Battleground preview week day #2 – State-level races

Welcome to the Tuesday, October 26, Brew. 

By: Doug Kronaizl

This is the final full week ahead of the Nov. 2 general elections. Each day this week, we will be bringing you previews of battleground races at all levels of government. Here’s our schedule for the week:

  • Monday: Federal
  • Tuesday: State
  • Wednesday: School boards
  • Thursday: Cities
  • Friday: Ballot measures

Today we are diving into our state-level battleground races. Three states are holding general elections for statewide offices on Nov. 2: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Additionally, New Jersey and Virginia will be holding state legislative elections. Read on for a look at our battleground races in each state. We’ll take you through the preview alphabetically. 

New Jersey’s gubernatorial election

Along with Virginia, New Jersey is one of two states that holds gubernatorial elections this year. Five candidates—incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy (D), former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R), Madelyn Hoffman (G), Gregg Mele (L), and Joanne Kuniansky (Socialist Workers Party)—are running in the election.’s Charles Stile described the election as a “race to the bottom” in a September 2021 article, citing Murphy and Ciattarelli’s negative attacks targeting one another. Murphy has used campaign ads and events to portray Ciattarelli as out of touch with the state’s electorate and wanting to introduce former President Donald Trump’s (R) agenda to the state. Ciattarelli has highlighted issues such as taxes and the handling of sexual abuse allegations to portray Murphy as an elected official who does not understand the needs of average New Jerseyites. Click here to view campaign ads in this race.

An average of the five most recent polls, conducted between Aug. 11 and Oct. 18, showed Murphy leading Ciattarelli 49% to 40%.

As of Oct. 25, two of the three major independent race observers say the race is “Solid Democratic” and the third rated it as “Likely Democratic.” Between 1992 and 2021, Republicans held the New Jersey governorship for 16 years and Democrats held it for 14. The last Democratic governor to win re-elected was Brendan Byrne in 1977. Since then, two incumbent Democratic governors, Jim Florio and Jon Corzine, lost re-election to Republican challengers.

In 2017, Murphy defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) 56-42%. In that election, Murphy outraised Guadagno by roughly $10 million and outspent her by about $6.5 million. This cycle, Murphy has outraised Ciattarelli by around $3 million with Ciattarelli outspending Murphy by $2 million.

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Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court elections

Two candidates—Maria McLaughlin (D) and Kevin Brobson (R)—are running for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Justice Thomas Saylor (R), who joined the court in 1998, is not running for another term because he reached the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2021. Pennsylvania is one of eight states where justices must retire at the age of 75.

McLaughlin, a judge on the state’s Superior Court, and Brobson, a Commonwealth Court judge, advanced from partisan primaries held on May 18.

The Associated Press’ Mark Scolforo wrote: “The result won’t shift power on the high court, currently with a 5-2 Democratic majority, but in a state where the two parties have for decades been locked into a perpetual death match over political control, it will surely draw considerable money and the most statewide attention.”

Ballotpedia’s 2020 partisanship study of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that at the time of the 2021 elections, there are four strong Democrats, one mild Democrat, and two mild Republicans serving on the court.

The next scheduled election for a seat on the court will be in 2022, as current chief justice Max Baer (D) reaches the mandatory retirement age. After that, the next election will be in 2025, when three Democratic justices first elected in 2015 will be up for re-election. Unless there are unexpected vacancies, 2025 will be the first year in which the court’s partisan balance could change from Democratic to Republican.

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Virginia’s state executive official elections

Virginia is holding statewide elections for three offices: governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Here’s a breakdown of the gubernatorial race:

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Glenn Youngkin (R), a former co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, a global investment firm, are the major party gubernatorial candidates. Incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is term-limited.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote that the race “can begin to answer some of the questions about the current state of the electorate and forces that will shape the races next year.” Walz said that includes “the role of Donald Trump as a motivator, for Republicans but especially for Democrats, and how that affects who votes and who doesn’t.”

The outcome of this election, in addition to the state’s House of Delegates elections, will also determine Virginia’s trifecta status. Virginia became a Democratic trifecta in 2019.

McAuliffe has emphasized his previous term as governor, saying he “brought 200,000 good paying jobs to the Commonwealth, drove unemployment down, and raised personal income.” McAuliffe has compared Youngkin to former President Donald Trump (R), saying, “[Youngkin] is nothing more than a Trump loyalist, dead set on advancing an extreme agenda here in Virginia.”

Youngkin completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey, saying, “We need a governor with real-world experience who can create jobs, keep businesses from leaving, put an open-for-business sign on Virginia, and create a rip-roaring economy that lifts all Virginians.” Youngkin described McAuliffe as “a recycled, 40-year political insider and career politician who pretends to be a businessman.”

An average of the five most recent polls, conducted between Oct. 1 and Oct. 19, showed McAuliffe leading Youngkin 49% to 46%.

Democrats have won four of the five most recent gubernatorial elections and all thirteen statewide elections in Virginia since 2012. In 2019, Democrats won majorities in both the state House and Senate, creating a Democratic trifecta in Virginia for the first time since 1994. Most recently, Biden won the state in the 2020 presidential election, beating Trump 54-44%.

Princess Blanding (Liberation) will also appear on the general election ballot and Paul Davis (I) is running as a write-in candidate. Both candidates also completed Candidate Connection surveys, which can be viewed by clicking their respective names.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Del. Hala Ayala (D) and former Del. Winsome Sears (R) are running for the open position. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) did not seek re-election, choosing instead to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring (D) and state Del. Jason Miyares (R) are running for attorney general. Herring was first elected in 2013.

Use the links below to view Ballotpedia’s battleground coverage of all three statewide races:

Virginia’s House of Delegates elections

In addition to its statewide races, Virginia is also holding elections for all 100 members of the House of Delegates.

Heading into the election, Democrats hold a 55-45 majority, making this the first election since 1999 with Democrats defending a majority in the state House. Republicans controlled the House from 2000 to 2020 with Democrats winning control in 2019.

Ballotpedia’s annual competitiveness analysis found the House has decade-high levels of major party competition. The number of districts both major parties are contesting increased from 41 in 2011 to 93 in 2021, a 78% difference.

Ballotpedia has identified 25 battleground races in the House. Democrats and Republicans currently represent 19 and six of those districts, respectively. Based on analyses of these districts’ electoral histories, these races have the potential to be more competitive than others and could possibly result in shifts in the House’s partisan balance.

During Donald Trump’s (R) presidency, Republicans lost 21 net seats in the House of Delegates—the most of any legislative chamber in the country. University of Mary Washington professor Stephen Farnsworth attributed Democratic gains to suburban districts, adding, “The key question nationally … is will traditional Republican areas in the suburbs revert back to being Republican now that Trump is no longer president?”

A net shift of six or more districts in Republicans’ favor would change control of the House from Democrats to Republicans. Five of the 10 preceding House elections have seen net shifts of six districts or more: twice in Republicans’ favor and three times in Democrats’. On average, 6.6 districts changed control per election cycle during that same time.

The Virginia Senate, where Democrats currently hold a 21-19 majority, is up for election in 2023.

Virginia’s House of Delegates holds elections every two years in odd-numbered years. It is one of three chambers holding state legislative elections this year. In New Jersey, all 120 seats in the General Assembly and state Senate are also up for election. Democrats currently hold majorities in both of those chambers.
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