Today we continue with Part 2 of our 3-part General Election Preview Series. Part 1 yesterday covered legislatures and county races, while Part 3 next Monday will cover the big-ticket races. Today we will focus on mayoral elections. The year after the presidential race is traditionally among the biggest times of the 4-year cycle for mayoral races, and 2017 is not an exception. Some two dozen big cities are electing mayors this year across 11 states. Most of the races are standard winner-take-all general elections, but there are also four Louisiana Rules Top Two races (denoted with LRTT) and two Ranked Choice Voting Races (denoted with RCV). Here we cover the races in cities above roughly 200K population, as well as two especially interesting smaller races. NYC (an office that behaves in practice more like a Governor than a Mayor) will be covered with the other Marquee Races on Monday. The mayoral races here are listed in descending population order.
Charlotte: Charlotte is America’s 17th-largest city; it has a population of 840K that breaks down as roughly 50% White, 35% Black, and 10% Hispanic. It had a PVI of D+13 (2008), and it has probably trended left since then; however, the GOP has done quite well in mayoral contests, losing narrowly in both 2013 and 2015. Charlotte proper covers all of both the urban and first-ring suburban portions of its metro area, making it among the nation’s most diverse cities from a socioeconomic standpoint. The city is roughly circular and might be best thought of as divided into four pie slices of north, south, east and west. The southern quarter of the city is quite wealthy and was staunchly Republican until 2016. The northern and western quarters are mostly black, with poorer areas near downtown and black-middle-class areas along the edges. The eastern quarter is racially very diverse, again with poorer areas near downtown and middle-class areas farther out. City councilwoman Vi Lyles (D) is the Dem nominee and thought the favorite. Somewhat surprisingly, she ousted the incumbent mayor (without the need for a runoff) in the September primary. Overall Lyles, a longtime council veteran, is a mainstream black establishment liberal. Though Lyles is a staunch liberal, she is also considered much more easygoing in style than the outgoing incumbent and has a better relationship with the council. Her inoffensive nature and the blue (and getting bluer) lean of the city should leave Lyles in a strong position to win the partisan general election. Lyles’s rival is city councilman Kenny Smith (R). Smith is a mainstream conservative from the wealthy southern part of the city, and is clearly to the right of the moderates the GOP put up for the seat in prior cycles (though Smith has been tacking to the center for this campaign). Thus, due to the lean of the city, and Lyles’s non-polarizing nature, Smith has generally been considered a long-shot. However, he is definitely a credible candidate, fundraising well and running a strong campaign, and might have a chance to pull the upset. A poll this week interestingly had Lyles up by just 1 point, suggesting this race could be surprisingly competitive and Smith could have a stronger chance to win than the fundamentals suggest. If he falls short as expected, Smith is definitely someone to watch for a state legislature or NC-9 campaign in the near future.
Seattle: Seattle is America’s 18th-largest city and its fastest growing big city, with a population of around 705K. Its demographics break down as roughly 70% White and 15% Asian, with small but significant Black and Hispanic populations. The northern half of the city is overwhelmingly white and monolithically home to upscale leftists, while the southern half of the city is racially mixed and has some blue-collar pockets (though plenty of upscale leftists as well). Seattle has a PVI of D+32 (2008); it has a history (from not all that long ago) as a blue-collar industrial city, but in recent years it has quickly turned into something of a slightly watered-down San Francisco. And like San Francisco, politics in the city takes the form of a two-party system between left and far-left, mainstream/sane liberal candidates and ultra-left moonbats. The open-seat mayoral general election is between one member of each faction. Incumbent Ed Murray (D), a mainstream liberal, was thought to be headed toward an uneventful re-election, but his campaign was derailed by a series of lawsuits alleging past sexual abuse. Ex-US Attorney Jenny Durkan (D) is the mainstream liberal choice and generally considered the overall front-runner; she led the first round with 28%. Durkan, who touts her status as the first openly-gay US Attorney, is a mainstream liberal by Seattle standards (though she would be considered pretty far left just about anywhere else). She has received the endorsement of outgoing Mayor Murray (though she has disavowed that after Murray’s scandal) as well as most of the Dem establishment’s support; she has also dominated the fundraising race. Durkan’s major liability is her close establishment ties, which are not endearing to far-left voters, as well as her top-down management style that may grate on Seattle’s relatively cordial political sensibilities. Durkan’s base is likely to be the same as Murray’s, establishment liberals, particularly on the north side. The two other establishment liberals in the primary took 21%. Durkan faces a far-left rival in urban planner Cary Moon (D). Moon has attempted to run as an upscale far-left outsider, along the lines of the successful 2009 campaign of ex-Mayor Mike McGinn (D). Like McGinn, Moon made her name opposing a freeway relocation project and seems to be casting herself as the champion of Seattle’s far-left community, especially the influential ultra-environmentalist bloc. She was helped to a second place finish in the primary with 18% by the endorsement of the city’s influential Stranger alternative weekly, narrowly beating out an even further-left (borderline neo-communist) candidate. Underscoring how much the city’s ultra-left-wing has grown in the last decade, the two other ultra-left candidates in the primary took 23%, for a net score of 49-41 in favor of the establishment candidates. Durkan looks like a very slight favorite due to her stronger position in the first round and the better performance of establishment liberals. However, Seattle’s far-left community is quite powerful and has overperformed in the past, and Moon could easily prevail.
Boston: Boston has a population of 675K and a PVI D+33 (2016), which breaks down as roughly 45% White, 25% Black, 20% Hispanic, and 10% Asian. In spite of Boston’s reputation as a student/hipster/upscale liberal town, most of those sit outside the city limits in Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline, and those within Boston are low-turnout and largely irrelevant in local elections. Instead, elections are dominated by moderate white ethnics: the city includes a huge section of high-turnout middle-class-white suburban territory in the southwest (West Roxbury) and some urban poor white ethnic neighborhoods. The only other real bloc in municipal elections is the minority community: Boston has a large Black community in the south-central part of the city, and a Hispanic community in East Boston. This year, incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh (D) is seeking a second term. Walsh is a union-backed white ethnic Dem who won a close race in 2013 and has been a mainstream to slightly moderate liberal in office. Walsh has been relatively popular and has long been considered a strong favorite for re-election; indeed, it was something of an open question whether he would get a serious challenger at all. Walsh did draw a serious rival, however, in councilman (not that) Tito Jackson (D), who represents the African-American heavy Roxbury neighborhood (which, PSA for those of you not from Boston, is a very different neighborhood from, and nowhere near, West Roxbury). Jackson is attempting to run to Walsh’s left, but he remains little-known outside his district and there isn’t an obvious reservoir of discontent with Walsh to tap into. As such, Walsh led the primary by a large 63-29 margin and looks like the prohibitive favorite in the general. It would likely be a shock if Jackson came close to toppling the incumbent.
Detroit: Detroit has a population of around 675K (which is still dropping, though not quite as precipitously as it has been) that is roughly 85% Black, with a small Mexican community on the southwest side and a few white hipsters downtown. It had a PVI of D+44 (2008). Incumbent Mike Duggan (D) is the first white mayor of the city since the 70s. Duggan is a typical machine hack liberal, but he has done a decent job of slowing the city’s freefall and even reversing the decline in some neighborhoods. Clearing that low bar is enough to make him a huge favorite for re-election to a second term. Duggan’s rival, State Sen. Coleman Young Jr. (D), son of Detroit’s polarizing 70s and 80s era mayor of the same name, is running to his left, accusing Duggan of not paying enough attention to the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Duggan led Young 67-27 in the August preliminary round, and it would be surprising if the general election result winds up being significantly different.
Atlanta (LRTT): Atlanta has a population of 475K, roughly 50% Black and 40% White. It has a PVI of D+28 (2008). Atlanta has four major socioeconomic areas, which are conveniently clustered around the north, south, east, and west parts of the city. The northern part of the city is known as Buckhead, a wealthy urban to inner suburban neighborhood that has historically been the origin and piggybank of the Georgia GOP, though it has been trending left recently. The eastern part of the city, which includes the downtown area, is a historically-black area that has become gentrified in recent years and is now largely upscale liberal whites. The western part of the city is overwhelmingly black and largely poor, though it does have some middle-class areas near the western edge. Finally, the southern part of the city is also overwhelmingly black, but more middle-class, though it does have some poor areas closer to downtown. There are 12 candidates for the open seat mayoral race this year, 8 of them serious. Councilwoman Mary Norwood (I) is the consistent front-runner in first-round polls. Norwood lost the 2009 runoff to now-incumbent Kasim Reed (D) in a squeaker by 714 votes. That 2009 campaign featured extensive campaigning from the state Democratic party on Reed’s behalf, casting the white Norwood as a closet Republican. That characterization is sincerely overblown; to the extent Norwood’s ideology can be identified, it’s probably best described as Bloombergish pro-business centrism. But directly opposite Bloomberg, Norwood is unapologetically small-ball in focus, eschewing major initiatives of any type in favor of a focus on local and neighborhood concerns. In a field with no serious right-of-center candidates, that means Norwood is a natural fit for the city’s GOP minority and upscale Buckhead residents, and she is likely to get a large margin in the high-turnout northern part of the city. However, polls have shown her in the 20s and she may find the runoff more difficult as the currently-fractured liberal vote coalesces. Councilwoman Keisha Lance-Bottoms (D) looks most likely to advance with Norwood. Lance-Bottoms has been surging in polls in the last few weeks, boosted by Reed’s endorsement and the support of his network. Like her mentor, Lance-Bottoms is an establishment liberal. She has benefited deeply from being seen as Reed’s handpicked successor, which has allowed her to stand out in a crowded field of similar candidates. She is likely preparing to use Reed’s 2009 playbook again in the runoff against Norwood, casting herself as the true Democrat in the race and the champion of the city’s black vote. There are seven other serious candidates in the race with the potential to upset the Norwood/Lance-Bottoms pairing. City official Peter Aman (D) has led the field in fundraising, and has been surging in polls in recent weeks. Aman, one of the three major white candidates in the race, has been taking aim at Norwood’s base, with an upscale moderate liberalism that seems deisgned to poach Buckhead votes from the left. Polls show the strategy may be working, as his vote share has gone up while Norwood’s has gone down in recent weeks, and there is a chance he could make the runoff or even take Norwood’s spot. Council President Caesar Mitchell (D) has citywide name recognition from his post and has also fundraised well. Mitchell is a moderate liberal with citywide name recognition from his post, and has been polling towards the front of the pack. Mitchell has also fundraised well, as he has a decent relationship with the business community, which could allow him to pull an upset and make the runoff. State Sen. Vincent Fort (D) is the most left-wing candidate in the field and has Bernie’s endorsement. Fort, who calls for making Atlanta a sanctuary city and for marijuana decriminalization, may be able to perform well with high left-wing enthusiasm. However, the black vote in Atlanta is generally fairly establishment-oriented, and Fort’s staunch leftism on both economic and social issues has left him on poor terms with establishment figures. As a result, he has been polling in the middle of the pack, though he has a decent chance to surprise if left-wing enthusiasm is higher than expected. Councilman Kwanza Hall (D) is a moderate liberal who may have some significant appeal to black middle-class voters. However, he has not really stood out in this field as his niche is overcrowded with bigger names like Lance-Bottoms and Mitchell. Thus, he has been polling towards the middle of the pack. That seems likely where he will finish barring a significant surprise. Ex-Council President Cathy Woolard (D) is the final white candidate in the race. However, unlike Norwood and Aman, Woolard is a staunch progressive. Woolard, who is openly gay, could draw a few points from white progressives on the east side, but has been at middling levels in polls as the white liberals in Atlanta are largely young and low-turnout, and Fort is also a home for their votes. Finally, Fulton CE John Eaves (D) was thought to be a strong candidate; however, his campaign has never really gotten off the ground. Eaves entered the race exceptionally late, after other candidates had long been campaigning hard. He is also an establishment black liberal, a niche in this field that is more than oversaturated, and thus he has been polling in low single digits. Overall, right now CW seems to be betting fairly strongly on Norwood and Lance-Bottoms advancing, though there are slight chances for Aman, Mitchell, Fort, Hall, and Woolard to pull an upset and snatch one of the runoff spots away.
Raleigh: North Carolina’s capital has a population of 460K which breaks down as 55% White, 30% Black, and 10% Hispanic. It has a PVI of D+11 (2008), though that has likely shifted well to the left over the last decade. The city is relatively diverse socioeconomically, with white liberals on the west side, upscale white moderates in the northern part of the city, and a mixture of lower and middle-income blacks on the east side. Incumbent
Spanky Nancy McFarlane (I) is seeking a fourth two-year term. McFarlane is a moderate, business-friendly liberal who has generally had the support of the Dem establishment. She has been quite popular as mayor and has generally cruised to her first two re-elections over token GOP opposition. However, Raleigh has been shifting strongly left in recent years with an influx of minorities and upscale liberals. And this year, McFarlane is facing a much more serious challenge, from her left rather than right. Attorney Charles Francis (D) hass running to McFarlane’s left, striking SJW notes in contrast to McFarlane’s business liberalism. This year, Francis has the official endorsement of the Wake County Democratic Party, which has previously gone to McFarlane. Francis has also outraised the incumbent, and has backing from some big names in the area’s Democratic establishment (including the heads of liberal polling firm PPP). Many more moderate Dems are still backing McFarlane, but Francis was able to force a runoff by holding McFarlane below 50 in October. That said, the remainder of the vote went to a Republican (though he has somewhat strangely endorsed Francis) and Francis’s 48-38 deficit seems like a tough hill to climb. Thus, McFarlane looks like a moderate favorite for re-election, though there is still a possibility that high black and liberal turnout could allow Francis to pull the upset.
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