The Virginia governor’s race has absorbed most of the political oxygen in the off-year 2021 election, spawning countless analyses about what it portends for the 2022 midterms.
Though the race has drawn heavy-hitting Democratic surrogates to the Old Dominion, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin aren’t the only names on Tuesday’s ballots that might hint at what to expect next year.
Tuesday’s race to become New Jersey’s next governor, special elections in Ohio for a pair of congressional seats, several mayoral contests and other races might offer intel about the coming battle for control of Congress.
Even some municipal elections might drop a few breadcrumbs.
But don’t expect the results of the 2021 election to provide a definitive road map for the midterms. Democrats face stiff headwinds in maintaining control of Congress, and the issues that decide Tuesday’s races might be inconsequential to 2022.
After all, who expected a pandemic to be the central issue of the 2020 presidential election on Election Day 2019?
“Even the rosiest of outcomes for Democrats … don’t alter the party’s precarious majorities in either chamber of Congress,” said Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections. “The historical trends are clear, and besides, there’s another year of politicking to be done before the midterms and so whatever circumstances led to the result this November might be a distant memory next November.”
Here are some of the races to keep an eye on Tuesday:
New Jersey governor
Like in Virginia, Democrats are trying to hold onto a governorship in New Jersey, but the polling gap between the incumbent Democrat and his GOP challenger hasn’t narrowed as closely as the contest to the south.
Gov. Phil Murphy, the incumbent Democrat running for reelection, held a lead over Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican former state assemblyman, according to the latest polls.
As they have in Virginia, Democrats sent in top surrogates to try to help Murphy over the finish line. Former President Barack Obama campaigned with Murphy in late October. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stumped for Murphy in the waning days of the campaign as well.
President Joe Biden visited New Jersey to tout his infrastructure plan and social safety net expansion.
A loss for the Democrats would be a stunning upset after Biden carried the state by 16 percentage points last year. A Democrat hasn’t won reelection as New Jersey governor since 1977.
Even if the polls are correct and Murphy wins, the margin of his victory could offer insights into 2022, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
A narrower victory than the 14-point margin Murphy scored in 2017 “might tell us something about the environment,” Kondik said in an email.
New Jersey is similar to Virginia in that it has “repolarized,” Rubashkin said. Suburbs to the north trend for Democrats, while the southern part of the state leans toward Republicans. Murphy’s performance could be a litmus test for whether Democrats’ strength in the suburbs is enduring in the post-Trump environment, he said.
“The Trump years saw a massive increase in political participation, and this November is the biggest test yet of whether those high levels of turnout are the new normal or if we’ll see a reversion to the mean,” he said.
Ohio congressional seats
The margin could be worth watching in the 15th Congressional District, where two candidates vie to fill the open central Ohio seat vacated by former Republican Rep. Steve Stivers.
Republican Mike Carey, a coal lobbyist carrying former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, competes in a special election with Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo.
Ohio’s gerrymandered congressional map has meant victory for the controlling party in the decade since it was drawn, so Carey has a built-in advantage. Stivers ran as an incumbent for the entire decade, always winning by at least 18 percentage points.
Flipping the seat would be a first in the Buckeye State. Rubashkin said that even though Carey is the “obvious favorite,” Russo is a “solid candidate for Democrats and has raised enough money to run a real campaign.”
If Carey wins by a slim margin, it could offer hints about the political environment. The district is solidly Republican.
More overwhelmingly partisan is Ohio’s 11th Congressional District in the northeastern part of the state. In the special election to replace former Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, now the U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, Democrat Shontel Brown competes with Republican Laverne Gore.
That district leans further to the left than the 15th does to the right. In 2020, Biden won the 11th district by nearly 61 percentage points compared with a 14-point win for Trump in the 15th, according to Daily Kos.
Carey is leaning in to his connection to Trump, said David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati. Instead of moving closer to the political center for the general election, Carey is running to the far right, as might be expected in a primary, Niven said.
If that strategy is successful, it could chart a path for Republicans running in similar districts in 2022, he said.
“He just wraps himself in the Trump flag, metaphorically,” Niven said. “What’s intriguing about that in terms of the message of understanding 2022, that’s the not the way politics is conventionally done.”
Florida’s 20th congressional district
Voters in the 20th Congressional District on Tuesday will choose the candidates who will be on the ballot for a special election in January.
Eleven Democrats and two Republicans will be on their respective party ballots. They seek to fill the seat formerly held by Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died in April.
The southern Florida district is solidly Democratic. Hastings won every election for the seat over the past decade, often with 80% of the vote, and Biden carried the district with 77% of the vote last year.
Several of the Democratic candidates are known political quantities in southern Florida, including former state lawmakers and county commissioners. On the Republican side, Hastings’ 2020 opponent competes with one other person for the nomination.
A handful of other candidates also are running in the primary.
The special general election is scheduled for Jan. 11.
Big city mayors
Some large cities will choose new mayors Tuesday.
For the first time, Boston voters will elect a woman of color to lead the city. The office has been dominated by white men for the past 200 years.
In March, Kim Janey was sworn in as acting mayor and the first woman of color to hold the city’s top executive post. Janey didn’t make the cut for the general election ballot. Voters will choose between two members of the City Council: Michelle Wu or Annissa Essaibi George.
Wu is a child of Taiwanese immigrants, and Essaibi George is a first-generation Arab Polish American, according to The Associated Press.
New York will elect a replacement for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Democrat Eric Adams is a heavy favorite in the race against Republican Curtis Sliwa.
Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, bested a field of Democratic hopefuls in a primary in June to advance to the general election in a city with a large Democratic majority. He is a former police captain and state senator.
He would be the city’s second Black mayor, if elected.
Minneapolis charter amendments
Voters will decide Tuesday whether to replace the police department in the city charter with a new Department of Public Safety. The department would focus on mental health, civilian well-being and social services.
The proposed amendment came after high-profile killings of Black men by law enforcement in Minnesota. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for killing George Floyd.
Floyd’s death and other instances of police violence against Black people sparked protests and a national reckoning over policing of people of color in 2020.
The amendment would divide power over the police force between the mayor and City Council and eliminate a mandated minimum number of officers.
It is one of three questions on the ballot in Minneapolis. Another would shift more control of the city away from its mayor and toward its City Council, and a third would give the council power to enact rent control.
Contributing: Eric Ferkenhoff and Ryan W. Miller