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Eight questions for elections in five states on Tuesday

California filling McCarthy's seat as Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky and Oregon hold primaries

California state Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Republican from Bakersfield, appears with then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, left, at a news conference in Santa Ana, Calif., on June 16, 2023.
California state Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Republican from Bakersfield, appears with then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, left, at a news conference in Santa Ana, Calif., on June 16, 2023. (Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images)

Voters will pick a replacement for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, nominees for open seats in Georgia and Oregon and settle intraparty battles in Idaho and Kentucky as five states hold elections on Tuesday. 

Races include possible GOP meddling in a Democratic primary, retaliation by a pro-Israel group against a Republican firebrand who questioned whether one of his party’s leaders was behind it and the potential for two sisters to serve together in the House.

Here’s a rundown of the races worth watching on Tuesday:

Who fills McCarthy’s seat?

The all-Republican special general election for the seat vacated when McCarthy resigned features state Assemblymember Vince Fong against Mike Boudreaux, the Tulare County sheriff. Fong led the field in the nonpartisan primary in March, with about 42 percent of the vote. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Fong, who was also the preferred choice of McCarthy in the Bakersfield-area district.

The same two candidates advanced from the regular primary for the same seat, meaning one of the two will be an incumbent when they are on the ballot again in November. Fong has reported raising almost $1.5 million this cycle as of the beginning of May, compared with $423,000 for Boudreaux.

Which Oregon Democrat will try to flip a seat?

In a district President Joe Biden won by 9 percentage points in 2020, Republican freshman Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer is a prime target in the Democrats’ effort to retake control of the House.

But first the party has to settle on a nominee.

Many Democrats in Washington, D.C., have coalesced behind Janelle Bynum, a legislator from Clackamas County, pointing to her two victories over Chavez-DeRemer in races for the Oregon House. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included Bynum on its “Red to Blue” program, which provides candidates with extra attention and fundraising help.

“Janelle is an incredibly strong candidate and that’s why we put her on the Red to Blue list,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and the chairwoman of the DCCC. “She’s got strong support from … elected officials in Oregon … so she’s in a really strong position.”

Bynum faces Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a progressive lawyer from central Oregon who defeated former Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader in the 2022 primary but narrowly lost to Chavez-DeRemer that November.

Through May 1, Bynum had raised $1.1 million, to McLeod-Skinner’s $707,000. Chavez-DeRemer, who does not face a primary opponent, raised $3.3 million.

Outside money has poured into the race. A super PAC called 314 Action that supports Democratic scientists running for office, spent $474,000 in support of Bynum, who has a degree in electrical engineering. Mainstream Democrats PAC, which is funded by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, spent more than $750,000 on ads backing Bynum and opposing McLeod-Skinner. 

Bynum’s supporters say a super PAC with ties to Republicans has been spending in the race to boost McLeod-Skinner because they view her as the weaker candidate to run against Chavez-DeRemer in November. Health Equity Now, which The Associated Press reports has ties to GOP operatives, spent about $400,000 so far on ads highlighting McLeod-Skinner’s support for “Medicare for All,” a popular position among Democratic primary voters.

In a sign of how competitive the general election will be, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with the Republican leadership in the House, has already invested $187,000 in support of Chavez-DeRemer.

Can Jayapal join her sister in the House?

Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s announcement last year that he wouldn’t seek reelection set off a scramble among Democrats and brought a flood of outside money to this safe blue district centered on Portland.

The three leading contenders in the vote-by-mail primary are physician and state Rep. Maxine Dexter, Gresham city Councilor Eddy Morales and former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, the sister of Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The winner is heavily favored to win the seat in November.

Dexter has been the beneficiary of more than $2 million spent by 314 Action. Meanwhile, Voters for Responsive Government, a super PAC based in Los Angeles, has spent more than $2.4 million targeting Jayapal. Much of that money was spent on TV ads blaming her for failing to deal with homelessness in Multnomah County. 

Neither super PAC has disclosed their donors so far. Jayapal and Morales, citing reporting by The Intercept, say the groups are connected to “Republican-MAGA” interests and AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. 

While issues such as climate change, reproductive rights and a lack of affordable housing in the district have played a more prominent role, questions about the war in Gaza have come up on the campaign trail. 

Dexter says on her website that she ​​endorses efforts to achieve “a long-term, negotiated ceasefire that ensures the release of all hostages, the enduring defeat of Hamas and facilitates security in the region.”

Jayapal has supported calls for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and has backed putting conditions on U.S. aid to Israel.

Jayapal was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and has received outside help from the IMPACT Fund, which aims to boost South Asian American representation in Congress. 

Equality Project PAC, the campaign arm of the congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus, and a PAC aligned with the National Association of Realtors, have both spent money promoting Morales. He was also endorsed by Reps. Becca Balint of Vermont, Ritchie Torres of New York and Mark Takano of California.

Dexter, who has the endorsement of The Oregonian newspaper, outraised both Jayapal and Morales, bringing in a total of $919,000 as of May 1.

Will allegations hurt Hoyle?

Two Republicans, attorney and retired Air Force Col. Monique DeSpain and consultant and former Keizer City Councilor Amy Ryan Courser, are vying for the nomination in Oregon’s 4th District, which Biden won by 13 points.

The Democratic incumbent, freshman Rep. Val Hoyle, is unopposed in the primary.

While the race in the southern Willamette Valley is rated Likely Democratic by Inside Elections, Republicans in Washington say Hoyle is vulnerable. They are raising allegations of wrongdoing from when she was the head of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and believe DeSpain could run a strong campaign against her.

DeSpain outraised Courser, $273,0000 to $27,000, through May 1. But Hoyle raised $1.3 million. 

Will Salinas get a rematch?

Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas and Republican businessman Mike Erickson are readying for a rematch in Oregon’s 6th District but first, each candidate will have to get past a primary opponent. Salinas faces veteran Steven Cody Reynolds, who had less than $8,000 in his campaign account at the end of March. Erickson’s Republican competitor, David Russ, had $320 at the start of May.

Erickson had about $100,000 on hand, but he loaned his campaign nearly $2.8 million for the 2022 campaign and his personal financial disclosure report reported two assets paying him at least $1 million a year, so he may be able to self-finance again.

Salinas had nearly $1.7 million on hand. The race is rated Likely Democratic.

Can Trump adviser replace Ferguson?

Brian Jack, who served as White House political director under President Donald Trump, has his old boss’s endorsement in the Republican primary in Georgia’s 3rd District, an open seat after the retirement announcement by Rep. Drew Ferguson.

Jack is battling four Republicans for the nomination, including state Sen. Mike Dugan and former state legislators Mike Crane and Philip Singleton. Jack not only led the field in fundraising, with almost $925,000 in receipts as of May 1, but outside groups have spend another $1.5 million to support him. 

The race is rated Solid Republican — Trump beat Biden here by 25 percentage points — so the winner of the primary will be a favorite to join the 119th Congress.

Will pro-Israel ad hurt Massie?

Rep. Thomas Massie, who most recently was one of the leaders in the failed push to oust Speaker Mike Johnson from his post, has two challengers in the Republican primary in Kentucky’s 2nd District: retired attorney Eric Deters, who finished fourth in the GOP primary for governor last year, and Michael McGinnis, whose campaign website says he’s an Eagle Scout and told Ballotpedia he would “investigate the Bill Gates foundation for their role in the pandemic”  if elected.

Neither Deters nor McGinnis has reported raising any money to the FEC, while Massie had $693,000 in his campaign account on May 1.

Still, outside groups have waded into the race ahead of the primary. United Democracy Project, which is affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has reported spending $153,000 on an ad attacking Massie for voting against funding for Israel. The Protect Freedom PAC, which was founded by people who had worked with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has spent $549,000 on ads and direct mail supporting Massie.

The UDP ad does not support another candidate, but Massie told the Louisville Courier Journal for a May 9 article he thought AIPAC was trying to tilt the election to Deters, and questioned whether Johnson was involved.

Does Simpson need outside help?

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, faces two challengers as he seeks the Republican nomination in Idaho’s 2nd District.

Sean Higgins, who describes himself on his campaign website as a “native tater” and accidental teacher who “stumbled into the IT world,” reported raising $5,400 through May 1, while investment adviser Scott Cleveland, the third vice chairman of the Ada County GOP, raised $100,000, half of it from a personal loan to the campaign. Simpson’s total receipts were $1 million, and he had $611,000 on May 1 to Cleveland’s $17,000 and Higgins’ $4,300.

Nevertheless, outside groups have put $198,000 into the race for radio ads and mailers supporting Simpson, who is seeking his 14th term. About half of that spending came from the American Dental Association’s Independent Expenditures Committee.

Trump carried the district by 24 points, and the race in November is rated Solid Republican.

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.

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