As we head into another primary election night, we’re not just looking for races that will determine which party controls Congress or governs battleground states. We’re also looking at individual candidates who are shaping the world of politics.
Tonight, at least three incumbent Republicans are facing challenges from Trump-inspired candidates, though only one represents a safe Republican seat. And in Los Angeles, one candidate for mayor could rewrite what it means to be a Democrat in a liberal oasis.
Here are a few key names to watch as votes are counted tonight. You can follow our live updates here, and see results arrive here.
Representative Young Kim of California
Kim symbolizes everything the Republican establishment wanted to move toward after its losses in the 2020 election, when Orange County voters sent her to Congress.
She was a Republican who championed fiscal conservatism, not Trumpism. A Korean American immigrant, she appealed to voters of color in a district with a significant Asian American and Pacific Islander population.
And after the 2018 Democratic wave left House Republicans with just 13 women, she and at least 17 other G.O.P. women elected to the chamber in 2020 hoped to change a narrative that their party is the standard-bearer for white men.
Keeping members like Kim in Congress is critical to moderate Republicans’ goal of nudging the party away from Donald Trump — not to mention Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert and Matt Gaetz.
That’s why the stiff challenge Kim now faces from a Trump-inspired candidate, Greg Raths, presents a problem not only for holding a district that Joe Biden carried, but also for demonstrating that the Republican Party is bigger than its white, working-class base.
“If we want to encourage people with diverse backgrounds to run, when they’re elected, we need to stand up for them,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican consultant and Kim ally who was communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2018, when she first ran for Congress. “We can’t let them simply go it alone. We need to stand behind them.”
Gorman said Kim provided a template of how to appeal to Asian American voters in an area, Orange County, that has grown tough for Republicans. She has “a background that we need more of in this party,” he said.
Kim and her allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund, an outside group connected to Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, have spent upward of $1.5 million on the primary. In California congressional races, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run on the same primary ballot, and the top two compete in the general election. The only Democrat on the ballot, Asif Mahmood, is expected to take one of those spots.
The late spending from Kim’s campaign and the Congressional Leadership Fund might be enough to keep her in the top two. Her leading Republican challenger, Raths, told us last week that he had been running a “stealth” campaign since early February, and that he was confident in his chances up until the barrage of spending from Kim and her allies.
“Now,” Raths said, “I’m a little nervous.”
Representative David Valadao of California
Why are election analysts putting a Central Valley seat in California that Biden carried by 13 percentage points in the “tossup” category?
Because of Valadao, the Republican incumbent.
After losing his seat to a Democrat in 2018, Valadao won it back in 2020. Now his concern is a fellow Republican: Chris Mathys, a businessman who said in an interview that he decided to run for Congress after Valadao voted to impeach Trump.
Valadao’s allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund have spent $370,000 in the primary, according to AdImpact, which tracks ad spending, both promoting him and attacking Mathys. In one ad, the group calls Mathys “recklessly liberal.”
Valadao may be helped by the fact that, while Mathys has sought out Trump’s endorsement, he has been unable to secure it. Trump has endorsed challengers to every House Republican who voted to impeach him and is running for re-election — except for Valadao.
Mathys was also unsuccessful in a lawsuit to change his title on the ballot to “Trump Conservative/Businessman.” Instead, he appeared on the ballot as “Businessman/Cattle Rancher.”
Valadao’s allies aren’t the only ones trying to shape the Republican primary. The Congressional Leadership Fund’s Democratic counterpart, House Majority PAC, which is affiliated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is also wading in.
Between broadcast ads supporting the only Democrat in the race, Rudy Salas, and ads on cable, including on Fox News, the Democratic-aligned group has spent more than $100,000.
The group has also bought digital ads supporting Mathys, in an apparent effort to lift Mathys into the top two instead of Valadao. “Chris Mathys supports Donald Trump and is a veteran,” the narrator says in one ad. “Valadao voted to impeach Trump and against his border wall.” The ad then shows a segment from Sean Hannity of Fox News condemning Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
“Both parties know Valadao has a unique ability to outperform a typical Republican,” said Nathan Gonzales, a longtime election analyst and the publisher of Inside Elections, a political newsletter. “I think that’s why we saw a last-minute flurry of spending before the primary.”
Mathys recently retweeted House Majority PAC’s ad, introducing it by saying, “Sean Hannity talks about the impeachment of President Trump.” When asked about the ad, he said that he didn’t have any knowledge of the group or why it had bought the ad. “I have no idea what’s going on there,” he said.
Rick Caruso, a leading candidate for mayor of Los Angeles
Eric Adams’s election as mayor of New York last fall was a clear sign that Democrats were distancing themselves from calls to defund the police. But in Los Angeles, another liberal bastion, voters might take it a step further in the opposite direction.
Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer who was until recently a Republican, is likely to qualify for the general election alongside Representative Karen Bass, a longtime Democrat, and he even has a chance to win the mayor’s race outright tonight if he captures more than 50 percent of the vote.
Caruso has focused his campaign on issues of crime and homelessness, and he highlighted his opposition to the movement to defund police departments in an ad that depicted Los Angeles as a dangerous city, panning over encampments of tents for homeless people and ticking off homicide and shooting statistics.
As my colleagues Jennifer Medina and Jill Cowan wrote recently, a victory for Caruso would “be a stark shift in this overwhelmingly liberal city, which Senator Bernie Sanders easily carried in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.”
Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota
Johnson, South Dakota’s lone member of the House of Representatives, has often been overshadowed by starrier political figures in his state, like Gov. Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune, the second-ranking Senate Republican.
While Johnson has appeared content out of the spotlight he has quietly made some decisions that have upset Trump loyalists, like voting to certify the results of the 2020 election. Such moves have drawn a right-wing primary challenger, Taffy Howard, a state representative and Air Force veteran.
A super PAC associated with the Republican Main Street Partnership started spending to support Johnson when the race grew a little too close for comfort. The group conducted a poll about a month ago that showed Johnson polling ahead of Howard but hovering around the 50 percent mark, said Sarah Chamberlain, the group’s president. Chamberlain said that attacks on Johnson in campaign mail sent to voters had most likely taken a toll on him.
“We’re not throwing up red flags, but he definitely got a little bit soft,” Chamberlain said. “So we went in there to shore him up.” Now, she expects Johnson to win his primary. The group spent at least $120,000 and aired an ad that called Howard “liberal” and “anti-small business.” American Dream Federal Action, a PAC created by a cryptocurrency executive, also aired an ad supporting Johnson.
Before Johnson held the at-large congressional seat, it was represented by Noem. Johnson created some mild political drama a decade ago when he resigned from the state’s Public Utilities Commission shortly after winning his second term to that post in 2010 in order to take a position as chief of staff to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
Meanwhile, Drain the Swamp PAC, a group that supported Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, aired an ad attacking Johnson for attending Biden’s inauguration, voting to certify the 2020 election and voting to form a House committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
What to read
Seventeen months after the Trump-inspired storming of the Capitol, House Democrats plan to use a landmark set of investigative hearings beginning this week to try to refocus voters’ attention on Jan. 6. Annie Karni and Luke Broadwater preview the hearings.
Leading Democratic lawmakers in the House have signed a letter urging President Biden to take a more guarded approach to Saudi Arabia — before the president plans to travel to the country this summer despite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Blake Hounshell took a break from On Politics to write about a curious political development in New Jersey, where a group of centrists are trying to topple the state’s ban on fusion parties — think New York’s Working Families Party — by creating a middle-of-the-road option for voters: the Moderate Party.
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