By Jason Lange and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, easily won the Republican nomination to seek reelection in November, while a former member of Trump's cabinet was locked in a tight race in his Montana primary for the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Noem, known for her opposition to COVID-19 restrictions, won her primary with 77% of the vote, while former Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of Montana was locked in a tight race as he seeks the party's nomination to return to Congress.
At the other end of the political spectrum, San Francisco's progressive Democratic district attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled from office by Democratic voters frustrated with spikes in homicides and gun violence, according to Edison Research. With 80% of the expected vote in, 60% of voters opted for Boudin's ouster.
His fate could ring alarm bells for Democrats, who have been painted by Republicans as being lenient on crime ahead of November's midterm elections.
With President Joe Biden slumping in the polls and soaring inflation souring voters' moods, Republicans are expected to win control of the House and possibly the Senate, which would bring Biden's legislative agenda to a halt and give Republicans the power to launch distracting and possibly politically damaging investigations.
Just 41% of Americans approve of Biden's performance as president, near the lowest level of his presidency, according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll completed on Tuesday.
The poll also showed the Democratic Party and the Republican Party were neck-and-neck in voter preferences ahead of the November congressional elections. Thirty-nine percent said they would vote for a Democrat compared to 37% picking a Republican. The difference was well within the poll's 4 percentage point credibility interval.
Voters in New Jersey, Iowa, Mississippi and New Mexico also cast ballots on Tuesday in nominating contests that will set the competitive field for Nov. 8's elections.
In Montana, with about two-thirds of the expected vote counted, Zinke held 41.5 percent of the vote and Al Olszewski, a former Montana state senator, had 39.3%, according to Edison Research. The race was too close to call.
Zinke's primary came months after an inspector general report accused him of using his position as head of the Interior Department to advance a development project in his hometown and lying to an ethics investigator. He has denied wrongdoing.
South Dakota's Noem beat former state House speaker Steven Haugaard 77% to 23%.
Noem has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running-mate if Trump seeks election again in 2024 or as a White House candidate in her own right if he does not.
Republicans are favored to easily win the South Dakota governor and Montana House races in November.
HOUSE CHALLENGERS PICKED
Republicans also nominated candidates to take on embattled House Democrats, setting the stage for contests that will help determine control of that chamber.
New Jersey Republican Tom Kean Jr. won his party's nomination to challenge embattled Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski in November, as voters cast ballots in primary elections across seven U.S. states, according to Edison Research.
Kean, the son of popular two-time Governor Thomas Kean, had more than 45% of the vote, far ahead any of his field of rivals. Malinowski, who is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country, also secured his renomination.
"I am both humbled and fully committed to flipping this seat in November," Kean said in a tweet after winning his primary.
In Iowa, former state Senator Zach Nunn outpaced two other Republicans to seize the party nomination to challenge embattled Democratic Representative Cindy Axne.
Nunn, the only Republican contender who has held elective office, boasts a string of endorsements from high-profile party luminaries including Trump's former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several sitting House Republicans.
While Boudin lost his fight against a recall in San Francisco, Rick Caruso, a billionaire developer and former Republican, battled U.S. Representative Karen Bass and a host of other liberal candidates in the Los Angeles mayoral election.
Caruso was leading Bass with 41% of the vote to 38% with some 40% of votes counted, signaling they were headed to a run-off election in November.
Caruso, who has spent more than $30 million of his own money in the campaign, made crime the centerpiece of his candidacy in a city where homicides reached a 15-year high in 2021. That forced Bass, a longtime progressive champion in Congress, to move to the center and pledge to put more police on the streets.
A replacement for Boudin will be chosen by San Francisco's mayor, London Breed, a Democrat who has criticized the prosecutor but did not take a stance on the recall.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reorting by Jason Lange, Eric Beech, Kanishka Singh and Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell)