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Scientists fare poorly in Super Tuesday primary vote

Science-minded candidates seeking seats in the next U.S. Congress took a drubbing from their Democratic opponents in yesterday’s raft of primary elections across the country.

Voters went to the polls Tuesday in eight states to choose nominees for the November elections. And none of the candidates who touted their scientific credentials—a list that includes volcanologist Jess Phoenix, technologist Brian Forde, pediatrician Mai Khanh Tran, and geophysicist Grant Kier—won their contested contests. In one California district, neuroscientist Hans Keirstead is trailing in a race that is still too close to call.

California attracted most of the attention, thanks to its showcase races for governor and U.S. senator. But its so-called jungle primary, which rewards the top two candidates regardless of party affiliation, proved too high a hurdle for three scientists running for congressional seats. 

In California’s Orange County, Democrats Forde and Tran were backed by 314 Action, a nonprofit that helps scientists and engineers seeking political office. But Forde finished a distant fourth in the primary for the 45th congressional district, garnering only 5.6% of the 98,000 votes cast. Incumbent Republican Mimi Walters moves on to the general election with 53% and will face Democrat Katie Porter, who finished second with 20%.

Tran, bidding for an open seat after Republican Ed Royce decided to retire, fared even worse, with a 4.9% share of the vote that left her in eighth place. Republican Young Kim led with 22%, and Democrat Gil Cisneros received 19% to grab the second slot in November.

In the 25th congressional district north of Los Angeles, California, Phoenix finished fourth, with 6%. Katie Hill narrowly edged Bryan Caforio, 20% to 18%, as the two Democrats battled for second place behind incumbent Republican Steve Knight, who received 53% of the 75,000 votes cast.

In Montana, where Democrats ran in their own primary, Kier was seen as the co-favorite against attorney John Heenan in a bid to oust freshman Republican Greg Gianforte. But Kier, who was also endorsed by 314 Action, finished third, with 24%, behind former state legislator Kathleen Williams, who received 33% of the vote to edge out Heenan. Gianforte ran unopposed for the at-large seat.

In Iowa, aeronautical engineer Courtney Rowe finished a distant third in the Democratic primary for the state’s first congressional district, with 7%. Abby Finkenauer captured two-thirds of Democratic voters and the right to challenge incumbent Republican Rod Blum, who ran unopposed.

Voters in California’s 48th congressional district, also in Orange County, are awaiting official word of who they will see on the November ballot. Keirstead trails businessman Henry Rouda by 73 votes—each getting slightly more than 17% of the 105,000 votes cast—in a contest against incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who led with 30%. The two Democrats waged an expensive mud-slinging campaign to win the second spot, which will hinge on the distribution of mail-in ballots not yet counted.

Among 314 Action-endorsed candidates, the only glimmer of good news was that civil engineer T. J. Cox will face incumbent Republican David Valadao in November for the right to represent the 21st congressional district in central California. But that was a foregone conclusion, as the two men were the only candidates on the ballot. Biochemist Randy Wadkins was also unopposed for the Democratic nomination to run against incumbent Republican Trent Kelly in Mississippi’s first congressional district. He was not endorsed by 314 Action.  

Read more of ScienceInsider’s coverage of the 2018 U.S. elections.