A smattering of elections on Tuesday will tell the nation and politicos where the nation stands one year after the election of Donald Trump. From the East Coast (Virignia) to the West Coast (WA State) a series of elections are taking place that will help set the stage for next year’s midterms. So, without further ado let’s take a look at them shall we?
Virginia Governor: Virginia has a unique election schedule where the gubernatorial elections always fall a year after the Presidential election, all House seats are up every two years and all Senate seats are up every four years in the year before the Presidential election. Further, Virginia’s Governors can only serve a single term ensuring every gubernatorial election does not feature an incumbent.
Since 2004 , Virginia has trended blue, the only blip being in 2009. Outgoing Governor Terry McAullife is popular and has anointed Lt. Governor Ralph Northam to be his successor. Ironically, Republicans in the era of Trump nominated the least likely Trump-like candidate in former lobbyist and RNC Chair Ed Gillespie.
In a state Hillary Clinton won by five points, Trump garnered less than 45 percent of the vote and has horrid approval ratings it should be a cakewalk for Democrats. Instead, Gillespie has kept it close by sending cultural appeals to Republicans in the West of the state while talking up traditional conservative beliefs in NoVA and the Richmond suburbs. Northam should have this race in the bag but his lack of flash and appeal have helped keep it close. Likely, if Northam goes down, so do the Democrats for Lt. Governor and Attorney General. If Gillespie goes down, as is likely, so go down the other statewide Republican candidates.
Gubernatorial and Legislative
Virginia State House: The Virginia State House is up every two years and has been a bastion of conservatism in the state even as it has trended left. In 2009, the GOP gained seven seats and after redistricting, in 2011, gained nine seats due to a favorable GOP controlled drawing of the legislative lines. Since then, the GOP has had a stranglehold on the chamber. In the less favorable 2013 and 2015 legislative elections the GOP only lost a single seat in each cycle.
This election, the GOP is defending their 66-34 majority and odds are good Democrats will gain a minimum of three seats in the NoVA suburbs. That said, it is hard to see Democrats gaining the 17 seats, or even coming close, to gaining the majority. The party holds out hope though considering they are challenging so many GOP held seats and Clinton actually carried exactly 17 GOP held House seats.
Democrats are hoping for a big night at the top of the ticket to help carry them down-ballot. But if Gillespie is close it means he is over-performing in either NoVA or the Richmond and Tide water areas (all the regions Democrats see the biggest opportunity in for legislative gains). For a more specific rundown of individual legislative races check here.
Georgia: Yes, yes, I know. The big event in Georgia is officially non-partisan, the Atlanta mayoral race, but another main event is. The election for the 6th Senate District. Held by Republicans, the seat became swung hard to Clinton last year 55-40. If Democrats gain the seat they will officially break the GOP’s two-thirds supermajority in the legislature and can block the party from voting to put Constitutional Amendments on the ballot. Five Republicans and three Democrats are running and if nobody gets 50 percent of the vote a run-of will be held in December. Due to the number of candidates running, it is possible two Democrats or Republicans could face off in December but smart money is on a traditional, partisan two-way race emerging in December.
WA State: Despite being a blue state, WA State has been under divided government since 2013. In 2012, two Democrats crossed the aisle and joined a coalition of Republicans in the State Senate. One of those Democrats has resigned and a Republican was defeated in November, meaning the GOP’s majority is a single seat.
Earlier this year, Senate District 4 became open when State Senator Andy Hill died of lung cancer after being narrowly reelected last year. The seat backed Clinton 65-28 and should be an easy takeover for Democrats but the GOP is stronger here down-ballot (like in the rest of the state). In August, Democrat Manka Dhingra led Jinyoung Englund 51.5-41.5 in the August top-two primary for this seat and it’s likely she wins Tuesday.
But, the race has ultimately come down to both Dhingra and Englund distancing themselves from their parties with Dhingra saying she would be an “independent voice” in Olympia while Englund has said she did not vote for Trump.
Dhingra’s impending victory has Democrats dreaming of creating a united West Coast wall against Trump and enacting a massive, visionary progressive agenda. That would be great except Democrats majorities in both chambers will rest on a mere three seats and pushing an income tax or other taxes will likely be unpopular in conservative Democratic seats (they do exist). In reality, whatever happens here won’t change much.
New Jersey Governor and Legislature: This year, there is not much excitement in the Garden State. Governor Chris Christie, who was reelected in a landslide in 2013, is so unpopular he probably could not be elected dog catcher. This is dragging down Republican Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. Democrats nominated some rich dude Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany. He has crushed Kim in every poll and the only question is how much he wins by.
Democrats already have strong majorities in both chambers of the legislature and most Republicans and Democrats are likely to win reelection despite what happens at the top of the ticket. One note of excitement might be in Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney’s (D) 3rd District in South Jersey. Sweeney has angered the NJEA for backing pension reform in 2011 and has spent heavily to elect Republican Fran Grenier. Grenier has run on a traditional, conservative platform and largely avoided saying much about pension reform. Sweeney’s mostly rural district did back Trump and Democrats have diverted millions to defend him so might we see a surprise Tuesday night?
Utah: Democrats wish they had a shot in the very red 3rd CD of former Congressman Jason Chaffetz. Republican candidate and former Provo Mayor John Curtis, is well ahead of Democrat Katie Allen and it would be somewhat of a surprise of Curtis wins by less than 20 points.
Michigan: Democrats are hoping to flip HD 109, a seat that backed Obama in 2012 but backed Trump last year. The seat, located in the reddening Upper Peninsula, is a test case for Democrats in the state legislature who have been locked out of power since 2011.
Mayoral Contests: (skipping Atlanta, Seattle and Minneapolis contests because the only suspense is how progressive the ultimate winning candidates are).
Charlotte: The biggest mayoral contest of the night in North Carolina is Charlotte. Despite the city’s blue tint, Republicans held the office until 2009. No Republican has won since. Despite this, Democrats have not had an easy time running the city.
Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts lost earlier in the year and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles is running against Republican Councilman Kenny Smith. Lyles may still be weighed down by Roberts while Smith is far, far more conservative than Republican Ed Peacock, who lost two narrow races in 2013 and 2015. A Survey USA poll found the race deadlocked statistically speaking at 41-40 in October. There is another contest in Raleigh but the only question is what Democrat leads the urban enclave.
St. Petersburg: A number of mayoral races are occurring in Florida but the most interesting by far is in St. Petersburg. Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman is being challenged by former GOP Mayor Rick Baker.
Baker left office in 2010 to sky-high approval ratings due to his strong approval among black voters. In August, the two finished the primary neck and neck though Kriseman over-performed relative to what pre-election polls showed. Kriseman has tried to make the race a partisan affair by tying Baker to Trump. Baker has attacked Kriseman for inept management of the state’s ailing sewage system. If the race hinges on Trump then Kriseman wins but if local management matters the most to voters the race will be a nailbiter.
Manchester: In 2015, GOP Mayor Ted Gatsas won reelection with an unimpressive 85 votes. His opponent, Joyce Craig, is back for a rematch and she won the nonpartisan primary in September 53-46. In her last go-round, Craig lost the nonpartisan primary. Ultimately, Democrats claiming this office will be a talking point but little else. However, it could set Craig up to be a force in state politics into the future.
Maine: GOP Governor Paul Lepage has vetoed several legislative efforts to expand Medicaid in the state. Progressives responded by putting expansion on the ballot in the form of Question 2. Legislators have split on the question while unsurprisingly, LePage has opposed it.
There have been nil reliable polls on opinion about the question but it will probably be decided along partisan lines. Likely correlating with partisan opinion on the question Maine Senator Susan Collins decided to stay in the US Senate and not run for governor because few state Republicans had a favorable opinion of her after she helped defeat GOP efforts to repeal the ACA.
New York State (including county races): New York City has a mayoral race but Bill de Blasio could probably shoot somebody and be reelected. In other words, there is no excitement in the race.
In Nassau County, Democrats are trying to retake the county executive post lost in 2009. Republican Ed Mangano was indicted last fall on corruption charges and the county GOP flocked to former State Senator Jack Martins. Democrats support Nassau County based legislator Laura Curran.
Curran has made the contest a referendum on corruption and former GOP Senate Leader Dean Skellos (whose conviction was overturned by an appeals court). Martins has responded by trying to make the race about law and order and portraying Curran as soft as crime. The most recent poll gave Martins a tiny edge and the county has a history of supporting down-ballot Republicans but anything can happen.
In Westchester County, which backed Clinton by 33 points last November, GOP incumbent Rob Astorino is running an uphill race against State Senator George Latimer (D). Astorino was his party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2014 and has heavily outspent Latimer. If not for the outside spending of GOP supporter Rob Mercer he probably would have no shot. Latimer has tried to tie Astorino to Trump while Astorino has made the race about local issues. A local poll found the race a dead heat.
Now, onto the weirdest feature of NY’s elections. Under state law, a question appears on the ballot every twenty years asking voters whether they want to hold a constitutional convention. At this convention changes could be made to the state constitution. If the measure passes, delegates would be elected in 2018, followed by the convention in 2019.
While few New Yorkers love their state government, even fewer seem willing to take the risk of a convention. Liberal labor, reproductive rights and environmental groups and conservative groups oppose the “con-con,” arguing special interests could hijack the delegate elections. Liberals fear conservative delegates being elected utilizing state senate lines while conservatives fear liberals taking control of the convention and ramming their beliefs down state voters throats. If a recent Siena survey is accurate, voters will once again reject the “con-con.”
Thanks for reading!