Voters across the country head to the polls Tuesday to decide a series of races that will test the national political landscape and the direction of the Democratic Party a year into Joe Biden’s presidency.
In Virginia, Democrats hope to prevent the pendulum of American politics from swinging back in Republicans’ favor in a governor’s race that will serve as a gauge of the national environment — both as a referendum on the early stages of Biden’s presidency and as a test of whether Democrats’ efforts to keep their opposition to former President Donald Trump at the forefront of their campaigns will continue to motivate voters a year after Trump left office.
Meanwhile, in major cities across the country, Democrats will be making decisions about the direction of the party in intra-party mayoral contests that pit progressives against establishment figures.
And in Minneapolis, the “defund the police” progressive movement faces a major test.
Here’s a list of the major contests to watch Tuesday:
Virginia governor’s race
Virginia’s gubernatorial contest between Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin will be the most closely watched race of the night, serving as a key bellwether for national sentiment headed into the 2022 midterms and beyond. Virginia has tilted toward Democrats over the last decade, but McAuliffe and Youngkin are locked in what polls show to be a neck-and-neck race with more than 1.1 million ballots already cast during early voting.
A win for McAuliffe would be a validation for President Joe Biden and his agenda, while a win for Youngkin, who has tried to walk a fine line on handling support from former President Donald Trump, would provide a jolt of momentum for Republicans and could provide Republicans running in competitive states with a roadmap for handling Trump.
Minnesota police referendum
Voters in Minneapolis, nearly a year-and-a-half after the murder of George Floyd, will go to the ballot box with a chance to either approve or reject a referendum that would significantly overhaul policing in the city. The referendum is being watched nationally as a test of the “defund the police” movement, a controversial slogan that gained traction among progressives in the wake of Floyd’s killing and has since been used against Democrats across the country.
If the measure passes, the city would create a Department of Public Safety, eliminate a requirement on the number of officers the city must have and split control of the new department between the city council and the mayor.
New Jersey governor’s race
Gov. Phil Murphy appears to have a comfortable lead in his bid to become the first Democratic governor of New Jersey to be re-elected since 1977. Barring a remarkable upset by GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli, the streak will be broken and Democrats will have some evidence that an executive who has championed mask and vaccine mandates will be rewarded for it by voters.
Victory for Murphy will also underscore the difficulty even moderate Republicans have distancing themselves from former President Donald Trump, especially in blue states. Trump has steered clear of Ciattarelli, and Ciattarelli has kept his distance from the former President. But Murphy has hammered Ciattarelli, whose main message is on taxes, which voters have called the state’s most pressing issue, on his appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally last year. (Ciattarelli said he was not fully aware of the event’s theme.)
New York mayoral race
Eric Adams won the narrowest of contests to become the New York City Democrats’ mayoral nominee. His race on Tuesday will be less dramatic — the Brooklyn borough president is a lock to be elected the next Big Apple mayor. His ascent, though, is about more than the city, as Adams and his campaign have been touted by top Democrats as a case study in how the party should go forward.
Adams, a former police captain, has sought to portray himself as a working class candidate. While he has been dismissive, and sometimes confrontational, with the party’s left-wing activists, Adams has also — on issues like public safety, the centerpiece of his campaign — adopted some progressive ideas about prevention and early intervention.
Other mayors’ races
Boston: Boston is set to make history by electing a woman of color for the first time in a city long dominated by White men. Polls have shown Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, a champion of progressive policies, opening a commanding lead over her more moderate rival Annissa Essaibi George, who also serves as a Boston city councilor-at-large.
Buffalo: Democratic Socialist India Walton defeated four-term Mayor Byron Brown in Buffalo’s Democratic primary in June, notching a stunning victory for the progressive left as she charted a course to become the first socialist mayor of a major American city in more than 60 years. But to win the mayor’s office, she’ll have to defeat Brown again. The incumbent mayor is mounting an aggressive write-in campaign.
Atlanta: Fourteen candidates are vying to replace Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who’s not running for reelection. The contest is happening amid alarm about the spike in violent crime, as well as controversy over an effort by the residents of the wealthy community of Buckhead to break off from the capital and create their own city. Polls suggest that a large swath of the electorate is still undecided, but the leading candidates — including former Mayor Kasim Reed, City Council President Felicia Moore and Councilman Andre Dickens — have put Atlanta’s crime rate at the forefront of their campaigns. If no candidate receives at least 50% plus one, Atlanta will hold a run-off election on November 30 to decide the winner.
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