Tomorrow is general election day; there are major elections taking place in 13 states. Today is our final installment of a 3-part preview series. Part 1 covered legislatures and county races and Part 2 covered mayoral contests. Today we will focus on the major races in NJ, VA, and NYC, plus the congressional special in UT-3. Our liveblog will start at 7ET tomorrow; poll closing times are as follows:
7 ET – FL, VA || 7:30 ET – NC, OH || 8 ET – GA, MA, MI, NJ, PA || 9 ET – MN, NY || 10 ET – UT || Vote by Mail – WA (no results Tues night)
VA-Gov: The biggest-ticket race of the day tomorrow (and the entire year) is the gubernatorial election in Virginia. The race has attracted widespread national attention due to Virginia’s purple to light-blue nature, and the fact that its always-open gubernatorial race has potential to act as a bellwether for the 2018 elections. LG Ralph Northam (D) is the Dem nominee to move up to the top slot. A physician who originally hails from the remote Eastern Shore but has built his career in Norfolk, Northam has had a term as LG following service in the state legislature. He is a relatively moderate Dem who supported Republicans as recently as the 2000s, and was at one point even recruited to switch parties. But Northam has more recently mostly been notable for being about as bland and low-key a pol as they come. That has historically been a good posture for Virginia Democrats, who have built their statewide success over the last decade and a half through unexciting moderate-liberals like Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D). But this year, Northam’s bland-as-vanilla personality is a tough fit for the energized anti-Trump #resistance. Indeed, Northam’s strange attempts at straddling the line between riding voter anger and his own calm-to-a-fault personality have come off as more comical than anything else. And that has led some Democrats to become jittery that he could blow things by not doing enough to turn out his base. That balancing act got Northam into significant trouble in the last few weeks of the campaign when a group he funded aired a phenomenally offensive ad effectively accusing Gillespie of wanting to murder minority children.
Northam’s rival is ex-RNC Chair and 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie (R). Gillespie came much closer than anyone expected to upsetting heavily favored Sen. Mark Warner (D) in 2014, and this campaign has proved his performance was no fluke. With campaign skills honed by his years as an operative, Gillespie has proven an adept messenger, seizing on Northam’s support for sanctuary cities to cast him as being soft on the Central American gang MS-13, which has been a longtime criminal presence in the DC suburbs. Additionally, the archetypally establishment Gillespie’s temperament could not be farther from Trump’s, giving him the potential to overperform with the suburbs’ sizeable Clinton Republican contingent. Gillespie’s strong campaign has definitely made the race far more competitive than many would have predicted several months ago. But Virginia is a light-blue state – and this is the right state and year to run as a Democrat. And thus Northam has led almost all polls of this race, though generally by only low- to mid-single digits. (Polls in this race have been bizarrely anti-herding, putting out an absurd spread of results from Northam +17 to Gillespie +8). Overall though, polls have been closing dramatically in the last few weeks of the race, and both sides are now treating the race as likely to be decided by a small margin. Northam still looks like a slight favorite, but a Gillespie upset is well within the realm of possibility. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Lean D.
NJ-Gov, NJ-LG: The other gubernatorial election this year is in New Jersey, and it looks far less interesting than the one in Virginia. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has become incredibly unpopular and Democrats seem poised to take back this seat. The Dem nominee, Goldman Sachs exec and former ambassador Phil Murphy (D), looks like the prohibitive favorite. Murphy has won strong Dem establishment support the traditional way, by simply purchasing it. That establishment support allowed him to coast to an easy win in the Democratic primary. Murphy’s cash has also allowed him to spend as much as is necessary in the ridiculously expensive state, though the largely non-competitive nature of the general has rendered that advantage largely unnecessary. In the general, Murphy has felt little need to do much other than repeat liberal platitudes and coast on the lean of the state and year as well as Christie’s unpopularity. New Jersey’s LG is elected on a ticket with the Governor, and Murphy has secured a big name as his #2 in State Rep. and former State House Speaker Sheila Oliver (D). Indeed, Murphy is considered such a lock that there is already extensive speculation as to how the state’s various Democratic machines will be dividing the spoils of office once he takes over.
Murphy’s rival is LG Kim Guadagno (R). Guadagno has served eight years as Christie’s #2, but has recently had a testy relationship with her boss. That position has left her with something of the worst of both worlds in this race. She is tied to Christie, whose slow-motion implosion has left him completely toxic. But their personal tension and Christie’s attitude (which can only be described as DGAF) means that Christie is in no mood to lift a finger to help her. Underscoring the long-shot nature of her campaign, Guadagno’s running mate is a little-known “C” lister, Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo (R). For this race, Guadagno has more or less run as a Generic Republican, which is not a great position for a blue state in a year with an energized Dem base. But when the alternative is being tied to Christie, that looks like the best way for Guadagno to avoid an embarrassment while operating within her campaign’s underfunded means. However, that has meant this race has been quite sleepy overall. Indeed, this race is mostly notable for how boring it is, with many New Jerseyans anecdotally remarking that they are all but unaware there is even an election going on this year. Polls have tightened in the race from a massive 30-point Murphy lead down to the low double-digits, but that seems more like Republicans coming home to Guadagno than any real movement. As a result, Murphy looks like a prohibitive favorite and it would be a shock if he did not notch an easy win here. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe D.
VA-LG: Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor is elected independently, and this year there is a competitive race for Northam’s seat. Federal prosecutor and 2013 AG candidate Justin Fairfax (D) mounted his first statewide bid four years ago as an antiestablishment candidate. As a little-known prosecutor, he came within three points of upsetting the heavily-favored then-State Sen. Mark Herring (D). However, Fairfax made a good impression in that race and his second try for statewide office has been met with more support from establishment Democrats. His African-American heritage was also considered a strong selling point. Fairfax is, however, the most liberal candidate on Virginia Dems’ statewide slate, to the point where he has even drawn opposition from a major union for his opposition to a pipeline project. That opposition led to his embarassing exclusion from a flyer promoting the Dem ticket and Bloomberg declining to include him in a buy supporting his running mates. While Fairfax has not run far behind his ticket-mates, it’s hard to escape thinking of him as the weakest link in the Dem ticket.
Fairfax is additionally facing a strong GOP rival in State Sen. Jill Vogel (R). Vogel is an interesting figure: she is a wealthy establishment conservative from the ultra-wealthy southwest horse-country exurbs of DC (living on an estate that once belonged to an heir to the Mellon fortune) and founded one of the nation’s top political law firms. But Vogel is also a native of Roanoke and is more comfortable than the similarly establishment-steeped Gillespie in speaking the language of rural downscale Trump voters. As a result, polling has shown her leading the statewide GOP ticket, though only by a small margin. Between Vogel’s strength and Fairfax’s weakness, this looks like the GOP’s best opportunity for a win. However, the few polls in the race have shown Fairfax up, and unless Gillespie wins or comes very close, he probably is still a slight favorite based on the lean of the state and year. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Lean D.
VA-AG: The third race on the Virginia statewide ballot is the contest for Attorney General. Incumbent Mark Herring (D) is seeking a second term after somewhat surprisingly declining to run for Governor. Herring has been an activist AG on social issues, though perhaps not quite to the extent of a Kamala Harris or Eric Schneidermann. Overall, he is within the liberal mainstream, though that’s still a position that would have been shockingly left-wing for Virginians as little as a decade ago – Herring notably refused to defend a SSM ban that he himself voted for as a State Senator. A good rule of thumb is that incumbent Virginia Row Officers who seek re-election get it; as best I know, a Row Officer has never been defeated for re-election since the current Gov/LG/AG system was put in place back in the 1920s. As a result, it was an open question whether Herring would even get a serious challenger at all.
Republicans’ nominee, prosecutor John Adams (R), was not originally considered anything to write home about. Though Adams (who is related to the Presidents of the same name) is very well-connected (he served as a Supreme Court Clerk and held a top position in the Bush 43 White House), he started with zero name recognition and no elected experience. Adams is running as a mainstream conservative. But beyond ideology, Adams is also promising to return to a more limited conception of the office. Adams has run a very strong campaign and polling has shown the race surprisingly competitive. Herring has even felt the need to go negative, launching some attacks on Adams’s corporate legal work. Though Adams is not the long-shot it seemed at the beginning of the race, he is definitely still an underdog. Most polling has shown Herring ahead by a few points, and his incumbency likely means he will lead the statewide Dem ticket, though probably not by a huge margin. Thus, Herring looks like a moderate, but definitely not prohibitive, favorite. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Lean D.
UT-3: There is one congressional special tomorrow, for UT-3, an extremely Republican but Trump-unfriendly district. Trump won it 47-23, with most of the remainder going to McMullin. The seat covers the southeast quarter of the state, but essentially all the population is in the Provo metro area and a small slice of Salt Lake City’s southeast suburbs. The prohibitive favorite for the seat is the GOP nominee, Provo Mayor John Curtis (R). Curtis is a moderate who ran for office as a Democrat in the early 2000s. As such, he was not endorsed at the GOP convention. However, harnessing his high name recognition as mayor of the district’s largest city and strong fundraising, he was able to best two more conservative rivals in the primary. Facing two candidates to his left in the staunchly conservative district, it would be a shock if Curtis came in with anything less than a large majority.
Curtis is facing physician Kathie Allen (D), who fundraised well from national support during her run against Chaffetz. But as a staunch progressive, she has no chance in this district. Finally, businessman Jim Bennett (I), son of the late ex-Sen. Bob (R), attracted some interest with his third-party bid. Though Bennett may do well by third party standards, perhaps cracking double-digits, the GOP nominating the moderate Curtis instead of a more firebrand rival has essentially robbed Bennett’s campaign of its rason d’etre, and he is not considered a threat to win. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
NYC-Mayor: New York City is holding its mayoral election tomorrow. NYC is of course the nation’s largest city by far, with a population of 8.5M. It is solidly Democratic with a PVI of D+29 (2016) and a multi-ethnic population that breaks down roughly 45% White, 20% each Hispanic and Black, and 10% Asian. In terms of its government, NYC is best thought of as less like any other city than as a hybrid between a city and a state. In addition to its huge population, more than twice that of any other city, the Mayor and council have extensive home-rule powers without equal among American cities, as the state has delegated them a large number of functions. As a result, the Mayor of New York is really more like the nation’s 51st Governor than any other Mayor, and fittingly it is elected in traditional partisan races.
Incumbent Bill DeBlasio (D) is seeking a second term and considered the prohibitive favorite to get it. If you’re reading this blog you probably don’t need me to recount the various trials and tribulations of DeBlasio’s mayoralty, but his four years in office have been a mixture of some high-profile embarrassments and failures: a significant rise in homeless living on the streets, poor response to snowstorms, massive maintenance problems with the subway, a small up tick in crime and a crazy vendetta against the Central Park horse carriage system. DeBlasio has also been the focus of an expanding investigation into his campaign finance operation, specifically a scheme to funnel money to state candidates, but so far that investigation has not borne significant fruit. Additionally, like many of his predecessors, DeBlasio transparently harbors higher ambitions, but in this case that may be working to his benefit. Through his term, he has never hesitated to use his position to cast himself as a national left-wing hero – and in that respect the election of Trump was an enormous gift to him. Instead of getting a seriously contested race on his vulnerabilities as an administrator, DeBlasio’s use of the bully pulpit to preach left-wing causes (and prepare for a 2020 Presidential run) has largely insulated him from a viable challenger in the staunchly left-wing, anti-Trump city. As a result, he is set to coast to victory against four opponents who have been unable to give him much of a challenge.
DeBlasio’s only truly serious rival is State Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R). Malliotakis is considered a rising star on NYC’s thin GOP bench, ousting a Democratic incumbent from a purple Staten Island and Brooklyn district in 2010. Due to her youth (she is 37), Greek-Cuban background, and proven political skills, she is considered likely to climb the ladder at some point, topping lists of potential successors for Staten Island’s State Senate and Congressional seats when they come open. This mayoral run is most likely about banking name rec for a bid of that nature down the line. Malliotakis’s campaign has been well-received for a sacrificial lamb run, with even liberal corners like the New York Times praising her energetic attempts to hold DeBlasio’s feet to the fire. However, Malliotakis is not independently wealthy and has little pre-existing name recognition, meaning her chances to significantly outperform the Generic R baseline this year (especially to the level needed to be competitive in ultra-blue NYC) are slim. While she is all but certain to lose by a large margin, a better than expected showing (say, more than ~35%) would significantly bolster her profile for a future bid of some sort.
Three other candidates in the race are total sideshows. Retired detective and Arby’s pitchman Bo Dietl (I) attempted to run in the Dem primary before being thrown out for not registering in time, then was laughed out of an attempt to get the GOP nomination and is now running as an Indie. Dietl’s campaign seems more about self-promotion than anything, but his name recognition could get him as much as a high single-digit score. 90s-era ex-councilman Sal Albanese (D) is continuing his ineffectual primary campaign on the Reform party line, and may draw a percent or two of anti-DeBlasio Dems. Finally, activist Akeem Browder (G), brother of a man who died from neglect while being held in an overheated jail cell, is the Green Party candidate, and may take a point or two hitting DeBlasio from the even-further-left edge of the spectrum. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe D.
Other NYC Offices: The races for the other major offices in NYC are quite boring, as they are all simply incumbents coasting to re-election.
For NYC-Public Advocate, NYC’s equivalent to a Lieutenant Governor, Incumbent Tish James (D), a stauch leftist who thankfully holds a basically powerless position, is the prohibitive favorite for a second term over token opposition from professor and elections board member JC Polanco (R). RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe D.
For NYC-Comptroller, incumbent Scott Stringer (D) was considered a potential DeBlasio primary challenger, but he wound up deciding to run for a second term. Stringer faces only token general election opposition from former congressional candidate and minister William Faulkner (R). RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe D.
The 5 Borough Presidents are also up and are also incredibly boring races. All 5 incumbents, James Oddo (R) of Staten Island and four Dems elsewhere, are running for re-election and prohibitive favorites. Just two, Oddo and Brooklyn’s Eric Adams (D), face challengers the least bit serious, in retired teacher Tom Shcherbenko (D) and nightclub owner Vito Bruno (R) respectively. While Shcherbenko and Bruno will lose by a large margin, each might be someone to keep an eye on for a future race. Incumbent DAs in Manhattan and Brooklyn will also win without substantive opposition.