Fetterman vs. Oz. Lake vs. Hobbs. Chances are you are aware of these races. They have swept the media for the past few months, with the media constantly putting out new information on these races.
However, while the races attracting national attention are essential, many other exciting races will influence the country. Local elections matter a lot, and not just for that locality. If a group of school boards starts a new radical policy and those policies receive little pushback, then other school boards, including your local one, may take that initiative up. This example is one reason why it is essential to look beneath the cracks.
Many elections do not have huge ramifications but can show interesting trends or have unique backgrounds. In Arkansas, a Democratic congressional candidate claims the 2020 election had fraud. In Oklahoma, the incumbent Republican Governor could lose in the ruby-red state partly due to the five tribes publicly rebuking him.
Election night is long and messy. There are many surprises in the night, and many of those surprises will deal with marquee races. Critical elections and the national house vote will propel the narrative with media in the days after. However, some crucial elections will get very little coverage, despite having meaning.
Here is a list of twelve interesting elections that you can look into during the long periods with votes slowly coming in. Some elections on this list have garnered some attention, while others receive little attention. These elections also are from statewide races to elections in a small locality. Either way, they tell a story, and this article gives you a good insight into their importance.
#10: Maine’s 2nd Congressional District
Elections Daily Rating: Leans Democratic
In the quiet inland portion of Maine, the 2nd attracts national attention. Its one electoral vote can be decisive in an uber-close race (despite the 2nd consistently voting to the right of the nation), and the media like to factor in scenarios where Maine’s 2nd could swing a national election.
While much of this gets built on suspense, the 2nd could theoretically come into play one day if blue-collar white voters shift to the Democrats once more. The district still feels an affinity to some democrats, including their congressman.
Jared Golden bested incumbent Bruce Poliquin in 2018 with the help of Maine’s ranked-choice voting system, and he performed even better in 2020. Golden, a former state house member, has emphasized his more conservative positions in the district, such as his stringent support for the 2nd amendment. These positions have helped him win over cross-over support, including with the crucial francophone voters in the state’s northern tip.
2022 poses a new task for the congressman, with Poliquin wanting his old seat back. This, coupled with the expected national environment, will be an issue with Golden, who is now fighting to be one of the few Democrats still in Congress from Trump-won districts.
Maines 2nd is an exciting example as voters tend to be more fiscally liberal than in most other districts with similar demographics, leading to local democrats having more success than they might have with similar districts.
Strategists gearing for the 2024 battle map will also watch the election. If Golden loses, expect the second loss out on being talked about regarding 2024 implications.
#9: Alaska’s State House District 13
Over on the other side of the country, Alaska is seeing a slew of competitive races, which is odd as the battlefield this year has largely been in light blue and purple states. However, primarily due to individual candidate quality playing a prominent role, Alaska is seeing Democrats favored for the U.S. House seat and moderate Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski on her way to beating a more conservative rival with Trump’s backing.
On the legislative level, Alaska has its distinction from the country. Republicans control the State Senate, but the lower chamber is narrowly controlled by a tripartisan coalition of Democrats, Independents, and two Republicans (including the Republican Speaker). The coalition was formed after 2018 and narrowly survived after 2020.
This year poses a challenge for the coalition, as some coalition members are getting runs for their money. The Anchorage metro is the host to a lot of the bellwether contests, including the 13th. Democratic incumbent Andy Josephson saw his district altered in 2020, with only one precinct being from his old house seat. The seat vote shares also went from around 57% voting for Joe Biden in 2020 compared to 50.5% under the new lines.
The jungle primary saw Josephson triumph by one vote. The electorate is expected to be slightly bluer in general, and Josephson enjoys a nearly 2:1 financial advantage over his Republican opponent Kathy Henslee. However, Henslee has backing from many state GOP leaders.
This race will go down to the wire and could be the race to determine if the coalition can survive. With the GOP heavily favored to win the Governor’s mansion and Senate, the House is the only way to check GOP control in the state.
#8: Marijuana Legalization Proposals in Missouri, Arkansas, and the Dakotas
Many states will see essential ballot measures this year on widely discussed issues. Proposition #3 in Michigan has consumed much of the ballot measure spotlight this year, with full abortion access hinging on the proposals passing. While the proposal is expected to pass with room for comfort, that has not stopped prominent pro-life politicians from advocating against it.
An essential set of ballot measures that have ramifications and have not been discussed much is marijuana legalization measures. 2020 saw wide success for pro-marijuana measures, but this year could be different. Maryland is expected to pass recreational legalization easily, but the fate is more unclear in Missouri, Arkansas, and the Dakotas.
Groups such as the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee oppose it by claiming that legalization will lead to higher crime rates. Prominent conservative leaders such as former Vice President Mike Pence and current Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson are rallying against the measure. Opponents have used scary statistics such as Colorado’s spike in marijuana-related DUI offenses spiking as evidence of these points.
Polling in Missouri shows a double-digit lead on legalization, and Missouri has a history of voting for liberal ballot measures, even in recent years. Polling in Arkansas also shows soft support for the measure, but with the against side quickly catching steam.
The actual fate is in the Dakotas. North Dakota voted down legalization in 2018, a year in which the electorate was bluer due to the reasonably competitive Senate election. South Dakota voted to support recreational marijuana in 2020. However, the State Supreme Court dismissed the measure on technical violations in adherence to the state constitution, pleasing Gov. Kristi Noem, who strongly opposes the amendment. A recent poll shows the no side winning in South Dakota 51-40%.
If marijuana is legalized in 3/5 of the states this year, it will bode well for the weed industry. Arkansas and Missouri lean heavily to the nation’s right, and if they pass these measures in a red environment, then battleground states will likely see more pressure to legalize marijuana. If the Dakotas support legalizing, then this trend may accelerate quicker.
#7: South Dakota Gubernatorial Election
Elections Daily Rating: Safe Republican
Despite being a bright red state, South Dakota will be a state to watch. In addition to the high-stakes weed referendum outlined above, there are a few close state legislative elections and a measure to expand Medicaid that is expected to pass.
The race to watch, though, is the Governor’s race. Incumbent Republican Governor Kristi Noem is a staunch conservative who is considered on the right end of her party. She has sometimes broken against some GOP leaders, including her steadfast support for the removal of now-suspended South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg after he struck and killed a pedestrian with his car.
In 2018, Noem was one of the surprises when she only won by around three and a half points against former State Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton, who was paralyzed from a rodeo incident. He was considered a strong candidate, but many thought Noem would cruise on the state’s partisan lean. With Noem now an incumbent in a year with a likely redder electorate, she should not be in too much trouble, but her race could be a surprise race to watch.
Her opponent this year is Jamie Smith, the Minority Leader in the state house. He is trying to cultivate an image similar to Sutton by emphasizing his rural South Dakota-born and raised roots. He has mainly refrained from national issues, and the race has not garnered much attention like in 2018. South Dakota State University found the race within 4%, and Noem only had 45% of the vote in a poll conducted in the early half of October.
Partisanship should get Noem across the finish line, but this could be a race that surprises many by the margin. If Smith keeps it close, it strengthens the notion that Democrats can still be competitive in the prairies, where they used to dominate nonfederal elections with pro-agriculture moderates.
#6: Harris County Judge Election
In the booming Houston metro, Democrats coasted in the 2018 elections here. They flipped County Judgeships, legislative seats, and the County Judge position. The County Judge position is Texas’s equivalent of a County Executive. They are the county’s face, and along with a county board, they get affairs related to the county done. In 2018, Democrat Lina Hidalgo bested the incumbent on a liberal platform, which was a surprise as he was pretty popular.
Hidalgo helped weather Houston out of Covid-times, but there are still lingering issues. Harris County is mirroring many other U.S. cities with a surge in crime ever since COVID, and Republicans are making quick gains among Hispanic voters. Hidalgo came under fire when three of her staffers were indicted.
The crime issue has been especially prevalent in the campaign of her opponent, West Point graduate and former army captain Alexandra del Moral Mealer. The 31-year-old had weaved a fine line between using GOP attacks against Hidalgo’s crime management, where the criminal court backlog goes back to Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and having more moderate stances that could resonate with swing voters more, with a moment being when she said Joe Biden legitimately won the election.
Hidalgo will win Houston proper by a large margin, but the margin will be essential. If suburban reversion occurs and benefits Mealer, Hidalgo must count on solid minority turnout. Hidalgo has a good amount of name recognition, and a recent visit by Jill Biden to support her may help. However, Republicans continue to poll strongly with Hispanics in the lead-up to the election. There has been sparse polling in the race.
#5: Illinois Supreme Court Elections
The judiciary has been shown a renewed spotlight this year in the wake of Roe v Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court. Much of the anger has been directed at the Supreme Court, but lower courts have also faced people’s wrath.
State judiciaries are more heavily scrutinized, as they have been forced into the limelight with several critical decisions. State courts played a prominent role in the latest round of redistricting, with Ohio, North Carolina, and New York’s top courts nullifying the legislature’s recent congressional maps. Wisconsin and Florida also overheard challenges to their state’s new lines, but the top courts voted to keep the new maps in place. This has poured attention into these races, where many state justices are elected statewide.
Ohio and North Carolina could see their Supreme Courts shift power (with Ohio becoming a liberal-majority court and vice versa in North Carolina). While North Carolina’s is much more likely to flip, all the races could be within single-digits. If these courts flip, this would likely be the end of overturning the legislature’s maps (a victory for the GOP in both outcomes).
While these two states and Michigan have absorbed much of the attention, other states are also having judicial elections. Texas, Alabama, and Missouri are all having court elections, but the stakes are not as high with a complete GOP trifecta and little chance of a flip.
One state where the court’s composition would come into play is Illinois. While the state is heavily blue, the court’s structure makes it winnable for Republicans. The court is separated into districts (with the Chicago-based seat getting three justices). The court would have the power to overturn Illinois’s new maps, which are primarily a continuation of last decade’s Democratic “Madiganmander.” The term hails from Mike Madigan, the former Illinois Speaker of the House who went down for corruption earlier this decade. The court will also be a check on the otherwise all Democratic legislature and Executive.
This movement picked up speed when liberal Justice Thomas Kilbride lost his retention election in 2020 with 56.5%; Illinois requires 60%+ for justices to retain their seat). His central Illinois seat voted for Trump and did not reflect Illinois’s average electorate, but the court’s district-based structure has allowed this. While a liberal was appointed to his seat, 2022 will likely see the GOP nab this seat.
This is likely to come down to the 2nd district for overall control. The seat comprised the Chicago suburbs and voted for Biden by double-digits, but Governor J.B. Pritzker only won the seat by two points in 2018. While Rauner had a distinct appeal to suburban voters, Republicans tend to do better down-ballot in the Chicago suburbs. Many county offices in the Chicago-collar counties are still occupied by Republicans, although this number is quickly shrinking. Liberal nominee Elizabeth Rochford will be hoping for solid margins in the seats of Democratic strongholds like Aurora. In contrast, 2020 Senate Nominee and former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran will be banking on solid rural turnout and holding his own in his rapidly blueing home County. Curran did get some cross-over appeal in 2020, but he still decisively lost Lake County.
#4: Connecticut Gubernatorial Election
Elections Daily Rating: Safe Democratic
It has primarily been assumed that Democratic incumbent Ned Lamont will win and defy political gravity by performing better than he did in 2018. Connecticut has not had a Republican win statewide in over a decade, and 2022 will likely not break that streak.
The most watched contest in the state is Conneticuts’s 5th congressional district, which could go to the GOP in a red wave night. Two-term Democratic incumbent Jahana Hayes has not had a scandal, but the environment makes her most likely nervous. Across the state lines are where a horse race has a good chance at flipping to the GOP, with a popular former mayor in Allan Fung giving the state treasurer a close contest for an open house seat.
Connecticut, on its own, has gone through restructuring. Many of the GOP’s former titans in the state, like former Governor Jodi Rell and former Congressman Christopher Shays, were moderate and won affluent suburban communities quite comfortably. Towns like Greenwich and New Canaan have strong GOP roots, with even the GOP Senate nominee carrying New Canaan in 2016 while Clinton carried the town by double digits. This was despite Trump’s loss being half the margin of the Senate candidate statewide.
Much of the moderate Republican forces of local town politics in Connecticut have been swept out in favor of more mainstream conservatives. In Greenwich, the town GOP chairman got booted after he shadowbanned Trump signs at the town GOP headquarters, as he worried it would harm down-ballot Republicans.
This shift could explain why Republicans are losing local contests in these areas alarmingly fast, with Democrats defying odds and making gains in the state legislature two years ago. Despite this, Trumpism has garnered much more power at the local level, and this will be an exciting cycle to see if Lamont does better and if suburban communities accelerate to him much more significantly than other regions of the state.
If Lamont fares worse in these suburban communities than in 2018, it could help jumpstart Trumpism in New England, which in addition to Utah, tends to be some of the areas most repellant to Trump love.
#3: Indiana’s Secretary of State
Elections Daily rating: Likely Republican
At first glance, this choice might seem odd. Indiana is a reliably Republican state, and the blueing of the Indianapolis suburbs has been countered by the GOP maximizing their vote share in rural communities. While the state used to ticket-split, it does not tend to anymore. Indiana has gotten some late attention for its Secretary of State contest, with a strong Democratic nominee compared to a weak GOP nominee being the leading cause.
Republican Governor Eric Holcomb’s semi-strict COVID measures caused an uproar among the conservative wing of the state GOP, who thought he should have had fewer measures and relaxed them earlier. This faction rebelled against the Governor earlier this year at the state GOP convention when they passed on Holcomb-appointed incumbent Holli Sullivan in favor of former Secretary of State employee and Stop the Steal Activist Diego Morales. Morales is a stalwart conservative who believes the 2020 election was stolen and would be rivaled only by the minds of other far-right Secretary of State nominees like Michigan’s Kristina Karamo or Arizona’s Mark Finchem.
These three are part of a more significant trend of Secretary of State candidates pledging to enact extreme measures to counteract “voter fraud” like banning drop-box locations for dropping off absentee ballots or heavily culling down on early voting options extensively.
Morales would typically be fine against Democrat Destiny Wells, but is being weighed down by a buffet of scandals. He has been dismissed from offices in the Secretary of States office multiple times for performance issues, has been accused by multiple Republican women of sexual misconduct, exaggerated his military service record, and potentially committed a felony when he voted in a different precinct than where he lived.
Despite this, he earned a lukewarm endorsement from Holcomb (he did not name Morales or the election in his endorsement of the state GOP ticket), has been getting financial support, and has not been heavily rebuked by many GOP officials. This is why he is still the heavy favorite for the election, but this race could be within single digits.
#2: Michigan’s Senate Districts 11, 30, and 35
Republicans are looking at a year for state legislature gains. They are narrow favorites to flip a few lower chambers and could flip the upper chamber in Maine. The gain likely will not be more significant in chambers because despite Democrats winning the national vote, Republicans dominated in state legislature elections and stunted what could be a massive gain for the GOP in state legislative races this year.
Republicans have several factors that help them with state legislatures. There are more states where the GOP legislatures drew the lines than vice versa. The only Democratic gerrymandered in a swing state considered efficient is Nevada, where despite Republicans likely winning the legislative vote this year, Democrats are not too worried about losing control.
There are few competitive chambers this year, with state chamber control usually correlating with the state’s partisan lean. State legislatures also tend to have their incumbents be more entrenched than their federal counterparts and still be able to ride on local popularity. Pennsylvania’s 72nd State House district will be a test of this, with the incumbent Democrat being in a tight contest to once again win his ancestrally Democratic Johnstown-based seat.
Michigan is the only chamber marked as a toss-up for most of the year. Both chambers were redistricted by an independent citizen commission, which used partisan fairness in redrawing. This was a reverse of the GOP-drawn map from the decade before and means there is only a slight GOP-favored advantage with these new lines. The Michigan House is considered to tilt GOP, but the Senate is a true toss-up. The chamber has five competitive elections, and the closest three will probably determine overall control.
The three districts all are from different areas of the state. The 30th is a northern Grand Rapids-based seat where the GOP has historically flourished, with the area being Gerald Ford’s home country. Democrats have a strong nominee in state representative David Lagrand, who has raised an impressive sum of money and has helped keep the race closer. Despite this, the Biden+4 district does lean GOP and is more Republican deeper down-ballot. Republican incumbent Jack Huizenga is the favorite but could be swept out if Michigan Democrats do better than expected.
The Biden-won 35th paints a different picture. Instead of affluent suburbs, the seat comprises the tri-cities of central Michigan (Bay City, Midland, and Saginaw). These three towns have a solid blue-collar industrial presence and have recently faced an economic decline. While the three cities still vote Democratic, the surrounding areas do not, which has made the Counties they are in close. With Democrats being heavy favorites for the Downriver (south of Detroit) based Senate seat, the 35th is the only competitive race where Democrats enjoy an infrastructure advantage. Whitmer performed exceptionally well in the seat, and even Biden won the seat by three points despite the area being prime ground for Trump’s populism-based campaign. This region is being intently watched as it will be critical in 2024 statewide.
The final of the three, arguably the closest of three, is the 11th. The seat is shaped like a tentacle that goes from Detroit to its exurbs of it, with a healthy slice of rapidly diversifying southern Macomb County in the mix. The seat has the most narrow margin of victory for Biden out of three (Biden+2), but it is a district trending left that does not have historically Republican suburbs. The district’s elasticity has caused elections here to not have a significant variance in results, with all statewide Democrats carrying the seat since 2018.
If minority turnout is not strong in Michigan (The Detroit Clerk predicted low turnout), it could heavily affect the 11th. The district’s Democratic votes come from the diversifying blue towns of Roseville and Eastpointe. While different people claim different things about how high the minority turnout will be, it will play a role in this race.
All three of these races are expected to be close, with Democrats needing to win two out of the three (barring an upset from other Republican-held seats). That is certainly doable but would likely mean Whitmer is winning statewide by over five points.
#1: New Mexico’s Gubernatorial Election
Elections Daily Rating: Lean Democratic
Many political analysts are looking for the upset of the cycle. The race that nobody saw coming. In 2018 most crowned Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District as the upset race of the cycle, with Democrat Kendra Horn catching the incumbent Republican by surprise in the Oklahoma City-based district. In 2020 the title was more up in the air, with many mentions being Republican Senator Susan Collins’s surprising re-election in Maine.
This year has seen different races thrown upward. One race I have seen consistent mentioning of is Oklahoma, as mentioned earlier. Despite this, the fundamentals resoundingly point to a Stitt win, and credible pollsters still show Stitt up. Therefore while this could be a huge upset, it is modestly unlikely.
In contrast, the Republican side has pointed to Washington’s Senate contest as the predicted upset of the night. While Democratic Senator Patty Murray is likely feeling the heat, the only poll showing anything other than a modest Murray victory was a GOP internal that showed a tied generic congressional ballot in the state, something that is highly improbable. The New York gubernatorial contest has also been on upset alert, but many conservatives have admitted they believe Hochul will come out victorious.
Therefore, while both races have a good chance of being upset, they would be deemed upset for a reason. Besides many of the discussed upsets, there also are other races that easily could be. New Hampshire’s Senate seat going GOP seemed like a pipe dream until recently, but a GOP win in the Granite State would no longer be a massive upset like it would be a month ago.
A race talked about sometimes is the gubernatorial contest in New Mexico. Weatherman Mark Ronchetti is representing the GOP statewide once more after losing a Senate bid by a closer-than-expected margin in 2020. He has largely refrained from making brash partisan statements and has worked on localizing the race. Democratic incumbent and former Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham were faring fine until it was discovered she was paying the law firm of a staffer who accused her of sexual misconduct. While the validity of these claims is contested, it has given Ronchetti a non-divisive issue to pounce on, and he has.
With the new age of politics, it is evident that scandals like this are not doing as much damage as they would of even a decade ago. New Mexico has not plunged into economic or social disaster, and the state is still reliably Democrat. Furthermore, polling is showing Democrats leading in the swingy second congressional district. Even if Democrats lose the contest, the closeness shows New Mexico Democrats are not struggling as much as other blue state parties like New York. Albuquerque and Santa Fe provide a strong base of Democratic support, and more sparsely populated areas with high concentrations of Hispanic and Native American voters strengthen this blue firewall.
Ronchetti does have factors going well for him, with him having the national environment, a fundraising edge, and high name recognition. Lujan Grisham has a blue state on her side, but this race will likely be closer than some think and could provide the upset of the night.