If you thought November 8th marked the end of the election season and a brief respite from the barely-organized chaos of political campaigning, think again.
It turns out that while the United States only holds federal elections for the Senate and House every two years, there are some states that hold elections for their governors in certain off-years. If you’re a resident of New Jersey or Virginia, this is your lucky year.
That’s right – this is happening again, and the stakes are pretty high. Even though this won’t affect the balance of the Senate or the House of Representatives, this year presents an opportunity for the Democratic Party to retain electoral control over the Governor’s Office in Virginia and reclaim the Governorship of New Jersey. It also presents the chance for Democrats to retake the Virginia House of Delegates, which is currently controlled by a Republican majority.
Why This Matters
Right now, only sixteen states have Democratic governors, and the Party only controls twelve state legislatures (only five of which actually overlap). While it’s a lot more fun to focus on the big-ticket races for the Presidency or Senate seats, individual states still have a lot of power over determining the politics of the nation.
- Governors can nominate replacements for Senators in some states, including Virginia and New Jersey. This means if New Jersey Senator Cory Booker becomes the President or Vice President of the United States, the Governor can put up a replacement to serve the remainder of Booker’s term. The same applies to New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who might be in a bit of hot water to the tune of fourteen federal corruption charges (haha oops) and might have to resign at some point in the next year or two.
- This is the Patient Freedom Act of 2017, also known as the Cassidy-Collins bill. Its goal: replace Obamacare by giving all fifty states the option to do what they wish with their implementation of Obamacare. Republican state governments are going to do their best to proceed with repealing those implementations, and Democratic state governments are probably going to go ahead with maintaining it, creating a series of state-level Romneycares. Because most states have Republican governments, that means Obamacare would be in some pretty serious danger if this bill passes.
- When religious-right conservatives talk about letting gay marriage remain a state-level decision, this is what they mean.
- Guess who gets to map out House districts every ten years? That’s right – state legislatures!
Obviously, states have a lot more power than I’m going to go into, considering that they act as small-scale incubators for all sorts of policies, control vast amounts of resources, and can have their local AG offices do things like challenge ridiculously un-nuanced travel bans in court. The point is, they’re a big deal and deserve significant attention from voters.
If your goal is to resist the new Trump administration and limit its power, don’t pass up this election. It’s the first of many in which the Democratic Party can demonstrate resistance to the White House’s extreme and amateurish form of governance. When President Obama says “don’t boo, vote!” this is what he’s talking about.
Alternatively, if you’re a Republican/Trump supporter living in New Jersey or Virginia (and I know at least one of you is reading this (hey how u doin’)), I’m sure everything will be fine and you won’t need to do anything this November, so just take the day off and catch up on some light reading.
New Jersey Gubernatorial Election
I will be referencing some polling numbers in this section, which I have lifted from a recent Quinnipiac poll. If you wish to play along, catch it here.
If the extreme unpopularity of Governor Chris Christie (17% approval) is any indication, Democrats stand a good chance of retaking the Governor’s mansion this November. Throw in the fact that Donald Trump’s Presidency is pretty poorly-received in New Jersey (36% job approval, 34% think his policies will be good for the state) and the Republicans are in for a very rough time this November.
Chris Christie isn’t up for re-election (yay term limits) but his Lieutenant Governor – Kim Guadagno– is running to replace him. She’s not a close supporter of Trump like Christie is, but the immense hatred towards Christie and his association with Trump may yet deal a good deal of collateral damage to her general election campaign. The election is still in the primary stage, but Lieutenant Governor Guadagno is the favorite for the nomination, so I reckon it’s probably safe to refer to her as the Republican candidate.
The job of opposing Guadagno will likely fall to Phil Murphy, a businessman and the former Ambassador to Germany. He’s a Democrat and while he hasn’t officially locked down the nomination either, he has a big war chest and the support of a number of prominent New Jersey Democrats including Sens. Booker and Menendez. In the polling question that asked respondents about Murphy and Guadagno, the two are roughly tied in terms of favorability thanks to their lack of name recognition (21% and 18% respectively). However, Murphy’s lack of connections to the Christie administration and his affiliation with the Democratic Party in a super-blue state means that he’s already leading by a sixteen point margin.
Obviously, the contest isn’t over – Murphy and Guadagno are going to square off in at least one gubernatorial debate this summer/autumn, which means she can pick up some momentum from seven years of experience as the Lieutenant Governor and two as a county sheriff. That said, if Murphy does a decently good job in the debates, makes some good speeches on the trail, and doesn’t contract a case of smallpox or something, he’s got a good-to-fair chance of becoming Governor of New Jersey.
I happen to think that Murphy’s victory is more of a probability than a possibility, but that doesn’t mean the election is over. Complacency among Democrat-leaning voters and a willingness to go third-party ended up being one of the strongest factors that led to Hillary Clinton’s defeat on Election Day, and while the anti-Trump fervor is somewhere between “intense” and “ferocious” right now, it could easily die down between now and this November (and by die down, I mean drop from “intense/ferocious” to “vocal/aggressive”) and lead to fewer votes for Murphy. Because this is a gubernatorial race, the size of the electorate is smaller, and therefore every vote counts.
Anyways, be sure to vote this November. Retaking one Governor’s Mansion won’t do much, but it’ll be the first in a number of electoral victories that the Democratic Party desperately needs.
Virginia House of Delegates Election
I don’t know much about Virginian legislative politics, considering that >90% of the time I’ve spent in the state of Virginia was getting to/from Reagan National/Dulles International or sitting around in the latter. In fact, the majority of my knowledge about the workings of the state government comes from NPR talk show hosts and their guests talking in the background. I don’t really think that the Democrats can take back the House of Delegates considering that most of the state is rural and conservative, but it’s not impossible. At the very least, the Democratic Party stands a good chance of taking back a handful of seats. I guess.
Virginia Gubernatorial Election
This is the dangerous one. I’m fairly confident that with some organizing and voter motivation, the Democrats can retake New Jersey, but I’m not so sure that we can hold on to the Governor’s Mansion in Virginia. As of now, Virginia is a lean-blue swing state at the federal level, having voted for President Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008/2012/2016. It also has two excellent Senators: Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Unfortunately, the gubernatorial election is significantly more dicey.
The incumbent governor, Terry McAuliffe, is term-limited and cannot run in this November’s election. The Democratic and Republican nominations are less concrete in Virginia than they are in New Jersey, but right now the frontrunners look like Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Republican operative/former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie (R). Right now, Northam has the support of Governor McAuliffe and Sens. Warner and Kaine, and his only opposition is a former US Representative, though the primary could certainly heat up. Gillespie is a traditional Republican with good credentials and a background as a Presidential Counselor during the Bush Administration, and he nearly beat Senator Mark Warner in the 2014 election, so his ability should be noted. Right now, he’s facing off against two Trump-style Republicans, and although the majority of primary voters are undecided, Gillespie has somewhere around 31% of the primary vote locked in.
Like I mentioned above, Virginia is a lean-blue state at the federal level, but Democratic candidates still have to rely on the heavily-populated areas of Northern Virginia to offset opposition in the south of the state, and must maintain a respectable amount of support across the state. In 2014, Mark Warner nearly lost his Senate re-election because of complacency among voters and a surprisingly high amount of support for Gillespie, but it was NoVa that pulled through for him. I haven’t gone back to check every other major statewide race between 2008 and 2016, but I bet this has been the case for most Democratic victories in the state in that period.
Gillespie is a traditional conservative, which means it’ll be difficult for Lieutenant Governor Northam to really tie him down with any direct associations with Donald Trump (assuming Trump is still super-unpopular by November). Still, it’s incredibly important for everyone in Virginia (including everyone in places like Fairfax, Arlington, Charlottesville, and Blacksburg) to get out and vote this November because a Gillespie election means that the Republican Party (which, despite Gillespie’s refusal, is a pro-Trump institution now) would regain control of another state government. Just like in New Jersey, Virginia state races are smaller such that every vote matters a great deal.
Election Day is November 7th, 2017. Save the date, Virginians/New Jerseyians.
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