It Starts Now: Significant Local and State Elections on Tap for 2017
It's time to get back on the horse.
With the impending fascist administration set to take the Oval Office on January 20th, Democrats can waste no time in gearing up for political races over the course of the next calendar year. Traditionally, off-off year elections generate the least amount of enthusiasm and lowest turnout numbers of any year of a typical election cycle and with many Democratic supporters being downtrodden over the most-recent election results, 2017 seems likely to fall into that same pattern. However, if Democrats truly want #TheResistance to be effective, they need to challenge Republicans at all levels of government and they have multiple races throughout the country where they need to mobilize and help elect Democratic candidates to elected positions.
Alabama senator Jeff Sessions will leave his position to take on a role of Attorney General for the Trump administration. Despite allegations of racism, Sessions seems to be a lock for confirmation via a Republican-controlled Senate which would leave his Senate seat temporarily unfilled. Alabama Republican governor Robert Bentley will name Sessions' replacement and a special election will be set to permanently fill the seat. This election could come in 2017, however Bentley is facing potential impeachment for an alleged affair, something that could end up expediting the process. Bentley could order the special election for 2017 or he could roll the dice and stretch the special election out until 2018 where there will be more enthusiasm for the midterm elections. Regardless of what Bentley decides, Alabama is an area that is now solidly red but Democrats can and should contest this year not only for the Senate seat but also help to recruit a viable candidate for the governor's seat which will be open in 2018.
California's 34th congressional district will have a special election to fill the seat after current congressman Xavier Becerra will become the state's attorney general, replacing Kamala Harris. The 34th district is essentially downtown L.A. and northeast of the city making it a reliably Democratic area and a safe seat for Democrats. However, Becerra has become a rising star in the Democratic Party so there's no reason why he can't be followed by another up-and-coming candidate getting his or her start in a progressive and diverse congressional district. Already there are nearly a dozen viable candidates for the seat and regardless of who wins, all candidates will get a great opportunity to fundraise, debate, and campaign for a congressional race which will can only help the California Democratic Party.
Georgia's 6th congressional district will have to replace Tom Price, who is slated to become the new Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Georgia law, the seat must be filled 30 days after Price resigns meaning this special election will arrive quick and we've already seen candidates line up in anticipation. The 6th district primarily includes the affluent suburbs north of Atlanta and Price had been a six-term congressman from the district, making it a difficult seat for Democrats to pick up. However, it is a seat that can and should be contested as it was Hillary Clinton who actually beat out Donald Trump in the district in November. The early favorite on the Democratic side is former state legislator Sally Harrell, who represented the district from 1999-2005. In addition Ron Slotin, a former state senator as well as Josh McLaurin, an attorney, have also formally declared their candidacy. If Democrats can coalesce around a single candidate, this could be an extremely competitive race in a state that is quickly and quietly becoming a prime battleground area in the country.
Congressman Mike Pompeo is leaving his position to take a job as the director of the CIA. According to Kansas state law, Republican governor Sam Brownback will have five days to set a date for a special election after Pompeo resigns. That special election will need to be 45 to 60 days after that date and state party's will be able to select one candidate to run however they so choose. This will be a tough seat for Democrats to pick up as Pompeo easily won reelection in 2016 with nearly 61% of the vote and Trump won the state by 21%. The district is fairly urban as it includes Wichita, but it is not as diverse as other urban areas throughout the country. Despite the uphill battle, there is no shortage of Democratic candidates interested in running including former mayor of Wichita Carl Brewer, as well as state representatives Jim Ward and Henry Helgerson. With much angst directed toward Brownback's disastrous economic policies in the state, this would be a good area to Democrats to go on the offensive and start previewing the messaging they should be using in 2018.
MT at-large congressional seat
Montana will have its one and only congressional seat up for grabs in 2017 after its congressman Ryan Zinke will leave to become the Secretary of the Interior. According to Montana state law, Democratic governor State Bullock will have between 85 and 100 days to select a date for the special election with the political parties to have nominating conventions to select their nominee. Montana is a state that is reliably red at the presidential level yet has had two consecutive Democratic governors. Zinke himself won reelection in 2016 winning 56% of the vote. However, the seat in 2017 could be very competitive, especially if Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau chooses to run. Juneau, a Native American descended from the Blackfeet tribe, ran against Zinke in 2016 and won 40% of the vote due in large part to her raising the 6th highest amount of donations of $200 or less of all nationwide congressional candidates. If Juneau chooses to run again, she will have more statewide name recognition than any potential Republican nominee, putting her in prime position to retake the seat she lost in November.
Contrary to popular belief, Chris Christie actually still has a job and this job is as governor of New Jersey. Despite high hopes that Christie would find his way into the new administration, it seems as if even that is a bridge too far for Donald Trump as Christie was dropped from the transition team and seems unlikely to earn a cabinet position of any true prestige. All this is too bad for Christie as he is term-limited as governor of New Jersey and thus will more than likely become unemployed come November of 2017. This is actually good news for New Jersey Democrats as Christie's approval rating currently sits at the near-historic low of 19%, setting up a difficult challenge for any Republican hoping to replace him. As of January, the leading candidate to replace Christie on the Republican side is state assemblyman Jack Citarelli, who has made a name for himself as an outspoken critic of the sitting governor. On the Democratic side, the leading candidate is Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany who served under President Obama. In a state that has been reliably blue at the presidential level, Democrats seem primed to retake the governorship of the Garden State.
Virginia is the only state in the country that does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms meaning that Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe is term-limited. This will end up setting up what will become the most hotly contested election of 2017. Virginia, once seen as a swing state, has now become reliably blue at the presidential level. However, the state's governors races are always extremely competitive and the state senate is currently controlled by Republicans by a single seat meaning this will again be a very competitive race. On the Republican side, former RNC chair Ed Gillespie has emerged as the leading candidate. In addition to having chaired the RNC, Gillespie also was a lobbyist for Enron and ran a competitive but ultimately unsuccessful run for senate in 2014. On the Democratic side, state lieutenant general Ralph Northam has emerged as the early favorite. Northam is a VMI graduate, a Gulf War veteran, and a pediatric neurologist whose professional background as well as his Eastern Shore upbringing which can give him a broad coalition across the state. Should Virginia elect a Democratic governor as well as a Democratic state senate, it could pave the way for progressive legislation such as the state medicare expansion, which has been consistently blocked by Virginia Republicans over the past four years.
North Carolina Legislative Elections
Lastly, but certainly not least is the state of North Carolina. The state has made national news over the past month after it was revealed the state could no longer be classified as a democracy thanks to Republican efforts to suppress the vote, gerrymander districts, and restrict the civil rights of the state's LGBTQ community. As if on cue, outgoing Republican governor Pat McCrory attempted an unprecedented power grab in an effort to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor Roy Cooper. Despite all this mess, there is hope in the Tar Heel State after a federal court ruled in favor of new legislative elections after it was determined that lawmakers had unconstitutionally relied on race when they drew up 28 state House and Senate districts. Because of this ruling, there will be statewide elections in November, giving Democrats a prime opportunity to greatly improve their representation in the state legislature. Despite North Carolina being a true battleground state, Republicans currently have super-majorities in both the state House and Senate as well as having 10 of 13 congressional seats in the United States House of Representatives. The November election will be an excellent opportunity for North Carolina Democrats to mobilize and to make the case that they are the only political party in the state that will truly and honorably represent the people they have been elected to serve.
November may be nine months away but for Democrats wanting to begin #TheResistance in those important states, their efforts start now.
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