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California voters oust reformist DA in San Francisco as House battlegrounds take shape

Big cities in California saw high-profile local races driven by voter concerns about public safety, while statewide primaries there and in six other states set the stage for November.

WASHINGTON — San Francisco voters fired their headline-grabbing reformist district attorney Tuesday, NBC News projects, after rising crime rates proved intolerable even for the famously progressive city.

Chesa Boudin, the son of left-wing radicals who was elected on a Black Lives Matter-aligned platform to reform the criminal justice system, faced a successful recall effort as voters grew frustrated with the perception that his office is not willing to do much about crime.

The outcome and its lopsided margin was a rebuke of the left as Democrats retreat from calls to “defund the police” in the face of polls nationally showing growing concern about public safety, especially from people of color.

With more than two-thirds of the expected vote counted, votes to remove Boudin from office were outstripping those to keep him 60.5 to 39.5 percent.

Mayor London Breed will appoint a temporary successor to fill the DA's office — formerly occupied by Vice President Kamala Harris — until an election can be held.

California was one of seven states holding primary elections Tuesday that will set the course for key congressional and other races in November.

The battle for the House came into fuller view as Republicans chose nominees in districts that could decide whether Democrats retain their narrow majority in Washington. 

In another sign of dissatisfaction in a nearby Democratic stronghold, an ex-Republican billionaire will face a Democratic congresswoman in November runoff to be the next mayor of Los Angeles, NBC News projects.

Rick Caruso, a major real estate developer who joined the Democratic Party shortly before declaring his run for mayor, dramatically outspent his main opponent, Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, and capitalized on mounting frustration with homeless and crime. 

Rick Caruso and Karen Bass.
Rick Caruso and Karen Bass.Getty Images/AP

Caruso found support in famously liberal Hollywood from left-leaning celebrities like Katy Perry, who has performed at Democratic National Conventions and been a reliable booster for the party. 

Addressing supporters, Caruso called the outcome a "great awakening," saying Los Angeles residents felt unheard and disappointed by "career politicians."

"Our big, beautiful city needs our help," Caruso added.

Homelessness was by far the leading issue for voters, with 49 percent picking it as one of their top two issues in a University of California Institute of Governmental Studies/Los Angeles Times poll conducted shortly before the election. It was followed by crime and public safety and housing affordable.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, retired Adm. Michael Franken won the Democratic Senate nomination, NBC News projects, defeating former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who had been seen as the favorite.

Franken ran for the Senate in 2020 and positioned himself to Finkenauer’s left by supporting issues like “Medicare for All” while foregrounding his national security experience.

He will face longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in November, who cruised to his party's nomination and who will be difficult to beat in a state that has trended Republican.

Image: Renewing and Strengthening the Violence Against Women Act
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Democrats in Iowa are focused on trying to defend their only congressional seat in the state, held by Rep. Cindy Axne, who is one of five House Democrats representing a district Donald Trump would have won if the new post-redistricting congressional lines had been in place in 2020.

Axne will face state Sen. Zach Nunn, a 43-year-old Air Force combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and defeated another well-funded candidate for the GOP nomination, NBC News projects.

Primaries also took place Tuesday in New Jersey, New Mexico, Mississippi and Montana.

In South Dakota, Republican Sen. John Thune, deputy to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, easily won re-nomination, NBC News projects, despite earning Trump’s ire for not supporting his effort to overturn the 2020 election and initially wavering on whether he would run for re-election.

Trump wanted Gov. Kristi Noem to challenge Thune, but she ultimately decided to run for re-election and also cruised to re-nomination Tuesday, NBC News projects.

Trump also called for the removal of Republican Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey’s longest-serving member of Congress, after he voted for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Some Trump-aligned figures like Roger Stone have been working against Smith, but Trump himself never endorsed an opponent, and Smith won re-nomination, NBC News projects.

Elsewhere in New Jersey, Republicans are eyeing a number of Democratic incumbents seen as vulnerable in the fall.

Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski will face a rematch against Tom Kean Jr., the former GOP leader in the state Senate, who won his party's nomination, NBC News projects.

A winner has not yet emerged from the GOP primary to challenge Democratic Rep. Andy Kim.

And a Garden State Democratic dynasty is expected to continue after Robert “Rob” Menendez Jr., the son of Sen. Robert “Bob” Menendez, won his party's nomination in a deep-blue open seat just over the Hudson River from New York City, NBC News projects.

In New Mexico, NBC News projects former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti won a hard-fought Republican primary to take on Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seen as vulnerable in the fall.

California is also home to a number of critical House races. 

In two tossup districts currently held by Republicans, Reps. David Valadao and Young Kim are facing far-right challengers who have outside chances of pushing them off the November ballot in the state’s all-party “jungle primary.”

Two candidates will advance to the general election, and Democratic super PACs have made a late push to boost the far-right challengers in the hope they will snatch the second spot on the ballot, leading Republican national groups to respond with their own late cash infusions.