Today we are kicking off our 3-part general election preview series, with legislative races and miscellaneous other contests (mostly at the county level, but also the NYC Council). Part 2 tomorrow will cover Mayors and Part 3 on Monday will cover marquee races in NJ, VA, and NYC.
VA State House: The Virginia House of Delegates is generally considered to be the highest-profile chamber up this year. Republicans hold a whopping 66-34 majority in the House, but the map is starting to look like something of a dummymander as Hillary carried 51 of the 100 seats. That situation combined with the energized Dem base has led Democrats to be very hopeful for gains here, and a large number of races are seriously contested. There are around 25-30 seats that are at least somewhat competitive, almost all of them R-held. However, given the huge GOP advantage you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone other than the most optimistic Dem partisan who thinks Dems have more than a tiny chance of taking the chamber. CW seems to be betting on a high single-digit D gain as the most likely outcome, with D+5 or less a good night for Republicans and D+10 or more a good night for Democrats. Because not one but two other truly excellent previews of these races have been written already, I’m not going to duplicate them, but rather I will simply link to Geoffrey Skelley’s writeup from UVA as well as Miles Coleman’s 6-part series at DDHQ. FWIW, they’re both worth a read for comparison purposes, as Skelley seems to forecast somewhat smoother sailing for Republicans than Coleman.
UVA Crystal Ball || DDHQ1 || DDHQ2 || DDHQ3 || DDHQ4 || DDHQ5 || DDHQ6
County Races: There are also 10 miscellaneous county-level races worth a mention, most of them county executive races across New York State.
Nassau, NY-CE: Nassau County covers a swath of central Long Island and remains the archetypal microcosm of American suburbia. While mostly middle-class suburbs, it does have some poorer pockets, particularly in Hempstead and Freeport, and some very wealthy pockets along the North Shore. Nassau has a population of 1.3M and a PVI of D+2 (2016), though one can not talk about Nassau without mentioning its legendary Republican Machine (side note: THIS is among the best pieces of political writing ever. If you haven’t read it do so.) For generations Nassau County has been dominated by a machine of hackish RINOs who have held onto power at all (figurative and literal) cost. The County Executive’s job is open this year after incumbent Ed Mangano (R), as archetypal a Nassau machine hack as they come, was indicted on corruption charges. Democrats are enthusiastic about their chances to take the seat back (though, it should be said that they were also enthusiastic about beating Mangano in 2013, which ended in a surprisingly easy Mangano victory). Attempting to hold the seat for the GOP is ex-State Sen. and 2016 NY-3 nominee Jack Martins (R). Martins, a well-regarded former Mineola mayor and State Senator from a purple seat, is considered a strong nominee for the GOP, though his congressional run last year fell flat amid anti-Trump sentiment in his upscale district. At the local level though, Martins has proved adept at using his machine backing. Martins has picked up a number of surprising endorsements, including from many labor groups – not only the more conservative public safety unions, but several typically liberal civil service unions as well. Martins’s rival is county commissioner Laura Curran (D). Curran has been a mainstream liberal on the commission, but has been on mediocre terms with the local machine. That profile seemed a good one for Democrats this year hoping to cast the race as a referendum on Trump and Mangano. The big question in this race is whether Martins’s local establishment support and crossover appeal can counterbalance the greater trends in favor of Curran, and right now there is no obvious answer. The two have fundraised essentially equally, and each has released an internal with themselves in the lead by roughly 5 points, with the one public poll showing a 2-point edge for Martins. Needless to say, overall there appears to be no clear favorite.
Fulton, GA-CE: Fulton County is an oddly-shaped snake that covers the city of Atlanta as well as two large chunks of suburbs in the north-central and southwest parts of the metro. It has a black plurality and a PVI of D+19 (2016). Three candidates are squaring off in a special election to fill the seat of John Eaves (D), who resigned to run for Atlanta Mayor; it is in a Louisiana Rules Top Two format. The slight front-runner looks like ex-county commissioner and 2014 CE candidate Robb Pitts (D). A longtime local pol, Pitts, who is black, served on the Atlanta council before losing a 2001 mayoral bid. He then won a swingy white-majority commission seat and held it through several competitive races. Pitts is a somewhat moderate liberal with mavericky tendencies; he has habitually voted against county budgets on the commission. Pitts’s intraparty rival is State Rep. Keisha Waites (D). Waites is also a mainstream liberal with some moderate tendencies. Her main difference with Pitts is generally style, as she is a much more easygoing type of pol. Republicans are also seriously contesting this seat, with a credible contender in Sandy Springs councilman and former congressional staffer Gabriel Sterling (R). Sterling is a moderate conservative and considered a rising star in the party. Though he is facing tough terrain, Republicans held this seat as recently as 2006. Turnout differences and crossover support thus mean Sterling’s chances should not be discounted. There is no clear favorite in this race; a runoff seems likely and any two could advance.
Westchester, NY-CE: Westchester County covers NYC’s northern suburbs between the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. It is wealthy for the most part and the bulk of the county consists of some of the nation’s most upscale suburbs. However, it also includes some poor urban areas in Yonkers, New Rochelle, and Mount Vernon, among others, and a few scattered more lower-middle-class pockets. It has a population of 975K and has been trending left for some time, reaching a PVI of D+16 (2016). Incumbent Rob Astorino (R) won this seat in a considerable upset in 2009. Astorino is a staunch conservative by the standards of the NYC suburbs, but his tenure as county executive has proven successful, especially in his favorable resolution of a long-running fight between the county and HUD over affordable housing options. Astorino has also been successful at not raising property taxes (though they are still by far the highest in the nation). Unsurprisingly, he has been considered a rising star in broader GOP circles, especially after an easy win over a credible rival in 2013. He received the GOP nomination for Governor in 2014 and is seen as certain to consider a second bid against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in 2018. That position as a potential Cuomo rival, as well as strong anti-Trump sentiment in the county, has led Democrats to become more enthusiastic about taking him out this year. State Sen. George Latimer (D) is the Democratic choice to take on Astorino. Latimer, a mainstream liberal, was considered a strong candidate, as he has won several tough elections and locked down a purple State Senate seat. This year, Latimer’s biggest help is from the deep-blue lean of the county and the highly energized state of the upscale liberal base (which comprises a huge portion of the Westchester electorate.) However, Latimer’s campaign has suffered a string of embarrassing headlines in recent weeks. First, it came out that Latimer owes $48K in back property taxes. Then it came out that Latimer missed a key Senate vote for a vacation… with his mistress, a local judge with whom the married Latimer has been having a longtime (and not so secret) affair. And if that wasn’t enough, Latimer’s car registration has also been revoked over unpaid parking tickets (and yeah, he’s still driving the car anyway). These embarassing issues for Latimer have gotten plenty of exposure, as Astornio has dramatically outspent Latimer. With the deep-blue lean of the county and energized liberal base counteracting Astorino’s strong personal brand and Latimer’s weak campaign, overall there appears to be no clear favorite.
Rockland, NY-CE: Rockland is a D+2 (2016) county of 325K in the northwest NYC suburbs. Rockland is mostly middle-class suburban areas with two major exceptions: Spring Valley and Haverstraw are poor slumburbs, while the west-central part of the county is the center of a huge and rapidly growing Orthodox Jewish enclave. Said Orthodox community has caused a number of contentious issues in the county with its rapid growth, insular ways, and strong political influence by bloc voting for chosen candidates. Incumbent Ed Day (R) is seeking a second term. Day has been more adversarial toward the Orthodox community than most pols, which meant his 2013 victory in spite of their opposition was a significant upset. But conversely, that means Day was able to get a significant amount of Dem crossover support. His tenure as County Executive has been regarded as generally successful, and Democrats only recruited a “C” lister into this race in prosecutor Maureen Porette (D). Porette is a relatively standard-issue liberal who seems an unpolished candidate for the relatively high-profile race. Day is a fairly strong favorite, but there is a possibility Porette could build an unlikely coalition of the bloc vote and high liberal turnout to pull the upset.
Orange, NY-CE: Orange County is an R+4 (2016) county of 375K in the mid-Hudson valley. It stretches from Newburgh and West Point to Middletown and Port Jervis, covering a mix of small towns and exurbs. Incumbent Steve Neuhaus (R), a fairly typical establishment moderate-conservative, is seeking a second term. Democrats are running business consultant and veteran Pat Davis (D), who seems “C” list. As this area, like almost all of Upstate NY, tends to be more Republican down-ballot and large portions of the Dem base here are lower-turnout minorities, Neuhaus looks like a fairly substantial favorite. However, there is a chance high liberal enthusiasm this year could lead to an upset.
Rensselaer, NY-CE: Rensselaer County covers the city of Troy and the middle-class eastern suburbs of the Albany metro area; it has a population of 160K and a PVI of R+2 (2016); however, the county has a strong Republican heritage and Democrats have rarely mounted serious campaigns for this seat. As such, State Rep. Steve McLaughlin (R) is the front-runner for the open seat. A firebrand conservative, McLaughlin explored runs for multiple offices in the last few years without pulling the trigger. He has also used his powerless State House minority seat as a bully pulpit for scathing criticism of Gov. Cuomo (If you are not following Steve McLaughlin on Twitter you are really missing out). Needless to say, this profile has not endeared him to the moderate and transactional local Republican machine. However, he narrowly won a hard-fought and nasty primary against the machine choice, and has since received grudging support from the machine; he thus looks like a moderate favorite. Dems are running nonprofit exec Andrea Smyth (D), who seems rather “C” list, but might have a slight chance to pull the upset if leftover wounds from the primary and high liberal enthusiasm combine.
King, WA-CE: King County, covering Seattle and most of its suburbs, is the 13th-largest county in the US, with a population just a hair over 2M. It has a PVI of D+23 (2016). This race is fairly boring; incumbent Dow Constantine (D), a mainstream liberal who is considered likely to run for Governor in 2020, is seeking a third term. Constantine took 78% in the primary and faces only token opposition from perennial candidate Bill Hirt (R), who has run non-serious campaigns for the State House twice and for Governor in 2016.
Philly-DA: Philadelphia also has a DA election. Philadelphia has a population of 1.5M and a PVI of D+33 (2016). Public Defender Larry Krasner (D) won a plurality victory with heavy Soros backing in the primary. Krasner is a favorite of the SJW set and promises to pursue left-wing soft-on-crime initiatives as DA. He remains the strong favorite to take the office; however, he is facing a credible Republican in prosecutor Beth Grossman (R). Grossman has had some notable crossover support from moderates as well as the endorsement of the police union, which gives her a small but not totally zero chance of pulling an upset — notably, though Philly hasn’t elected a GOP mayor in 70 years, it elected Republican DAs as recently as the 80s and DINOs have occupied the DA’s office since. However, due to Philly’s deep-blue lean and the energized liberal base Krasner looks like a very strong favorite. Philly City Comptroller is also up; mayoral aide Rebecca Rynhart (D) looks like a prohibitive favorite.
Suffolk, NY- DA & Sheriff: Suffolk County covers the eastern half of Long Island; it has a population of around 1.5M and a PVI of R+4 (2016). Both the DA and Sheriff seats are open; the county D and R machines have typically been on very amiable terms and divided the seats between them – since 2001, Republicans haven’t mounted a serious run for DA and Democrats have not mounted a serious campaign for Sheriff. The pattern looks set to repeat this year, though to not quite the same extent. For DA, Police Commissioner Tim Sini (D) had looked like a very strong favorite over former prosecutor Ray Perini (R), though the indictment of the outgoing Dem incumbent could give Perini a narrow opening. For Sheriff, University police chief Larry Zacarese (R) won a shocking upset in the GOP primary over a machine-backed State Senator and now looks like the favorite in the general election. Zacarese is now the favorite over Errol Touolon (D), an official in New York City’s NYPD who has lost races for a State Senate and a county commission seat by large margins. Toulon was a last-minute entry for Dems after their prior nominee dropped out and doesn’t look particularly serious, but could have a tiny chance with high liberal turnout.
Douglas County, CO School Board: There are also key school board elections in Douglas County, an R+10 county of 300K covering wealthy exurbs and rural areas south of Denver. The main issue is an attempt to establish a school choice voucher program, which was struck down by the State Supreme Court as violating the state’s Blaine Amendment prohibiting public spending on religious schools. The school board appealed to SCOTUS and the case has been remanded to the state in light of the recent Trinity Lutheran ruling that invalidated certain restrictions on religious groups receiving state funds. Here’s where the election comes in: the current board has a 4-3 majority in favor of continuing to pursue the voucher program. The current majority has all decided to stand down and they are backing a slate of new candidates known as “Elevate Douglas County”. Conversely, the anti-voucher side (branding itself “Community Matters”) says it will end the lawsuit if it gets a majority. The three anti-voucher incumbents are not up this year, meaning that if one of the four seats up flips the program will end. The race has attracted national attention and money and there is no clear favorite between the slates. Note: RRH Elections strongly supports the Elevate Douglas County slate.
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