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Crime, homelessness and Democratic dissent took center stage on Tuesday, when a liberal San Francisco prosecutor was recalled and seven states held primary elections that helped shape each party’s image before they bid for control of Congress in November State buildings and the great cities across the country fought.
The dismissal of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin (D), which critics called too lenient, came as fears about Liberal leaders’ approach to public safety also played a big role in a contest for Los Angeles mayor , where Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and billionaire businessman Rick Caruso are expected to advance in a runoff. Caruso, a former Republican, has presented himself as a different breed of Democrat who will resolve long-simmering crises in the country’s second-biggest city.
Rising inflation, gun violence and abortion rights occupied voters on Tuesday as they headed to polling stations in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Republicans are using rising costs and crime to try to take back the House and tightly divided Senate this fall. They have tried to pin these issues on the Biden administration and liberal politics, arguments that resonated with some voters Tuesday.
A group of neighbors cast their ballots for Caruso together and wished for “a better future” before snapping a selfie. One woman said crime was her biggest concern – her husband’s brother had been robbed at gunpoint in Burbank the day before.
Democrats are bracing for an uphill battle this fall amid low approval ratings for President Biden and political headwinds the president’s party has faced in the first midterm elections in the past. To counter these trends, Democrats are attempting to label GOP candidates as extremists beholden to Trump.
“I’d love to get a working country again,” said Iowa voter Mehgin Lawrence, who was torn between several Democratic candidates vying for Republican Charles E. Grassley, 88, the longest-serving Republican Senator of the country to challenge. “There’s a lot of dysfunction on both sides of the aisle in general.”
Grassley won the renomination, the AP predicted, and he is favored to retain the seat. In the Democrats’ race to succeed him, retired Navy Vice Admiral Mike Franken defeated former Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer, who was also considered a strong contender. Franken has tried to appeal to swing voters in Iowa. “It’s that middle segment that wants logical, pragmatic, smart, dedicated civil servants to work for them, leaders,” he said in a recent debate. “I think I’m that person.”
The night’s early results from the East Coast and Deep South, meanwhile, highlighted conflicts within the GOP and offered the latest tests of former President Donald Trump’s influence and efforts by more moderate candidates to push back challengers from their right.
In Mississippi, Rep. Michael Guest (R) had a close race with challenger Michael Cassidy, with a majority of votes cast counting. Cassidy last year targeted Guest’s vote for a commission investigating the January 6, 2021 riot by a pro-Trump mob in the US Capitol. Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.) was forced into a runoff, the Associated Press projected, while an ethics board reviewed that there was significant evidence he misspent campaign money.
Casting his vote for one of the opponents, Clay Wagner, Sam Welford, 45, said Palazzo had “run its course”. Welford said he does not align himself with any party, but said rising prices under Biden played a key role in his decision to vote Republican on Tuesday.
“Look at where we are today,” said Pamela Turner, a retired nurse and “staunch Republican” in Mississippi, who blamed Democrats for the state of the country even as she voted to overthrow Palazzo. “Look at the price of gas.”
In New Jersey’s 7th congressional district — one of many the GOP plans to flip this year — Tom Kean Jr. was set to defeat challengers who attacked him for not being conservative enough. And Sen. John Thune (RS.D.), who clashed with Trump, won the renomination, the AP predicted.
Republicans name Kean a top recruit and say the former state senator is well-placed to turn the seat around in November. Kean, son of a former governor and grandson of a former congressman, finished 2020 just over a percentage point behind incumbent Rep. Tom Malinowski (D) and will face Malinowski again this fall in more favorable terms for Republicans across the country.
At a polling station in Bridgewater Township Tuesday, Bob Hummer said that although he voted in the Democratic primary, he tends to vote for Kean in the general election — he said Republicans are better on economic issues.
In California, Democrats offered voters different approaches and tones on public safety – underscoring how the issue has angered voters even in liberal strongholds.
A liberal prosecutor notes that voter sentiment has changed even in San Francisco
In 2019, voters welcomed Boudin’s plea for a less punitive justice system aimed at rehabilitating offenders. Because of his experience as a public defender and his personal history — his parents went to prison when he was a child — Boudin triumphed over an interim district attorney backed by the Democratic establishment. The prosecutor’s supporters say he has become the easy scapegoat for a systemic and nationwide problem: crime levels rose in many major cities during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s a very long tradition on the right of using these issues as a wedge, of using these issues as a weapon, with no real interest in solutions that have been shown to reduce crime,” said Julie Edwards, a spokeswoman for the anti-recall effort , in an interview.
But of late, leaders like Boudin have been on the defensive as Republicans highlighted the push by some activists to “disappoint the police” and as Democrats, including Biden, attempted to recalibrate their party’s image.
With about half of the votes tallied by early Wednesday morning, about 60 percent were for Boudin’s recall, the AP said. San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D), who has called for a crackdown on “criminals who are destroying our city,” will appoint Boudin’s successor.
Caruso, the wealthy Los Angeles developer, has described himself as a temporary contender in the mayoral race and has vowed a tougher response to homelessness and crime. He poured his own fortune into the campaign, spending tens of millions of dollars.
Bass, a veteran lawmaker and a finalist set to become Biden’s running mate in 2020, has also pledged to address a “humanitarian emergency” of homelessness and made public safety a key issue. But she emphasizes crime-prevention social services and says not all neighborhoods want the police to be more visible.
Early Wednesday morning, with most of the votes still to be counted, Bass and Caruso were in a close race. With neither candidate winning a majority of the vote in a crowded field, they will face off again in November when strategists say they expect Caruso would face tougher odds.
For some voters, the choice fell on anyone other than Caruso.
“I think he’s a little too polished for my liking,” said Daniel Sackler, 57, while agreeing with some of Caruso’s crime-related suggestions. “Billionaires are largely untrustworthy.”
Jennifer Dustin, 46, said she considered moving her family out of Los Angeles over crime concerns – but she voted for Bass anyway.
“They’re all going to say the same thing,” said Jake Kuczeruk, 33. “Whether it translates into action is the real question.”
In Los Angeles, public anger is fueling the race for an identity-centric mayor
Also in California, Rep. Young Kim (R), who turned her seat in 2020, faced not only Democrat Asif Mahmood but also GOP rivals including Greg Raths, a city councilman and retired fighter pilot. A Super PAC allied with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has funded ads against Raths while Young tries to ensure she gets ahead in California’s unusual primary system. The two candidates with the most votes go to the Bundestag elections, regardless of party.
California Rep. David G. Valadao (R) was seeking re-election when his opponent Chris Mathys last year attacked his vote to impeach Trump for his behavior before the Capitol storm last year. Trump has not backed any challenger, though he has poured massive political capital into other critics’ races – underscoring many Republicans’ belief that Valadao is their best bet to retain a blue-leaning district.
Other US home races also caught the attention of party strategists. In Iowa, State Senator Zach Nunn won the Republican race to challenge Rep. Cindy Axne, the conservative-leaning state’s only Democratic representative in Congress. The seat is expected to be fiercely contested this fall.
In Montana, one of Trump’s cabinet members — former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned during an ethics probe — was in a close race for the Republican nomination in a new congressional district expected to increase the GOP’s hold in the House of Representatives . Montana gained a second seat in the House of Representatives after the 2020 census.
Zinke, who has secured Trump’s support, has four opponents in the GOP primary. Critics have noted that he splits his time between Montana and California, and have also highlighted the government surveillance report released earlier this year, which found he broke federal rules as Secretary of the Interior and also lied to an ethics officer.
Former local TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti won in a crowded GOP field against New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), according to the Associated Press, as Republicans see room for gains even in a Democrat-controlled state. Ronchetti ran for state senate in 2020, losing to Senator Ben Ray Luján (D).
Democrats said they believe Ronchetti’s views disagree with New Mexico voters, citing comments he made questioning climate change as the state faced massive wildfires. “No single fire or storm is the result of climate change,” Ronchetti told the Albuquerque Journal. “That’s not the case.”
Annie Linskey and Scott Clement in Washington; Brian Wellner of Iowa; Ashley Cusick in Mississippi; Miranda Green in Los Angeles; and Jack Wright of New Jersey contributed to this report.