Menendezes and rematches: Takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries

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Mary Ellen McIntire and Daniela Altimari | CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

Voters in Iowa, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico settled House and Senate primary battles on Tuesday. South Dakota also voted, but there was no contest in either party for its one House seat.

Along with nominating a senator’s son for another term in his father’s old House seat, voters also queued up several November rematches in battleground districts and picked nominees for open seats who are virtually certain to be in the next Congress.

Here are 10 takeaways from the races.

1. Senator’s indictment doesn’t hurt Rep. Menendez

In New Jersey’s 8th District, voters didn’t punish the son for the alleged crimes of the father.

Democratic Rep. Rob Menendez is on track to win a second term in his father’s old House seat, after defeating primary challenger Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla in the deep-blue North Jersey district. Menendez had less than 54% of the vote when The Associated Press called the race at 9:19 p.m. Bhalla had 36%, and a third candidate, businessman Kyle Jasey, had nearly 11%.

Menendez drew a primary challenger months after his father, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, was charged in a corruption case for which he is currently on trial in Manhattan federal court. The younger Menendez has not been accused of any crimes or connected to the alleged scheme that involves bribes for the senator using his influence.

Rob Menendez has maintained much of his support among New Jersey Democrats, unlike his father. Although Bhalla was the top fundraiser as of May 15, outside groups stepped in and spent $1.8 million, 75% of it going to support Menendez. That included Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC spending $486,000 supporting his campaign, and another super PAC called BOLD America spending $570,000 opposing Bhalla and supporting Menendez.

In November, Menendez will face Republican Anthony Valdes, who was unopposed Tuesday in the GOP primary. The race is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

2. Downing to vie for Rosendale’s seat

In Montana’s open 2nd District, Republicans voted to nominate state Auditor Troy Downing from a field of nine candidates, including former Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Downing, who got President Donald Trump’s endorsement on Monday night, had about 36% of the vote and Rehberg 17% with an estimated 89% of the vote counted. The AP called the race at 11:27 p.m. Eastern time.

Incumbent Rep. Matt Rosendale, after initially saying he would run for Senate and then that he’d run again for the House, ultimately decided not to seek reelection.

Downing will face Democratic former state legislator John Driscoll, who won 34% of the vote in a four-candidate race that was called at 1:55 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday.

The race is rated Solid Republican, so the GOP nominee has a strong chance of winning the seat in November.

3. Bashaw to face Kim

Rep. Andy Kim officially secured the Democratic nomination for Menendez’s Senate seat in New Jersey, garnering 80% of the vote against two opponents when the AP called the race at 8:14 p.m.

“I took a chance to run for Senate eight months ago on the belief that people are fed up with our broken politics and are ready for a new generation of leadership fighting for change,” Kim, who is in his third term in the House, said in a statement. “New Jersey has a choice: the chaos and corruption of Bob Menendez and Donald Trump, or the politics that works for families struggling to get by.”

He’ll face hotelier Curtis Bashaw, who won the Republican primary despite Trump endorsing rival Christine Serrano Glassner, the mayor of Mendham. Bashaw had 56% of the vote to Glassner’s 28% when the AP called the race at 9:08 p.m. Two other candidates shared the rest of the vote.

Menendez did not run in the Senate primary as he battles corruption charges, but on Monday he filed to run in the November election as an independent.

Inside Elections rates New Jersey’s Senate race as Solid Democratic. But Kim warned that Menendez’s independent run could play spoiler and give Republicans a chance to flip the seat. Even so, Republicans haven’t made the Garden State part of their strategy to flip the Senate.

4. No surprises in key Montana Senate race

In Montana, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and his leading GOP opponent, Tim Sheehy, quickly dispatched primary adversaries Tuesday and continued their focus on the general election.

Tester, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, turned back a challenge from Navy veteran Michael Hummert, while Sheehy defeated former Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson and environmental contractor Charles Walking Child in the Republican primary.

Tester has already amassed one of the largest campaign war chests of any Democratic incumbent: He had about $11.8 million on hand as of May 15, far outpacing Sheehy’s $2.2 million.

But Sheehy is a top GOP recruit, and Republicans are hopeful that the businessman and former Navy Seal can use his personal wealth to unseat Tester, who was first elected in 2006. Trump won the state by more than 16 points in 2020.

The battleground race, which will help determine which party controls the Senate, is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections.

5. Ex-senator’s daughter will try to flip Senate seat

Neither party’s candidate for Senate in the New Mexico — Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich and Republican challenger Nella Domenici — faced a primary challenge.

The race is rated Solid Democratic, and Biden won the state by nearly 11 points in 2020.

But the GOP hopes that Domenici — the former chief financial officer of the world’s largest hedge fund and daughter of Pete Domenici, New Mexico’s last Republican senator — will make the contest competitive.

6. Conaway backed for Kim’s seat

Herb Conaway Jr., a member of the New Jersey Assembly, defeated fellow Assembly member Carol Murphy in the Democratic primary for the 3rd District seat, vacated by Kim’s Senate run.

Conaway had 48% of the vote to Murphy’s 26% when the AP called the race at 9:22 p.m. Three other candidates shared the rest of the vote.

Conaway was backed by outside groups including VoteVets, New Politics and Moms Demand Action, which spent $570,000 to support his campaign, according to FEC filings.

Conaway will face Republican winner Rajesh Mohan, who won a four-way primary with 39% of the vote. That race was called at 10:28 p.m.

Kim flipped a Republican-held seat when he was first elected in 2018, but the district became more Democratic when the state map was redrawn after the 2020 Census. Inside Elections rates the November race as Solid Democratic.

7. Kean, Nunn facing races rated Tilt Republican

Matchups were set for races in New Jersey’s 7th District and Iowa’s 3rd District that rank high on both parties’ lists of key battlegrounds this year.

In New Jersey, the anticipated race between Republican Rep. Thomas H. Kean Jr. and Democrat Sue Altman is now official.

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Kean easily won his primary on Tuesday against Roger Bacon. He had 74% of the vote when the AP called the race at 8:15 p.m. Altman was unopposed.

With a rating of Tilt Republican, the 7th District will have the state’s most competitive House race this fall and could be one of the most closely watched races nationally. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leaders, has already spent $85,000 supporting Kean and opposing Altman.

Kean, the son of a former governor who remains popular, flipped the seat in 2022. Altman led the state’s Working Families Party, a progressive group that pressed Democrats who control state government, before stepping down to run for Congress.

In Iowa’s 3rd District, Lanon Baccam, the son of Laotian refugees who served in the Iowa National Guard, easily won his primary Tuesday and will face freshman Republican Rep. Zach Nunn.

Baccam defeated business owner Melissa Vine with 85% of the vote when the AP called the race at 9:13 p.m. Eastern time, shortly after the polls closed.

The district also is rated Tilt Republican, and Trump won there by about half a percentage point in 2020.

Altman and Baccam are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, which offers challengers access to additional resources and training.

“This could once again be one of the closest races in the country, and there’s no better candidate than Lanon Baccam to flip this seat,” DCCC Chair Suzan DeBene said in a statement.

8. Iowa rematch set

In Iowa’s 1st District, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks handily turned back a primary challenge from fellow Republican David Pautsch, an advertising executive whose son, an Army corporal, was killed in Iraq in 2009.

Miller-Meeks, who was first elected in 2020, when she won by just six votes, won renomination by 12 points, though early returns had pointed to a closer race against advertising company owner Pautch.

Miller-Meeks’ nomination sets the stage for another November showdown with Democratic former state Rep. Christina Bohannan, who did not face a primary contest. Miller-Meeks beat Bohannan by nearly 7 points in 2022.

Miller-Meeks and Bohannan each had about $1.8 million on hand as of mid-May. The race is rated Lean Republican by Inside Elections, and Trump won the district by 2 points in 2020.

9. Montana rematch set

In Montana’s 1st District, Rep. Ryan Zinke handily defeated fellow Republican Mary Todd, capturing 75% of the vote in a race the AP called at 10:39 p.m. Eastern time.

Zinke will once again battle Democrat Monica Tranel, a lawyer who twice competed in the Olympics as a member of the U.S. women’s rowing team. Tranel, who did not have a primary contest, lost to Zinke by about 3 points in 2022.

Tranel had about $1.5 million on hand in mid-May; Zinke had $2.5 million.

Inside Elections rates the race Lean Republican. Trump won the 1st District, which covers a swath of western Montana from Kalispell to Bozeman, by 8 percentage points in 2020.

10. New Mexico rematch set

Neither candidate faced a primary challenge in the coming rematch in a battleground southern New Mexico district. Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez will once again face Republican former Rep. Yvette Herrell for the right to represent the state’s 2nd District.

In 2022, Vasquez ousted Herrell by 1,350 votes, or less than 1 percentage point. Both parties are expected to devote significant resources to the race, which is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections.

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