by Karl Kurtz
In addition to the closely watched and widely reported Wisconsin recall election, five other states had state legislative primary elections on Tuesday this week.
Over on our sister blog, Prop*50, Jennie Bowser reported on the apparent narrow defeat of the tobacco tax initiative in California and the surprisingly comfortable passage of Proposition 28, a modification of that state's legislative term limits. In state legislative races in the Golden State, no incumbents were defeated in the primary. The first trial of the state's top two (or "jungle") primary will result in either two Democrats or two Republicans on the ballot in nine of 53 congressional seats and 12 of 100 state legislative races in the November general election.
In Iowa, redistricting forced two Republican incumbents into running against each other in two races. Rep. Pat Grassley topped Rep. Annette Sweeney in one race and first-term Sen. Shawn Hammerlinck defeated veteran Sen. Jim Hahn in another. The only other incumbent who lost was two-term Rep. Erik Helland, who was defeated by challenger Jake Highfill. Republicans, who hope to gain unified control of state government by capturing the Senate this fall, had many more primary races than did the Democrats. Many of them involved ideological challenges between conservative and moderate Republicans. The Des Moines Register concluded:
Many of the Republican races revealed a divide within the party, where self-described conservatives took on candidates with establishment credentials whom the conservatives derided as RINOS: Republicans in Name Only.
The results: inconclusive. In seven House and Senate races featuring a more conservative candidate challenging an incumbent or establishment-backed opponent, four went to the moderates with support from Gov. Terry Branstad and others in the GOP hierarchy, while just three were won by socially conservative or tea party-aligned insurgents.
In Montana, one senator and three house members were defeated. The losers were Sen. Carmine Mowbray and Reps. Bob Wagner, Alan Hale and Tony Belcourt. Belcourt, however, lost by only three votes with a possible recount.
New Mexico state Representatives Antonio Lujan and Richard Vigil and Sen. David Ulibarri, all Democrats, were defeated in last week's primary election. "But it wasn't an anti-incumben night," said nmpolitics.net, because a number of other incumbents fought off tough challenges. Progressive groups that tried to unseat a number of incumbents did not have much success, but a super PAC allied with Republican Gov. Susannah Martinez that spent $100,000 in the last week of the campaign won seven of eight races.
The bottom line is that there are still lots of battles to be fought in November over the makeup of the Legislature. Martinez has threatened to defeat incumbents who have stood in her way, but on Tuesday she succeeded primarily in defending those who haven’t.
In the overwhelmingly Republican-controlled South Dakota Legislature, Gov. Dennis Daugaard caused a stir among conservatives by endorsing moderate Republicans in contested primaries because he thought they had been effective legislators. Several of these races involved House members attempting to move to the Senate in South Dakota's system of two-member House districts coinciding within each Senate district. Three of the six candidates endorsed by the governor lost. NCSL activist Sen. Deb Peters was one of his endorsees who won, although narrowly. Outgoing Speaker Val Rausch lost in his challenge against incumbent Sen. Tim Begalka.