Rising concerns about crime and homelessness burst to the forefront Tuesday as San Francisco voters recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a progressive who had ended cash bail and sought to reduce the number of people sent to prison.
In the Los Angeles mayor’s race, where public safety concerns have also taken center stage, billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso, a former Republican who vowed a tough-on-crime approach, is headed to a runoff against California Rep. Karen Bass.
Meanwhile, in House primaries across the country, Republicans largely opted to keep their incumbents, rejecting challenges from candidates who attempted to align themselves more closely with former President Donald Trump.
The largest state to vote Tuesday was California. But final results in many close races there won’t be known for days or weeks, because mail-in ballots – the way most votes are cast in the state – postmarked by Election Day will be counted as long as they arrive by the end of the week, and voters whose ballots encounter signature matching problems are given time to “cure” those problems.
Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey and South Dakota also held primaries Tuesday.
Here are six takeaways from the day’s races:
Boudin’s loss a mark against the progressive prosecutor movement
The recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin may not have sweeping national implications – local issues and sentiments among voters differ from city to city – but the loss is a clear mark against the progressive prosecutor movement that Boudin’s 2019 win helped propel.
And it could serve as a warning to national Democrats that the way voters in liberal bastions feel about their cities – especially the rise of homelessness – is far more instructive to how they will vote than actual crime rates and data.
Boudin’s win three years ago, on the back of concerns over police misconduct, criminal justice reform and mass incarceration, signaled a high point for the movement to elect more progressive prosecutors to top jobs. But his tenure was defined by the coronavirus pandemic and an overwhelming sense among San Francisco residents that crime, especially property crime, was both not a priority for the district attorney and out of control.
Voters on Tuesday leveled swift judgment of Boudin, signaling that his laxer approach to certain kinds of crime was unacceptable.
Still, the loss is far from the end to liberal cities electing progressive prosecutors. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner won reelection and Alvin Bragg, a former New York state and federal prosecutor, became Manhattan district attorney in 2021 – both wins for the progressive prosecutor movement.
Republican incumbents mostly survive challenges from right
House Republicans who had faced primaries from the right – largely from challengers who alleged the incumbents weren’t supportive enough of Trump – either won or were positioned to survive Tuesday’s contests.
South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson fended off a challenge from state Rep. Taffy Howard, who had criticized his vote to certify the 2020 election and had embraced Trump’s lies about voter fraud.
New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, a moderate Republican who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, held off a group of challengers that included conservative talk radio host Mike Crispi, who was backed by Trump allies including Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani.
In California’s open primaries, in which the top two finishers regardless of party move on to November’s general election, Reps. David Valadao and Young Kim – two Republicans who have won tough races – were both in position to advance after challenges from Trump loyalists, though there are still more votes to count.
One race to watch is a House primary in Montana. Ryan Zinke, a former congressman who resigned for a scandal-plagued tenure as Trump’s interior secretary and faced questions about his residency, narrowly led former state Sen. Al Olszewski as ballots were being counted early Wednesday morning.
A Mississippi Republican faces an intra-party revolt
Rep. Steven Palazzo failed to notch the majority he needed to avoid a runoff in the primary for his seat on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
It’s still unclear whom Palazzo will face off with on June 28, with Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell narrowly leading Hancock County businessman Clay Wagner for second place as of early Wednesday, but if Tuesday’s vote was a referendum on the incumbent, Palazzo could be in serious danger.
His main vulnerability stemmed from a damaging ethics report that found he likely misused campaign and congressional funds, sent staff on personal errands and sought to use his office to help his brother reenlist in the Navy.
Then there was his decision to sign on to a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aimed at ending proxy voting in Congress. The issue: Palazzo subsequently made good use of the practice, leading to charges of hypocrisy from his rivals.
The capper came late in the campaign, when he begged out of a candidate forum, citing “meetings dealing with national security” – an excuse rather undermined by his posting pictures online of a meal with his son at a local restaurant during the event.
Los Angeles mayoral race advances to runoff
The race to be Los Angeles’ next mayor won’t be decided until November, with neither businessman Rick Caruso nor Rep. Karen Bass able to win more than 50% of the vote on Tuesday night.
Caruso and Bass both ran on the need to tackle homelessness and crime, but they approached the issues with markedly different solutions and styles, distinctions that will likely define their campaigns through November.
Caruso, a real estate developer who has worked for years to accrue private power in Los Angeles, argued the city was in “a state of emergency,” citing “rampant homelessness” and “people living in fear for their safety.” Caruso promised to increase the size of the Los Angeles Police Department, running against the “defund the police” effort.
Bass, a longtime congresswoman and former member of the California State Assembly, ran more as a progressive, highlighting her ties to the city and her years of service representing it.
But Caruso’s strong showing on Tuesday will provide a warning to more traditional Democrats running on their records, especially if the bulk of that time was spent in Congress, a body currently held in low regard by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The Democratic establishment rules New Jersey. Again.
It was a lousy night for progressive outsiders in Democratic primaries in New Jersey, where party heavyweights – and the machinery that secures their influence – came away with a series of resounding victories.
In the 10th Congressional District, Rep. Donald Payne Jr. easily defeated lefty challenger Imani Oakley, a former New Jersey Working Families legislative director. Oakley had raised money at a better-than-expected clip, but Payne benefited from reinforcements from establishment allies – back-up that Oakley never received from progressives.
Payne’s low profile on Capitol Hill, occupying a seat he took over from his late father a decade ago, might have made the North Jersey district appealing to progressive groups if he had shown signs of weakness on Tuesday. But his resounding renomination might also serve to ward off another, better-organized challenge in two years.
It was a similarly grim story for progressives in the nearby 8th Congressional District, where Robert Menendez Jr., son of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, crushed rivals David Ocampo Grajales and Ane Roseborough-Eberhard.
Menendez Jr., who has never held office, is on track to replace retiring Rep. Albio Sires, who – along with a litany of local power brokers – endorsed the younger Menendez early on, effectively foreclosing any chance of a competitive race.
A rising star flames out in Iowa
In 2018, Abby Finkenauer rode the nationwide blue wave to become a member of Congress and a rising star in Iowa’s Democratic Party.
Four years and two losses later, Finkenauer has all but flamed out.
The former congresswoman lost to Mike Franken in the Senate Democratic primary on Tuesday, setting up a matchup between the retired Navy admiral and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longtime lawmaker who is running for his eighth term. But the story out of the Democratic primary is how a candidate seen as a shoo-in for the nomination squandered her chance.
Democrats were long skeptical that, should Grassley run, Finkenauer or any Democrat in Iowa would be able to oust him. But when she announced last year, Finkenauer was seen as the obvious favorite – a former member of Congress with deep ties to President Joe Biden who won in a Republican-leaning district in 2018 but lost a close race two years later.
Then came the campaign mishaps, most notably when the Finkenauer campaign cut it far too close on the number of signatures needed to get on the primary ballot, opening the door for a challenge to her appearance. The Democrat only qualified after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in April that she could appear, reversing a lower court ruling.
Finkenauer’s loss is another example of how quickly someone on the rise in a party can fall.