Election 2021: Virginia's in the spotlight, but here are the other races to watch

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Virginia’s deadlocked gubernatorial battle between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is firmly in the national spotlight.

The commonwealth, a one-time general election battleground that’s still very competitive between the two major parties, is one of only two states that hold races for governor in the year after a presidential election, guaranteeing outsized attention from coast to coast. And the state’s gubernatorial contest is seen as a key barometer ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when the Democrats will be defending their razor-thin margins in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“On Tuesday, people will be looking at it as a bellwether of what is to come,” Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the number-three House Democrat, said last weekend as he campaigned with McAuliffe.

The latest polls indicate a margin-of-error race between McAuliffe and Youngkin, a first-time candidate and former private equity CEO, in a state that President Biden carried by 10 points last November and where Republicans haven’t won statewide in a dozen years.

But Virginia’s election for governor is just one of many interesting showdowns in the 2021 ballot from coast to coast.

Virginia’s down-ballot races

The commonwealth’s two other statewide contests are also expected to be close.

Democratic state Del. Hala Ayala is facing off against former Republican state Del. Winsome Sears in a battle for lieutenant governor that’s guaranteed to make history. Whichever candidate wins on Tuesday will become the first female elected lieutenant governor in Virginia. Ayala would also become the first Afro-Latina and Sears the first Black woman, to hold the second most powerful position in the one-time capital city of the Confederacy.

Virginia Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Hala Ayala (left) and Virginia Republican lieutenant governor candidate Winsome Sears on Sept. 1, 2021, in McLean, Virginia. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
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Public opinion polls also indicate a close contest in the race for state attorney general, between longtime Democratic incumbent Mark Herring and GOP challenger state Del. Jason Miyares. Herring is working to become the first attorney general in eight decades to win three consecutive terms, while Miyares would make history as the first Latino to serve as the state’s top prosecutor. 

All 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates – the lower chamber in the commonwealth’s legislature – are up for grabs. Democrats are aiming to keep control after narrowly flipping the chamber in the 2019 election.

Garden State showdowns

While New Jersey’s a blue state where Democrats enjoy a registration advantage of roughly 1 million more voters than Republicans, Murphy’s trying to become the first Democratic governor in more than four decades to win reelection. And he’s aiming to break a trend dating back to 1989 that’s seen the party that wins the White House go on to lose the Garden State’s election for governor in the ensuing year.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, right, during a gubernatorial debate with Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool)

Murphy’s held the lead in this race, but the final polls suggested that the margins between the two candidates were tightening.

All 120 seats in the state Legislature are also up for grabs. The state Senate and Assembly – the two houses of the legislature – are currently controlled by the Democrats.

Special congressional elections

There are general elections on Tuesday for two vacant House of Representatives seats in Ohio. 

In Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, Democratic Cuyahoga County councilwoman Shontel Brown is considered the heavy favorite over Republican businesswoman Laverne Gore in a predominantly Black and overwhelmingly Democratic district that includes large portions of Cleveland and its southern and eastern suburbs, as well as parts of the city of Akron.

The winner will fill the seat left vacant when longtime Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge stepped down this year after being confirmed as Housing and Urban Development secretary in Biden’s administration.

In Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, Republican Mike Carey, a longtime energy lobbyist and the chair of the Ohio Coal Association, is favored over Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo in the race to fill a seat left vacant after longtime Republican Rep. Steve Stivers stepped down in May to become president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Then-President Trump carried the red district – which includes parts of southern Columbus and its suburbs, as well as small cities, towns and rural areas in parts of central and southern Ohio – by 14 points in last November’s reelection defeat. 

Though Russo is the clear underdog, she was endorsed by Biden on the eve of the election, and Democrats see some hopes of possibly pulling off what would be a major upset.

There’s also a special primary election Tuesday in Florida’s 20th Congressional District, a heavily blue district, in the race to fill the seat left vacant following the April death of longtime Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings.

Eleven Democrats are running in their party’s primary, and the winner of that contest will be considered the overwhelming favorite in the January general election.

New York City mayoral margin of victory

There’s no drama regarding which candidate will come out on top in Tuesday’s mayoral election in New York City, the nation’s most populous city.

Democrat Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain turned state senator and current Brooklyn borough president, is all but certain to win big in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly seven to one.

What political observers will be watching is Adams’ margin of victory over Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, in the race to succeed Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Republican candidate for New York City mayor, Curtis Sliwa, right, and Eric Adams, Brooklyn borough president and Democratic mayoral candidate, smile after a debate at the ABC-7 studios in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP)
(AP )

A big question is whether Adams, a moderate Democrat, will top de Blasio’s 49-point margin of victory in his 2013 election as mayor, as he works to keep his current support among moderates and reach out to progressives who didn’t back him in June’s Democratic primary.

Other mayoral showdowns

Boston will make history on Tuesday as the city for the first time will elect a woman as mayor. 

Progressive Democratic city councilor Michelle Wu, a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, is considered the favorite over more moderate Democrat and fellow city councilor Annissa Essaibi George. 

Crime is the dominant issue in Atlanta’s mayoral election, where former two-term Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed is running for his old job. City Council President Felicia Moore appears to be Reed’s leading opponent in a race to succeed first-term Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who decided against running for reelection this year.

In Minneapolis, where the murder last year of Black man George Floyd by a White police officer sparked nationwide protests against police brutality against minorities and systemic racism, Mayor Jacob Frey is favored to win reelection. But Frey doesn’t support a ballot initiative that would overhaul the Minneapolis Police Department. If passed, the Yes 4 Minneapolis amendment would replace the city’s police with a Department of Public Safety.

Seattle, Cleveland and Buffalo are also holding mayoral elections that will grab some national attention.

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