With the 2022 midterm elections fast approaching, Republicans have their eyes set on capturing the House – and potentially the Senate – for the first time since 2016, while Democrats seek to hold onto control of at least one chamber.
But primary challenges to top Senate Ag lawmakers and a blockbuster election in Georgia threaten to shake up the Ag Committee, including one primary challenger targeting the heir apparent to chair the Senate Ag Committee if Republicans take the Senate. Republican candidates are facing challenges by candidates seeking to align more closely with former President Donald Trump.
In the House, all but four states – Florida, Missouri, Louisiana and New Hampshire -- have completed the redrawing of their House district maps, creating several new swing districts and adding seats in some top farm states. In some states, it will pit Ag Committee members against one another and toss incumbents from safe districts into competitive districts.
The stakes for agriculture are high in the midterms, as the structure of key committees in both houses could change – altering the type of legislation that could make it through to President Joe Biden’s desk. The candidates elected in 2022 will also be responsible for passing a new farm bill in 2023, which legislators are hoping to begin work on this spring.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, is being challenged from the right by Jake Bequette, a former professional football player and Army veteran. Boozman would become chairman of the committee if Republicans take control of the Senate.
Bequette, a rookie candidate, is running on a platform to “defend our conservative values and send career politicians packing,” according to his campaign website. He has raised over $800,000 and is supported by the American Patriots Fund super-PAC, which recently spent close to $1 million on an ad-buy.
But Bequette, whose campaign page has a section dedicated to “The Trump Agenda,” has not scored the endorsement of Trump. Trump instead endorsed Boozman, calling him a “great fighter for the people of Arkansas … tough on Crime, strong on the Border, a great supporter of our Military and our Vets, and fights for our farmers every day.”
Boozman told reporters following a recent Ag Committee hearing that he’s “always worried about primary challenges,” but is “working hard to get our message out.”
“We think we’ve represented the people of Arkansas with Arkansas values and conservative principles and have really worked hard about the things they care about,” Boozman said. “Things like protecting the unborn, Second Amendment, securing the border, religious liberty, those kinds of things … so we’re continuing to run through the finish line.”
Arkansas’ primary is on May 24, and the GOP victor is heavily favored to win the general election in November.
Boozman is not the only Republican on the Ag Committee facing a primary.
Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., are also facing challengers from candidates on their right.
Hoeven is being challenged by Rick Becker, a firebrand state legislator who founded the ultra-conservative Bastiat Caucus in North Dakota.
Becker, a plastic surgeon, said in a video announcing his candidacy that “all Republicans use the word conservative when they campaign, but very few are consistent and principled once elected. And that’s what sets me apart … I represent the exact opposite of a career politician.”
Becker also has attacked the federal crop insurance system on which the state's farmers heavily rely. "We need to reform the huge, wasteful program of Federal Crop Insurance in a manner that does NOT hurt the farmer. The American farmer should be freed from being a slave to this bureaucratic monster," Becker said in a tweet.
North Dakota legislator Brandy Lyle doesn't think Hoeven is in trouble but says that in her state as elsewhere "there is so much unrest and distrust in all levels of politics and life. What once made sense and was supported is now not."
Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate, is facing two primary challenges, but it is unlikely he will face a serious hurdle after Gov. Kristi Noem declined to challenge him. Trump had called for Thune’s ouster, and a primary challenge from Noem, after he challenged the former president’s claims of election fraud in 2020.
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On the Democratic side, Ag Committee member, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., is likely to have a white-knuckle re-election campaign.
While Warnock has no primary challengers, his special election runoff victory in 2020 over former Sen. Kelly Loeffler was decided by only a 2% margin.
In 2022, he will likely face former Heisman Trophy winner and University of Georgia icon Herschel Walker, who has scored an endorsement from Trump.
Georgia is likely to again be one of the most expensive midterm Senate elections after 2020’s record-breaking fundraising. According to the latest campaign filing data, Warnock has a war chest of nearly $23 million, while Walker has over $5 million.
In a January Quinnipiac poll, Walker held a slight lead of one percentage point.
Redistricting maps have shaken up traditional ag stronghold districts, including a shuffle in Iowa, leaving an open seat, a new district in Montana and a primary in South Dakota, among other factors which could change the makeup of the Ag Committee.
Additionally, the death of Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., leaves Minnesota's 1st District without an incumbent.
California: As a result of redistricting, two-term Democratic Rep. Josh Harder, who now represents the 10th District, is running in the 9th District to replace the retiring Jerry McNerney. The new 9th district, which includes most of San Joaquin County, leans Democratic by eight percentage points, according to the web site FiveThirtyEight.
Other Californians on the committee are generally in safe districts. Democrat Jim Costa, one of the committee's most senior members, is running in the newly drawn 21st District in the Fresno area. The district leans Democrat by 16 points.
Iowa: Redistricting flipped the first and second districts, moving GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson into the 2nd District, where she will run in 2022. Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who currently represents the 2nd District, will move to the 1st District and run there; her home county of Wapello was drawn into the 3rd District currently represented by Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa.
Christina Bohannan, a state representative is challenging Miller-Meeks in the new 1st District. Bohannan has attacked Miller-Meeks on her vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed into law earlier this year.
Liz Mathis, an Iowa state senator, will challenge the 1st District incumbent, GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson, in the 2nd District.
Axne, the state's only Democrat in Congress whose district picked up several Trump-friendly counties in the new map. Two serious GOP challengers to Axne have emerged so far: Zach Nunn, a state senator, and Nicole Hasso, a Black woman who has spoken out against critical race theory and been endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
No challenger has entered the race in Iowa’s heavily GOP 4th District to challenge incumbent Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa.
Montana: It has historically been an at-large state with only one representative, but picked up a seat in 2022. Incumbent GOP Rep. Matthew Rosendale will now represent the 2nd District covering the heavily agricultural central and eastern parts of the state, and the new 1st District will cover the west.
There is a crowded primary field for the new 1st District.
Leading the pack for the GOP is Ryan Zinke, a former interior secretary under Trump. Cora Neumann, who has a doctorate in public health and economic development; and Monica Tranel, a former Olympian and lawyer, have risen to the top for the Democrats. Neumann has nearly $500,000 more on hand than Tranel.
Minnesota: Minnesota will have a special Aug. 9 to fill Hagedorn's 1st District seat.
Candidates have shown interest in filling the vacancy, which is in the competitive first district. Hagedorn narrowly flipped it in 2018 and carried again in 2020 by three points.
In a bad sign for Democrats, Pentagon veteran Dan Feehan, who lost close races to Hagedorn in 2018 and 2020, isn't running this year. Democrats Richard Painter, a former GOP ethics counsel, and Richard DeVoe, a bookstore owner, announced campaigns last week.
On the GOP side, state Rep. Jeremy Munson, a Republican, filed paperwork to join the race, and Brad Finstad, a former state representative and USDA state director for rural development, announced this week that he is running.
“I’ll put the brakes on the out-of-control Biden/Pelosi agenda that is fueling inflation and hurting southern Minnesota families,” Finstad said.
Munson is a strongly conservative state House member who is promising to “take on the DC Swamp, Dr. Fauci, and the political elites seeking to destroy our way of life.”
In the 2nd District, incumbent Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., is set for a rematch with 2020 candidate Tyler Kistner, who she defeated with over 48% of the vote to Kistner's 46%,
Steven Schier, a professor of political science at Minnesota's Carleton College expects Craig to face another close race. He said the newly drawn district, which includes a portion of the Twin Cities suburbs, remains slightly more Democratic.
He said it remains to be seen whether Republicans will be helped or hurt with Trump not on the ballot this year. Trump turned off many suburban voters at the same time he helped the GOP in rural areas.
Illinois: Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill., are now running in the same district and will face one another in a primary. Trump has thrown his weight behind Miller, a member of the Freedom Caucus. The state's Democratic legislature eliminated Miller's 15th District and put her into the 12th District with Mike Bost.
Bobby Rush, D-Ill, an Ag Committee member from the 1st District in Chicago, has announced his plans to retire, along with Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., another Ag committee member who represents the 17th District, which runs along the Mississippi River. Some eight Democrats are running in the 17th District primary in June. On the GOP Side, both Esther Joy King and Charlie Helmick are running on their military backgrounds.
New York: As a result of redistricting, Ag Committee member Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y., lost his 27th District, which was absorbed into the 24th District. John Katko, R-N.Y., who currently represents the 24th, will be retiring, and Jacobs will be running in that district.
Jacobs' GOP challengers include businessman Mario Fratto, who describes himself as a "no-compromise conservative" who promises to end U.S. dependence on China. The Democratic candidates include Steven Holden, an Army veteran who has said on Twitter, "If we do not engage with rural voters, and cede them to the GOP, we will never get life-changing Progressive legislation passed."
South Dakota: It's still an at-large state, and Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-SD, has a primary challenger from the right.
Johnson, who has been successful in reaching across the aisle to pass legislation like the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, is being challenged by Taffy Howard, a South Dakota state representative and Air Force veteran.
According to her campaign website, Howard is running on a platform to “cut taxes, fix immigration and election fraud, protect life, and preserve liberty.”
Asked about the primary challenge, Johnson told Agri-Pulse "the massive silent majority of South Dakotans out there, according to polls and election results, really like the work that I'm doing to actually get things done.”
"When I ran, I said I was going to be conservative and I said I was going to get things done, and the reality is I've got a 98% conservative rating and I've been named by the University of Virginia and others as the most effective Republican in Congress related to agricultural issues and issues related to rural development," Johnson said.
Philip Brasher contributed to this report.
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