2022 Primary Season Heats Up: 14 Races To Watch In May's Elections

This election season will be a test for former President Donald Trump as several candidates he has endorsed on the ballot are in tight races.

The 2022 midterm election season is kicking into high gear, with 13 states holding primary contests.

It will be a big test of former President Donald Trump’s political strength, with a number of his endorsed candidates on the ballot ― and one facing multiple sexual assault allegations.

On the Democratic side, there are several races across the country pitting progressive candidates against moderates. President Joe Biden also made his first endorsement of this election cycle in Oregon, where centrist Rep. Kurt Schrader (D) is in a primary against a candidate to his left.

Here are some of the races HuffPost will be watching:

DEMOCRATS

Ohio – 11th Congressional District: Nina Turner Tries Again (May 3)

Progressive Nina Turner is up for a rematch against Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio).
Progressive Nina Turner is up for a rematch against Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio).
Phil Long/Associated Press

When former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner lost to Shontel Brown in a special congressional primary election in August, it delivered a crushing blow to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Turner, an early ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), had developed a devoted left-wing following ― and a grassroots fundraising base ― thanks in part to her oratorical strength. But Turner’s history of polarizing stances and rhetoric, including disparaging remarks about Biden, provided Brown’s well-funded backers in the pro-Israel community, the Congressional Black Caucus and other centrist bastions the ammunition they needed to dispatch with Turner.

Turner announced in January that she would run against Brown again in the 11th Congressional District in the midterm elections. But she faces an uphill battle. As an incumbent, Brown boasts advantages she lacked during her first successful run, including the support of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Turner could benefit, however, from new district lines that have added the progressive suburb of Lakewood to the district and a low-turnout electorate that magnifies the weight of hardcore progressives. ― Daniel Marans

North Carolina – 1st And 4th Congressional Districts; A Flood Of Big Money (May 17)

Big money has poured into the race against Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, who is running in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District.
Big money has poured into the race against Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, who is running in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District.
Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, home to the cities of Durham and Chapel Hill, is perhaps the state’s most progressive seat. Democratic Rep. David Price’s retirement has sparked a heated contest to succeed him in a district where the Democratic primary is the only contest that matters. The top contenders are state Sen. Valerie Foushee, former “American Idol” star Clay Aiken and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam.

Allam, a former volunteer for Sanders’ 2016 presidential run, is the choice for hardcore progressives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). As of the end of March, she was also the field’s leading fundraiser, followed by Aiken and Foushee.

But Foushee has recently picked up big-money backing that could change the course of the race. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) quietly bundled a majority of Foushee’s fundraising in the first quarter of the year; the pro-Israel group’s new super PAC just spent nearly $800,000 boosting her bid. A super PAC funded by a cryptocurrency billionaire interested in improving the country’s pandemic preparedness has spent more than $900,000 on Foushee’s bid. And earlier this month, Foushee landed the influential blessing of EMILY’s List, a group that supports Democratic women who back abortion rights.

The surge of big money has not been without blowback for Foushee. The progressive caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party withdrew its stamp of approval for Foushee after learning of AIPAC’s support for her. The caucus objected to AIPAC’s endorsement of more than 100 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.

Regardless, the contest in North Carolina’s 4th District is a bellwether for whether large sums of money are enough to stymie the Democratic Party’s most outspoken leftists, especially on the question of U.S.-Israel policy. Unlike Foushee, Allam, who is an observant Muslim of South Asian heritage, is a critic of the Israeli government. She has also apologized for a 2018 tweet about Israeli influence in U.S. politics that some Jewish leaders saw as antisemitic.

AIPAC has also intervened in the Democratic primary in North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, where former state Sen. Erica Smith and state Sen. Don Davis, a conservative Democrat, are competing to succeed retiring Rep. G.K. Butterfield. AIPAC’s super PAC has spent nearly $850,000 in support of Davis, who is also backed by Butterfield. ― Daniel Marans

Oregon – 5th Congressional District: A Test For Biden’s First Endorsement (May 17)

President Joe Biden's first endorsement of the 2022 cycle was Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).
President Joe Biden's first endorsement of the 2022 cycle was Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Rep. Kurt Schrader is one of Congress’s most conservative Democrats. He voted against the initial version of Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, helped decouple the ambitious “Build Back Better” legislation from the bipartisan infrastructure package and watered down Biden’s prescription drug negotiation bill as a condition for his support.

Those actions ― and remarks comparing the 2021 impeachment of Trump to a “lynching” ― earned him a challenge from progressive attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the primary. McLeod-Skinner has likened Schrader to conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), has vowed to be a more loyal partner to Biden than Schrader and has accused Schrader of corruption for relying heavily on donations from pharmaceutical industry PACs. She has the support of not only an array of labor unions and progressive groups but also of four county Democratic parties.

But Schrader received a major boost on Saturday when Biden endorsed him, making Schrader the president’s first endorsement of the election cycle. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also working closely with Schrader in the primary, arguing that his defeat in the primary could jeopardize the party’s hold on Oregon’s 5th, a district made slightly more Republican by redistricting.

As of the end of March, Schrader had spent nearly $2 million defending his seat, presenting himself, misleadingly, as a champion of lower prescription drug prices. ― Daniel Marans

Pennsylvania – U.S. Senate: Different Theories For Winning (May 17)

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (left) is running for the U.S. Senate and arguing that his ties to rural areas of Pennsylvania make him the most electable in the general election.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (left) is running for the U.S. Senate and arguing that his ties to rural areas of Pennsylvania make him the most electable in the general election.
Tom Williams/Getty Images

Three Democrats are vying to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey: Rep. Conor Lamb, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

The primary has been dominated by arguments over which candidate is most “electable” against a Republican in a state where Biden prevailed by a very thin margin.

Lamb, a smiley moderate whose special-election upset in a heavily Republican district in southwest Pennsylvania earned him national fame in 2018, has emphasized his three straight wins in districts carried by Trump.

Fetterman, a former mayor of Braddock known for his towering height, bald pate and goatee, argues that his work leading a depressed, post-industrial city and his relationships in the state’s rural counties make him a surer bet against the post-Trump GOP. Although he endorsed Sanders’ presidential bid in 2016 and has championed the causes of Medicare for All and legal marijuana, Fetterman has downplayed his progressive roots during the primary and even leaned into disagreements with the activist left on issues like fracking, U.S.-Israel policy and Philadelphia’s reinstatement of a COVID-19 mask mandate.

Kenyatta, who is Black and openly gay, contends that he is best equipped to animate young and infrequent voters. He has picked up significant support from some labor unions and progressive groups but has failed to remain competitive against Lamb and Fetterman.

On paper, Lamb, a Marine veteran from a Pittsburgh-area Democratic dynasty, seemed like the natural favorite.

But Fetterman has led the field in polling and fundraising for nearly the entire race. He is now widely expected to prevail, despite concerted efforts to paint his past associations with the activist left as a general-election liability and to disqualify him in the eyes of Black voters by highlighting a 2013 incident in which Fetterman pursued a Black jogger while armed with a shotgun. Fetterman has refused to apologize for his actions, maintaining that he was responding to gunshots he heard nearby and was unaware of the jogger’s identity.

Nominating Fetterman could provide a model for populist-leaning progressives eager to make inroads in purple states and districts, but it also contains risks. His defeat in a general election during a difficult cycle for Democrats would undoubtedly strengthen critics’ case for running more conventional candidates like Lamb. ― Daniel Marans

Georgia – Secretary of State: Fighting GOP Voter Suppression (May 24)

Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen rose to national liberal stardom not long after the 2020 election when she tore apart Trump’s voter fraud conspiracies in a public legislative hearing.
Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen rose to national liberal stardom not long after the 2020 election when she tore apart Trump’s voter fraud conspiracies in a public legislative hearing.
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Georgia’s Democratic secretary of state primary isn’t as all-out contentious as the GOP’s, but it is much more crowded. Six candidates have lined up to seek a seat Democrats last held in 2007. State Rep. Bee Nguyen is the highest-profile name: The first Asian American Democrat ever elected in Georgia currently holds Stacey Abrams’ old seat in Atlanta. Nguyen rose to national liberal stardom not long after the 2020 election when she tore apart Trump’s voter fraud conspiracies in a public legislative hearing.

Nguyen has outraised her opponents, racked up endorsements from prominent Georgia lawmakers and a litany of major progressive groups, and joined national Democratic efforts to combat election subversion. But she may still need to expand her name ID and support outside of Atlanta to prevail. Former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler and ex-Fulton County Commissioner John Eaves are also widely considered strong candidates, and given the GOP’s efforts to limit ballot access in Georgia, basically every Democratic candidate has made voting rights and election protection central to their campaign.

It won’t be the most-watched race. But if U.S. Rep. Jody Hice wins the GOP nod, whichever Democrat emerges from this primary will move to the frontline of the party’s nationwide fight to keep GOP election deniers out of secretary of state positions in the key swing states. ― Travis Waldron

Texas – 28th Congressional District: A Heated Runoff (May 24)

Progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros is hoping to unseat Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) in the runoff election on May 24.
Progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros is hoping to unseat Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) in the runoff election on May 24.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros has twice chased Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Texas Democrat, to within an inch of his political life. In 2020, she fell short of the Laredo lawmaker by less than 4 percentage points ― a defeat that nonetheless impressed politics watchers who expected a Cuellar rout.

In their rematch for the Democratic nomination in the 28th District in March, Cuellar bested her by less than 2 percentage points. But due to the presence of a third candidate, neither Cuellar nor Cisneros received an outright majority of the vote, prompting a runoff election.

The primary reflects a debate over the best way for Democrats to recoup Republican gains in socially conservative South Texas. Cuellar, a business-friendly opponent of abortion rights, claims that he has the formula to keep the largely Latino and working-class voters in that part of the state in the Democratic fold. Party leaders like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.), who have endorsed him, appear to agree.

Cisneros, a staunch progressive in the Sanders mold, has focused instead on the poverty, underdevelopment and political corruption that she says have persisted in cities like Laredo despite Cuellar’s seniority in Congress. An FBI raid on Cuellar’s home in late January as part of an investigation that’s reportedly related to the influence of Azerbaijan in U.S. politics, buttressed Cisneros’ case that change is needed. Cuellar’s lawyer has since said that the Department of Justice has assured him that the congressman is not a target of the federal probe. ― Daniel Marans

REPUBLICANS

Ohio – Senate: Crazy, Messy Mudslinging (May 3)

J.D. Vance received Donald Trump's endorsement in the heated Ohio Senate GOP primary.
J.D. Vance received Donald Trump's endorsement in the heated Ohio Senate GOP primary.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A messy GOP race ― best characterized as a mudslinging, full-on sprint to the right ― Ohio’s GOP Senate primary to replace Republican Sen. Rob Portman is still anyone’s to lose just days from the close of voting. It’s the first real test of Trump’s endorsement power in a crowded primary field — and the first race, maybe ever, in which one candidate was caught calling another candidate a “pussy” on a debate stage.

Shocking many longtime political observers in the state, author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance came away with Trump’s endorsement, with some lobbying from Donald Trump Jr. But Vance doesn’t have the race locked up. Watch for Vance’s main “Make America Great Again” rival, Josh Mandel, to split the far-right vote. Financier Mike Gibbons and former state GOP chair Jane Timken may also peel away some support. (Shaking up an unpredictable race at the last minute, a new independent poll also showed state Sen. Matt Dolan, the only candidate not running as a Trump acolyte, surging ahead, prompting Trump to release a statement bashing Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team.)

The winner will likely face Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the fall. ― Liz Skalka

Nebraska – Governor: Trump-Backed Candidate Accused Of Groping Eight Women (May 10)

Republican Charles Herbster, former President Donald Trump's pick in the Nebraska gubernatorial primary, has been accused by eight women of groping them. He has denied the allegations.
Republican Charles Herbster, former President Donald Trump's pick in the Nebraska gubernatorial primary, has been accused by eight women of groping them. He has denied the allegations.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Trump is waging a risky bet supporting Charles Herbster, the embattled GOP gubernatorial candidate in Nebraska.

Herbster has been accused of groping eight women, including a state senator — allegations that Herbster denies, writing them off as a “smear campaign.”

His email address was also used to set up an account on Ashley Madison, the Daily Mail reported this month, based on information revealed in the 2015 hacking dump that exposed users on the online dating site known for catering to married clients.

He’s still locked in a tight three-race way in the May 10 Republican primary, and Trump is doing what he can to help: traveling to Nebraska April 29 to host a rally. Herbster, a fifth-generation farmer and CEO of Conklin Co., is a longtime ally of the former president, serving on a White House agriculture committee under Trump.

A poll released this week showed Herbster neck-and-neck with state Sen. Brett Lindstrom and University of Nebraska regent Jim Pillen. ― Liz Skalka

North Carolina – 11th Congressional District: The Madison Cawthorn Headache (May 17)

Even many of the Republican colleagues of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.) are getting tired of his inflammatory comments and controversies.
Even many of the Republican colleagues of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.) are getting tired of his inflammatory comments and controversies.
Chris Seward/Associated Press

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) has become a constant headache for his party. Last month, he claimed that Washington was a hotbed of sexual perversion, with his political idols inviting him to sex parties or using cocaine in front of him. After significant pushback from his colleagues, Cawthorn backtracked. On Tuesday, officials detained him after he tried to bring a loaded gun through security at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was the second time this year he had been stopped while trying to fly with a gun. He’s also had at least three speeding violations in the past year.

There are now questions about whether Cawthorn engaged in insider trading, with a Republican senator from his own state calling on the House Ethics Committee to investigate him. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has had to step in and say he disagrees with Cawthorn’s characterization of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug.”

And then, of course, there’s everything that happened even before he was elected, such as making racist comments, fawning over Hitler and trying to take a knife onto a school campus.

Cawthorn, one of the youngest members of Congress ever, is facing seven opponents in his primary. The divided race could make it tough for one person to get enough votes to beat him, but if Cawthorn fails to get more than 30% of the vote, he will head to a runoff in which anti-Cawthorn forces could coalesce around his opponent. ― Amanda Terkel

Pennsylvania – U.S. Senate: The TV Doctor Versus The Hedge Fund Guy (May 17)

Dave McCormick (left), led a major hedge fund that mandated masks and vaccines. Mehmet Oz once wrote, "Masks shouldn't be a political statement." Both have changed their mind as they vie for the GOP Senate nomination in Pennsylvania.
Dave McCormick (left), led a major hedge fund that mandated masks and vaccines. Mehmet Oz once wrote, "Masks shouldn't be a political statement." Both have changed their mind as they vie for the GOP Senate nomination in Pennsylvania.
Associated Press

Daytime TV doc Mehmet Oz, made famous by Oprah Winfrey — although she may regret it now — is battling it out in the final days of the primary with Dave McCormick, the former CEO of the world’s largest hedge fund.

The main criticisms of both front-runners are essentially the same: Neither has spent any significant time in the state since childhood, and they’ve each flip-flopped or been weak on issues of varying importance to the conservative base. Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator who’s lagging in the polls, summed up the sentiment toward McCormick and Oz in a debate this week: “I can promise the people of Pennsylvania that when these carpetbaggers lose, you will never see them again. And if they should win, you will never see them again.”

Trump’s endorsement of “Dr. Oz” in a crowded field and the attention it begets makes it challenging for lower-tier candidates like real estate developer Jeff Bartos and former ambassador Carla Sands to get any oxygen.

The battle will go for another round in the general election. Biden won this purple state in 2020, and Democrats view the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey as their best pickup opportunity. ― Liz Skalka

Alabama – U.S. Senate: Trump’s Retribution (May 24)

Donald Trump soured on Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.) after Brooks suggested it might be time to move on from rehashing the 2020 presidential election.
Donald Trump soured on Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.) after Brooks suggested it might be time to move on from rehashing the 2020 presidential election.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

This relatively low-key race (at least compared to other GOP contests in this election cycle) got way more interesting after Trump rescinded his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks, his early favorite, to replace retiring Republican Sen. Richard Shelby.

That happened in March, after Brooks started slipping in the polls and apparently angered Trump by suggesting, almost two years after the fact, that it’s time for the GOP to move on from relitigating the 2020 election.

“Since he decided to go in another direction, so have I,” Trump said in a statement announcing his decision. Brooks responded that he hadn’t changed and that Trump was simply mad he wouldn’t help him scheme to overturn the last presidential election.

Although Trump hasn’t waded into the race again since, watch to see whether the former president makes another pick before the primary. Brooks is locked in a three-way race with businessman Mike Durant and former political staffer Katie Britt.

In one of the nation’s reddest states, the GOP nominee is a shoo-in for Shelby’s seat. ― Liz Skalka

Georgia – Governor: Potentially A Huge Loss For Trump (May 24)

Gov. Brian Kemp is currently holding a double-digit lead over David Perdue, the candidate Donald Trump is backing.
Gov. Brian Kemp is currently holding a double-digit lead over David Perdue, the candidate Donald Trump is backing.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

In Georgia, Trump is set to lose the highest-profile fight he has picked with incumbent Republicans who refused to help him overturn the election he lost. Gov. Brian Kemp is holding a stable double-digit lead in polls over Trump-backed challenger David Perdue, who ironically lost his Senate seat when Trump sabotaged two U.S. Senate runoff races by telling his supporters that Georgia elections were rigged.

The big question is how Trump, who has been disparaging Kemp as worse for Georgia than Democrat Stacey Abrams would have been, will respond to a Kemp primary win. Kemp defeated Abrams only narrowly in 2018, and she is almost certain to be the nominee again this year.

Will Trump come around to telling his followers to back Kemp, who still will not spread Trump’s election lies? Or will he continue to attack Kemp, which could depress GOP turnout and prevent what might otherwise be a comfortable reelection win? ― S.V. Dáte

Georgia – Secretary of State: A Fight Over The Big Lie (May 24)

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger attracted Donald Trump's wrath for refusing to "find" votes to overturn the 2020 election results.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger attracted Donald Trump's wrath for refusing to "find" votes to overturn the 2020 election results.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

There are four Republicans seeking the party’s nomination in a heated secretary of state primary, but it’s really a battle between just two: Incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who drew the ire of the MAGA movement for refusing Trump’s pleas that he “find” just enough votes to overturn the result of the 2020 election, and Rep. Jody Hice, a Freedom Caucus member who twice voted against certification of the election in Congress. Hice also accused Raffensperger of “compromising” the integrity of the race, endorsed nearly every “big lie” conspiracy and involved himself in discussions about how to overturn the outcome.

Hice, who won Trump’s endorsement, holds a sizable lead in polls ― 35% to Raffensperger’s 18% in an early April survey ― but a month out from the primary, a third of voters are still undecided. The implications for the 2024 election are massive: Hice’s conspiratorial election denialism – he recently said he’d continue working to overturn the 2020 result if he wins ― has inspired fears among Democrats and independent observers that he could wield his power as Georgia’s top elections official to actually compromise the integrity of the 2024 presidential contest.

In that sort of role, Hice could act even more aggressively to suppress legitimate votes than Republicans already are. And he could potentially take the sort of drastic action Raffensperger wouldn’t in 2020, refusing to certify the result of any election outcome he doesn’t like. Either way, a Hice victory seems likely to only further undermine faith in the election system, and American democracy as a whole, especially as Republicans like him seek similar positions in other races across the country. ― Travis Waldron

Popular in the Community