It’s been one year since Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the Presidential election. In normal times, which these are certainly not, the local elections the following year get minimal, if any, attention. This year is different.
As we watch returns come in tonight, there is more to follow than how our local Democratic candidates for village and town offices perform. Here’s a list of the most interesting national races and ballot questions we can be watching. Many of these races are considered referenda on Trump and will provide the first indications of the mood of voters. Others are tests of the direction of the Democratic Party.
So fasten your seat belts, we could be in for a bumpy ride.
New Jersey: Governor
Outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his record-low approval ratings hover mightily over the contest to replace him. His Republican lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, has tried to distance herself from Christie. But former Goldman Sachs executive and US Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee, has led consistently in the polls — and spent tens of millions of his own dollars on the race. A Murphy loss would be a stunning upset.
Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Democratic lieutenant governor, was once expected to easily defeat Republican Ed Gillespie, a former lobbyist and White House adviser to George W. Bush who’s never held office before, in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the state by 5.3 points last November, and since then Democrats have been overperforming (though not actually winning) in special elections nationwide. Plus, even before Trump was elected, the party controlling the White House tended to lose in Virginia gubernatorial races.
But in recent weeks the race has tightened, leaving Democrats worried that they they may see a replay of Clinton’s loss on Tuesday. While most polls still have Northam in the lead, on election eve his lead over Gillespie was down to 3.3 percent in RealClearPolitics polling averages.
Florida: St. Petersburg Mayor
Former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee have all been involved in the effort to reelect St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman over GOP former Mayor Rick Baker. Obama issued a rare endorsement, while Biden has robocalled for Kriseman and the DNC is touting its financial investments in the race. A recent Baker TV ad highlighted the 2001 arrest of Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King, on a charge involving underage girls when King was 22 years old. Both sides say the race is close.
— Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon, POLITICO Florida
Georgia: Atlanta Mayor
Atlanta’s nonpartisan mayoral contest on Tuesday could lead to the election of the city’s first white mayor since Sam Massell in the early 1970s. City Councilwomen Mary Norwood and Keisha Lance Bottoms appear to have the inside track to be the finalists in next month’s runoff, according to a poll last week. Bottoms garnered a valuable endorsement from term-limited Mayor Kasim Reed, who is interested in a future statewide bid. Norwood, who identifies as an independent, narrowly lost a mayoral bid in 2009. The campaign has taken on a racial tinge — if Norwood, who is white, makes the runoff, she’d likely be an underdog against Bottoms, or another African-American candidate.
— Steven Shepard, POLITICO
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Maine: Question 2 (Medicaid expansion)
The Maine referendum is the first in the nation where the question of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is being put directly to voters. The ballot initiative materialized after Gov. Paul LePage vetoed expansion bills five times. LePage, a Republican, has spearheaded the opposition campaign to the measure, which would provide coverage to roughly 80,000 low-income people, according to a nonpartisan state fiscal office. If approved, Maine would become the 32nd state to adopt the Obamacare provision. Liberal activists around the country are hoping that the ballot measure will re-energize efforts to expand coverage in the 18 states that remain opposed.
— Rachana Pradhan, POLITICO Pro Health Care
Massachusetts: Boston City Council District 1
A local city council race is squaring Boston’s old guard against the new face of the city. Lydia Edwards, a 30-something, up-and-coming immigration lawyer from East Boston is giving Stephen Passacantilli, a recovering addict with a longstanding relationship with Mayor Marty Walsh, and whose family has deep ties with the North End, a run for his money. It’s an open seat to represent the heavily Italian American North End, but also diverse, immigrant-rich East Boston. Passacantilli, initially the odds-on favorite to win, edged Edwards by only 77 votes in the primary. Walsh, whose city hall has employed both candidates, won’t endorse, but he did appear in a mailer distributed by the Passacantilli campaign in Spanish and Mandarin stating “I’m with Stephen.” Popular Democratic state Attorney General Maura Healey, who also lives in the district, came out in support of Edwards.
— Lauren Dezenski, POLITICO Massachusetts
Minnesota: Minneapolis Mayor/St. Paul Mayor
This is the third election in which Minnesota’s big mayoral races will be conducted using ranked-choice voting, in which voters will select their first, second and third choices when they fill out their ballots. But even though ranked-choice voting began in Minnesota in 2009, it’s taken on new relevance recently. Nationally, ranked-choice voting is used in a handful of well-known liberal enclaves: San Francisco and Oakland, along with Takoma Park, Maryland. Voters in Maine last year approved a ballot initiative establishing ranked-choice voting statewide, but that’s being held up by the courts and legislature over concerns it violates the state constitution.
— Steven Shepard
New Hampshire: Manchester Mayor
Manchester is a small city, but this year’s mayoral race there is attracting national attention because of the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. While that’s more than three years away, a handful of prospective 2020 Democratic candidates have been to Manchester to campaign for Democrat Joyce Craig: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Craig in a video message last week.) As for the race, Craig edged in front of incumbent GOP Mayor Ted Gatsas in the initial vote in September.
— Steven Shepard
New Jersey: State Senate 3rd District
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has served in the chamber for 16 years, representing a battleground district. But the state’s highest-ranking Democrat has been forced to pump millions of dollars into his bid for reelection because of a bitter feud with the New Jersey Education Association, which tends to lean left but is endorsing his Republican opponent, Fran Grenier a supporter of President Donald Trump. The contest, which has become the most expensive state legislative race in New Jersey history, has already strained relationships between the state’s largest teachers’ union and members of the Democratic Party. Further post-election fallout is possible and will test the political clout of the state’s most powerful special interest group.
— Linh Tat, POLITICO New Jersey
New York: Proposal 1 (Constitutional Convention)
The New York state constitution requires voters every 20 years to decide whether the state should open up its constitution to amendment and revision. Like in past years, the vicennial ballot question has attracted odd coalitions of liberals and conservatives on both sides. The overwhelming majority of spending has come from public-employee unions worried about labor rights and state pensions. Early polls had indicated support for what New York politicos call “Con-Con,” but a Siena College survey last month found opposition spiking.— Steven Shepard
New York: Nassau and Westchester County Executives
While Bill de Blasio is cruising to reelection in New York’s mayoral race, contests in two close-in, Democratic-leaning suburban counties are much closer. In populous Nassau County, the Long Island bedroom community just outside the city, incumbent GOP County Executive Ed Mangano isn’t running for a third term because he’s under indictment for corruption. Polls point to a tight race between Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Jack Martins. Curran has stressed ethics issues — including Mangano’s proclivity for trumpeting his name on county property and publications. Martins has recently focused on immigration, critizing Curran for accepting support from groups that back so-called sanctuary cities. Republicans sent out a controversial mailer saying Curran will “roll out the welcome mat for violent gangs like MS-13!” The mailer, which critics have dubbed racist, includes a photo of several heavily-tattooed men introduced as “your new neighbors.”
— Steven Shepard and Bill Mahoney, POLITICO New York
In Westchester, Democrats would love to knock off two-term County Executive Rob Astorino, whom Gov. Andrew Cuomo defeated in a statewide race three years ago. Democratic state Sen. George Latimer has certainly tried to make the race a referendum on Trump and has compared the county’s budget priorities under Astorino to ideas that have come out of Washington in recent months. On Friday, he was joined by county resident Hillary Clinton, who asserted that Astorino has been “funded by some of Donald Trump’s most powerful allies” as she endorsed Latimer. Astorino, meanwhile, has continued to run on an agenda that has worked for him and other suburban Republicans in the past: above all else, arguing that property taxes in the country’s highest-tax county cannot increase. But to a large degree, the campaign has revolved around bitter personal attacks. Astorino has repeatedly hammered Latimer on an unpaid $46,000 tax bill on a property owned by Latimer’s wife, and Latimer called on Astorino to resign after he was named in a union official’s corruption trial as the alleged recipient of a discounted luxury watch.
— Bill Mahoney, POLITICO New York
Ohio: Issue 2 (Drug prices)
If passed, the most expensive ballot measure in state history would require that state agencies purchase prescription drugs at prices no higher than those paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA typically gets the lowest prices on medicines in the country. The same ballot measure was narrowly defeated (53 percent to 47 percent) in California in 2016, after the drug industry poured in more than $100 million. In Ohio, the yes campaign has adapted their message to the swing state, bringing in Republican operatives like former state GOP chairman Matt Borges and Columbus-based GOP ad-maker Rex Elsass, who’s worked for Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann. But opponents feel confident: The drug lobby PhRMA has poured nearly $60 million dollars into the race, spending almost twice as much per voter as they did in California. The yes campaign has raised much less: $16.5 million.
— Sarah Karlin-Smith, POLITICO Pro Health Care
Utah: 3rd Congressional District
Utah is likely to elect a new Republican congressman Tuesday — one who isn’t necessarily on the Trump train. Republican John Curtis is favored to win the special election for the House seat vacated by former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who resigned this past summer and became a cable-television pundit. A poll last month gave Curtis, the mayor of Provo, a big lead over Democrat Kathie Allen and United Utah candidate Jim Bennett. Curtis, notably, is a former Democrat and was the most moderate candidate in a three-way GOP primary back in August. He didn’t vote for Trump last fall and wrote an op-ed for the Salt Lake Tribune last month headlined, “Where I stand on President Trump.” “People in our communities are hurting. We need to calm the anger,” Curtis wrote. “We need solutions, not rhetoric; substance, not sound bites.”
— Steven Shepard
Virginia: State House of Delegates 13th District
Democrats have identified nearly a dozen targets in the state House, but none have received the media attention of the 13th District, where Democrat Danica Roem is challenging GOP state Rep. Bob Marshall. Marshall is a social conservative running in a D.C. exurb — Prince William County, south and west of Washington — that is increasingly Democratic-leaning: Hillary Clinton won the seat by 15 percentage points last fall. That’s one reason why Roem, a first-time candidate and transgender woman, has received so much national exposure. If elected, she would be the first transgender woman to win election to a state legislature.
— Steven Shepard
Washington: State Senate 45th District
A victory by Democrat Manka Dhingra over Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund would give Democrats control of the upper chamber of Washington state’s legislature — and, as a result, control of every governorship and state legislative chamber in the three Pacific Coast states. The national parties have taken note: Both the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee have poured time and resources into the race. All together, Dhingra and Englund’s campaigns, combined, have spent nearly $3 million, breaking state records for a legislative race. Vice President Joe Biden has endorsed Dhingra, as has Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose national ambitions stand to benefit from enacting progressive legislation.