Although 2017 can be considered an “off year” in terms of federal elections, there are several that are garnering fairly significant national attention. A couple of gubernatorial races in powerful states (Virginia + New Jersey) could re-shape the political landscape, a handful of special elections left to fill Congressional seats vacated by President Trump’s cabinet appointments will be temperature checks for the nation at-large, and in several major cities incumbent mayors seek re-election.
VIRGINIA GOVERNOR (11/7): The Main Event
The upcoming June 13th primary pits traditional Republicans and Democrats against the rising wings of their parties.
Moderate Democrat Ralph Northam was elected to the Virginia state Senate in 2007 and then became Lieutenant Governor. Northam, a “Clinton Democrat,” is a self-proclaimed fiscal Conservative and social Liberal, which could aid him in the historically moderate state. Northam is pitted against freshman House member Tom Perrielo. Perrielo is a much more populist Democrat and a member of the growing Bernie Sanders camp. He has centered his campaign around economic justice and resistance to the Trump administration. Periello has a slight lead of 40% to 38% according to a recent poll conducted by The Hill.
Republican Ed Gillespie is a long-time power player in the Republican National Party, serving as head of the convention for several years and as a counselor to George W. Bush in his final term. Gillespie is a classic Republican on issues like healthcare and defense, and has openly supported the development of the controversial Keystone Pipeline. He is competing for the Republican nomination against “Trumpist” candidate Corey Stewart who famously spearheaded a crackdown on immigration in Prince William County and briefly served as President Trump’s campaign chair before being fired in October of 2016. Mr. Gillespie is projected to win the nomination comfortably and has a lead of 20 percentage points in a Washington Post-Schar School poll (via The Washington Times).
NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR (11/7): Christie’s Replacement
The gubernatorial race in New Jersey is more cut-and-dry, with Democrat Phil Murphy heavily favored over his Republican opponent Kim Guadagno by a margin of 2 to 1. Guadagno faces an uphill battle, despite her pledge to lower property taxes, mainly because she is widely seen as successor to the wildly unpopular Chris Christie. If Murphy can pull out the win New Jersey will most likely become a focus for Democrats nationally. A Democrat-controlled state legislature will allow him to push through a progressive agenda and make New Jersey a lab for new school Democratic policy. Murphy also has pledged to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, which would make it the first state to legalize via legislation, and not a voter referendum.
GEORGIA 6th CONGRESSIONAL (6/20): Will the south go blue?
Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee in the GA 6th, came closer to winning the blanket primary than any Democrat since the district was redrawn in 1992 with 48.1% of the vote (50% is needed to secure the seat outright).He calls himself socially progressive but moderate when it comes to economic and security policy. His ideals coupled with him being native to the GA 6th should help more conservative Georgians feel comfortable with him as their representative. His opponent Karen Handel is a classic conservative but has stirred controversy with her recent decision to leave the Komen Foundation due to its donations to Planned Parenthood. Ossoff is the Democrat most likely to take a traditionally Republican seat and currently carries a lead of 2 percentage points according to a recent Landmark Communications poll (via Newsweek).
SOUTH CAROLINA 5th CONGRESSIONAL (6/20): Not a blowout
The race in the SC 5th, is much closer than usual but South Carolina House member Ralph Norman is still expected to win the Republican majority seat over the previously unknown Democrat Archie Parnell. However, Parnell has undoubtedly made Norman nervous by winning the Democratic primary convincingly with 71.3% of the party’s votes. Norman only won his primary by less than 200 votes. Despite Norman’s unconvincing win the seat is still rated as safe for the Republicans by the Cook Political Report (via Ballotpedia.org).
ALABAMA SENATE (12/12): Sessions’ old seat
There is also a special election for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. This race is expected to be won comfortably by whoever secures the Republican nomination. Republican Luther Strange was appointed temporarily by the Alabama governor to fill the seat and has received significant backing from establishment Republicans but his nomination is far from secure. Hardliner candidates Mo Brooks and Roy Moore are playing up an anti-establishment message that they clearly hope will weaken Strange’s position.
MAYORAL RACES (11/7): Don’t forget about the cities
Mayoral elections in several major cities are on the ballot come November 7th. In New York City and Boston incumbents Bill DeBlasio and Marty Walsh are expected to retain their seats by very comfortable margins.
Things get more interesting in the free-for-all Seattle election. Incumbent Ed Murray was originally expected to win comfortably but he had to bow out of the race amid sexual assault allegations. This vacancy has left the door wide open for candidates and many are taking a shot at the seat -- 21 candidacies have already been filed. The Emerald City will hold it’s non-partisan mayoral primary on August 1st.
Charlotte, NC recently garnered a lot of national attention thanks to the highly controversial “bathroom bill” passed earlier in 2016. This controversy hurt the chances of incumbent Democrat Jennifer Roberts against Republican Kenny Smith. However her chances of even securing the nomination are in jeopardy, thanks to an unusual deal struck between her Democratic challengers. Joel Ford and Vi Lyles have reached an agreement for one of them to bow out of the race in order to give the other a better chance of defeating Roberts. They have no however, provided the manner that they will decide who stays and who goes.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Given the under the radar nature of these races, it is often easy to forget about them. In fact, the New Jersey gubernatorial primary this week had a turnout of only around 5%. This means that every vote matters that much more. So make sure to get out to the polls!