by Tim Storey
With only a handful of exceptions, the vast majority of incumbents survived primary elections on Tuesday in what was the biggest primary day of the year thus far. Eight states, including six with legislative term limits, conducted legislative primaries Tuesday. The term-limited states were California, Maine, Nevada, Montana and South Dakota. Arkansas, another term-limited state, had a primary runoff for a congressional seat. The non-term-limited states with legislative primaries were Iowa, North Dakota and South Carolina.
Term limits are a significant factor because challengers are likely to wait until the seat is vacated by term limits rather than take on incumbents in primaries. This partly explains the low number of primary challenges and defeats in these states.
In addition to the success rate of incumbents in the internal party elections, a number of legislators ran for other offices. Here is a state-by-state overview of notable election outcomes involving state legislators on Tuesday:
- State Senator Joyce Elliott, currently a member of NCSL’s executive committee, defeated Arkansas House Speaker Robbie Wills, chair of NCSL's legislative effectiveness committee, in a primary runoff for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House district 2.
- No incumbent legislators lost primary bids.
- Former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass coasted to victory in the Democratic primary in the Democratic leaning 33rd congressional district currently held by Representative Diane Watson who is retiring from Congress.
- Assemblyman Van Tran won the GOP primary and will take on incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the fall.
- In addition to the primaries, there were two special elections in California to fill legislative vacancies on Tuesday in Assembly district 43 (won by Democrat Mike Gatto) and Senate district 37 (won by Republican Bill Emmerson). Both elections were won by the same party that previously held the seat, so partisan control numbers did not change.
- Republican Senator David Hartsuch of Bettendorf was the only incumbent legislator in Iowa to fall, losing to Roby Smith of Davenport, Iowa.
- Iowa state Senator Brad Zaun won the Republican primary for the state’s 3rd congressional district and will take on seven-term Democratic incumbent Leonard L. Boswell.
- Democratic House member Richard D. Blanchard appeared to be the only Maine incumbent legislators who lost in the primary.
- Maine senate President Libby Mitchell won a four-way Democratic primary for the party nomination for governor. Her closest challenger was former House Speaker and former state Attorney General Steve Rowe. Senator Mitchell will be in a five-way race for governor this fall including three independent candidates.
- Incumbent state Representative Joel Boniek lost reelection to the House to an incumbent state senator, John Esp, who was barred by term limits from seeking re-election to his Senate seat. Senator Esp is the former vice-chair of NCSL’s legislative effectiveness committee. No other Montana incumbents lost primaries.
- Only one incumbent fell in the Nevada primary. Senate Assistant Minority Floor Leader Dennis Nolan lost in the Republican primary to Elizabeth Halseth a 27-year-old executive assistant. Nolan, a state lawmaker since 1995, served as the chair of NCSL’s transportation committee in 2009.
- Former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle won a hotly contested GOP primary to take on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall.
- Democratic U.S. House member Dina Titus will face former Nevada state Senator Joe Heck in November in Nevada's 3rd congressional district. Heck won the GOP primary on Tuesday.
- Even though 24 of North Dakota’s 47 Senate seats are up in 2010, there were no contested primaries. Only one House district had a contested primary, and the incumbent won.
- North Dakota House Majority Leader Rick Berg won the GOP primary to face incumbent Democratic U. S. house member Earl Pomeroy who has held the seat since 1992.
- Three incumbent legislators went down in Palmetto State primaries including House Speaker Pro Tem Harry Cato who had been in the House since 1991. He lost the Republican primary to Tom Corbin.
- State Representative Keith Kelly lost to Bill Chumley, who will face Democrat Tom Davies in November. And Republican state Representative Jim Stewart was upended by Bill Taylor who faces no Democratic opposition this fall. A couple of other primary races involving incumbents are headed to runoffs.
- State Representative Nikki Haley will be in a runoff in two weeks with current member of Congress Gresham Barrett for the Republican nomination for governor.
- State senator Vincent Sheheen won the Democratic primary for governor and will face the winner of the Haley vs. Gresham runoff in the general.
- State Representative Jeff Duncan advanced to a runoff in the Republican primary for the U.S. House district being vacated by Barrett.
- In the 1st congressional district, State Representative Tim Scott from Charleston will be in a runoff against Paul Thurmond, the son of former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, for the GOP nomination. Representative Scott is the only African-American Republican legislator in South Carolina.
- First term incumbent Democratic Senator Kathy Miles lost to Angie Buhl and was the only legislative incumbent to go down.
- State Representative Kristi Noem won the Republican primary for the state’s at large U.S. House seat. That sets up an historic election because she will run against incumbent U.S. House member Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. It will be the first time in South Dakota history that two women will square off in the general election for a congressional seat.
- State Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepriem is the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor.
- Virginia does not have state elections in 2010, but there were federal primaries on Tuesday, and State Senator Robert Hurt won the GOP nomination for the 5th U.S. House seat.
Bumper Crop of Greenhorn Governors
Incumbent Nevada governor Jim Gibbons lost the Republican primary on Tuesday guaranteeing that legislatures in at least 24 states will be working with new governors in 2011. The all-time record for new governors in one election cycle was 27 in 1920. If a couple of incumbent governors lose in the fall, which is likely, it will be an historic year for rookie governors.