Key races to watch in November 2 elections

In Virginia, polling shows Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin in a tight race that’s focused on abortion and schools. Also worth watching: November elections in Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis, New Jersey and more.

Terri Rupar

Originally published by The 19th

The year after a presidential contest is not a big one for elections, but two states and several major cities are holding elections this November for governor, state legislators, mayors and more. The debates are shaped by local issues, like housing, and national issues, like the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two states, Virginia and New Jersey, are holding gubernatorial elections this year.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, the Democratic incumbent, is being challenged by Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican. Early voting has started in this state, which President Joe Biden won by about 16 points last year and where polls show Murphy with a lead. Elections are also being held for the state House and Senate.


Virginia has been seen as an increasingly blue state — Biden won by 10 points in 2020 — but polls show a tight race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the state’s former governor and a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who worked in private equity. Virginia doesn’t allow governors to serve consecutive terms. The race has been shaped first by a debate over abortion, particularly in the wake of Texas’ ban on most abortions, and then by one on schools.

The other big issue in the race for governor: former President Donald Trump. Trump endorsed Youngkin, who has welcomed the backing but also tried to keep some distance as he reaches out to independent voters. McAuliffe, who has had former President Barack Obama and many other top people from the party campaign with him, is working to tie Youngkin to Trump, in hopes of driving Democratic turnout.

Virginia is poised to elect its first woman lieutenant governor and its first woman of color in a statewide contest. The candidates for governor and lieutenant governor don’t run as a ticket, and this race is between Democrat Hala Ayala, who serves in the Virginia House of Delegates, and Winsome Sears, a former state legislator. The state Senate is closely divided and those seats are not on the ballot this year, so the lieutenant governor’s ability to cast tiebreaking votes on key issues, including abortion, is part of the debate.

While those are the only two states holding elections, several cities are expected to see a change in leadership, or a major challenge to the incumbent. Here are a few key ones to watch:


In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms decided this spring not to run for reelection, leaving the field open. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the race will go to a runoff on Nov. 30. A poll this month from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the University of Georgia showed that many voters are still undecided, but two candidates lead the field: former Mayor Kasim Reed and City Council President Felicia Moore. The poll showed all the other candidates with single-digital support.


Boston holds a mayoral runoff between two city councilors: Michelle Wu, who’s picked up endorsements from both the state’s senators and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Annissa Essaibi George, who was one of the most moderate candidates in the preliminary election. Either will be the first woman and first woman of color elected to the post; they would replace interim Mayor Kim Janey, the first woman and first woman of color to hold the post, who was appointed to it. Janey has also backed Wu.


India Walton won the Democratic primary for mayor in Buffalo in June, which would normally mean she was the presumptive next mayor. But the incumbent, Byron Brown, made an effort to get back on the November ballot and, when that failed, began a write-in campaign. Walton is a socialist and an activist, and while some key statewide Democrats — including Buffalo native and now-Gov. Kathy Hochul — have stayed out of the race, Walton has the backing of both the state’s senators. Brown, Buffalo’s first Black mayor, is trying to attract Republicans and independents, as well as Democrats wary of Walton’s lack of experience and leftist ideas.    Walton would be the city’s first woman mayor.


Minneapolis uses ranked-choice voting, in which voters can rank their top choices and then the lowest vote-getters are eliminated round by round, with their votes going to candidates still on the ballot based on voters’ choices until someone surpasses 50 percent of the vote. Mayor Jacob Frey is running for reelection, and he has a number of challengers, including  AJ Awed, a court mediator; Kate Knuth, a former state legislator; and Sheila Nezhad, an activist. Also on the ballot is a measure that could lead to the police department’s transformation into a Department of Public Safety, a hotly debated issue in a city still grappling with the police killing of George Floyd.

New York

In New York, as in many cities, the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary is almost surely the winner of the general election. Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, emerged from a crowded field in the June primary; Curtis Sliwa, a Republican, is his opposition.


Housing is the biggest issue in Seattle, where current and former City Council members M. Lorena González and Bruce Harrell are facing off in the mayoral race after advancing out of a nonpartisan primary. González is running to the left in a race that has focused on housing, homelessness and policing. Washington state’s elections are held almost entirely by mail.

Are we missing any really interesting races? Email trupar@19thnews.org and put 2021 elections in the subject line. 

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