s Palo Alto-area seat.
  • The Long Beach-area 42nd District hosts a similar establishment v. progressive matchup between Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia for a new district that consolidated retiring Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Lucille Roybal-Allard.

On The Radar: Potentially vulnerable Democrats Josh Harder (CA-09), Jim Costa (CA-21), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Katie Porter (CA-47) and Mike Levin (CA-49) will all learn their G.O.P. challengers on Tuesday. In a neutral year all four would likely be favored to win reelection, but the toxic political environment for Democrats could leave all four in jeopardy if Republicans can field strong challengers.

G.O.P. Reps. Michelle Park Steel (CA-45) and Mike Garcia (CA-27) flipped Biden-won seats in 2020 and could be vulnerable in November even in a G.O.P. wave election.

Battle for the House

Iowa: Three of the Hawkeye State’s four Congressional Districts will host competitive general elections. Republican incumbents Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01) and Ashley Hinson (IA-02) are defending their seats against Democrats Christina Bohannan and Liz Mathis in all-female matchups. Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) faces a tough reelection battle against Republican challengers state Sen. Zach Nunn and newcomer Nicole Hasso, who would be Iowa’s first non-white member of Congress.

New Jersey: Four New Jersey Democrats – Andy Kim (NJ-03), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) and Mike Sherrill (NJ-11) flipped Republican seats in the last two or three cycles and are defending their seats in a GOP-leaning environment for the first time.

Malinowski appears to be the most vulnerable after narrowly winning re-election against state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. in 2020 and weathering insider trading allegations. Kean is running again, and the 7th is more Republican after redistricting.

New Mexico: Land of Enchantment Democrats took a redistricting gamble, weaking their position in the 3rd District to try to oust G.O.P. Rep. Yvette Herrell (NM-02). Herrell and Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (NM-03) both now face competitive reelection fights.

Primary Colors: Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ) face significant primary threats for the first time. Palazzo has come under fire for a series of alleged ethics violations. Payne faces a progressive challenger in the first significant test he’s faced since he won the seat once held by his father in a 2012 special election.


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© Dominic Moore, 2022