Alabama Senate Runoff Next Week; Update on Other Fall Elections

September 20, 2017

While 2017 is an off-year in the political cycle, there are still a few seats being contested this fall.

(9/26) Alabama U.S. Senate Republican Runoff:  With no candidate achieving a majority, the top two vote getters from last month's Republican primary will meet next Tuesday, with the winner moving on to the special election in December. Roy Moore, former Chief Justice of Alabama's Supreme Court won that primary, with the incumbent Senator, Luther Strange finishing 6 points back.  Moore has led in the polling conducted since the primary, sometimes by double-digits, although some polls have been much closer.  The most recent poll has him up by a 50-42% margin. Strange has the endorsement of President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; both Trump and Vice President Pence will campaign for the incumbent prior to the runoff.

(11/7) Virginia Gubernatorial Election: One of two regularly scheduled gubernatorial races on Election Day. Incumbent Democrat Terry McAuliffe is term-limited. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam will represent the Democrats, while former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is the Republican nominee. Gillespie lost a 2014 race for U.S. Senator from Virginia, although the race against incumbent Mark Warner was much closer than expected. Warner prevailed by less than 1%. There have been quite a few polls in recent days. While Northam leads in most, all show a very competitive race. Sabato's Crystal Ball, The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections all rate the race as 'Leans Democratic'.

(11/7) New Jersey Gubernatorial Election: Term-limited Republican Chris Christie will be replaced by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno (R) or businessman and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy (D). The incumbent is highly unpopular, complicating Guadagno's efforts to prevail in this traditionally blue state. The only recent poll here, from Quinnipiac, gives Murphy a substantial lead of 25%. This week, Sabato's Crystal ball changed their rating to 'Safe Democratic', while Cook and Inside Elections are at 'Likely Democratic'.

(11/7) Utah's 3rd Congressional District Special Election: The race is to fill the open seat created by the departure of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz. It will be contested again in 2018 as part of the midterm elections. The Republican nominee is the Mayor of Provo, John Curtis. The Democratic nominee is a physician, Kathie Allen. Curtis led by 30 points in a recent poll. This race is 'Safe Republican'.

(12/12) Alabama Senate Special Election: The winner of next Tuesday's runoff will face off against Democrat Doug Jones in mid-December. The special election was necessitated after former Senator Jeff Sessions resigned to become U.S. Attorney General; the next regular election for the seat is in 2020. Jones is a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Regardless of whether Strange or Moore wins the runoff, they will have the advantage in this deep red state, which last elected a Democratic Senator in 1992. (That Democrat, Richard Shelby, became a Republican two years later.) However, a victory by the controversial Moore could lead to a more competitive general election*. As Nathan Gonzales wrote last month

"Democrats can only win a Senate seat in Alabama under extraordinary circumstances, and facing Roy Moore, the twice-barred chief justice, might be one of those circumstances.

According to party strategists tracking the race, Jones needs approximately a third of the white vote in the general election to win. For a reference point, statewide Democratic candidates tend to receive 16 percent to 19 percent. Potentially doubling that will be difficult for Jones, and he’ll need a batch of Republicans who are simply turned off by Moore’s focus on social issues or are uncomfortable with him after the attacks from the runoff.

National Democratic operatives have not hyped the race. But if Moore wins the GOP nomination, Jones could become the latest cause celebre for grass-roots Democrats across the country." 

Looking ahead, 2018 will see the midterm congressional elections, including all 435 House seats and 33 Senate seats. In addition, there are 36 gubernatorial elections next year.

* An upset by Jones in December would slightly improve the extremely long odds facing Democrats as they look to take control of the Senate in the 2018 midterms.

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