Dallas mayor is third big-city mayor to switch parties since 2016

Welcome to the Wednesday, September 27, Brew. 

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Dallas becomes largest city with a Republican mayor after party switch
  2. ICYMI: open seats are up, major party competition is down in this year’s state legislative elections
  3. Seven candidates to appear at tonight’s Republican presidential debate

Dallas becomes largest city with a Republican mayor after party switch

On Sept. 22, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, a former Democratic state legislator, announced he was switching his party affiliation to become a Republican. 

The switch makes Dallas—the country’s ninth-most populous city—the largest with a Republican mayor. Dallas’ immediate neighbor, Fort Worth, previously held that distinction.

Johnson is also the third big-city mayor to switch parties since 2016. In 2021, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee switched from Democratic to Republican. Fremont, Calif., Mayor Lily Mei switched from nonpartisan to Democratic in 2019.

Nationwide, Democratic mayors lead 63 of the country’s 100 most populous cities, Republicans lead 25, nonpartisan or independent mayors lead 10, and two mayors’ affiliations are unknown.

Texas is home to 13 of the country’s most populous cities, and Republican mayors already outnumbered their Democratic counterparts before Johnson’s switch. Now, Republican mayors lead six of Texas’ most populous cities (46%), and Democrats lead three (23%). The remaining four cities’ mayors have an independent, nonpartisan, or unknown affiliation (31%).

Johnson was first elected Dallas mayor in 2019 after advancing to a runoff from a nine-candidate field. Earlier this year, he ran unopposed and was re-elected to a second four-year term.

Twenty-nine of the most populous cities are holding, or have already held, mayoral elections this year. Two of those elections resulted in party changes:

  • In Colorado Springs, Yemi Mobolade (I) defeated Wayne Williams (R) in a runoff. Incumbent John Suthers (R) was term-limited; and,
  • In Jacksonville, Donna Deegan (D) defeated Daniel Davis (R) in a runoff. Incumbent Lenny Curry (R) was term-limited.

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ICYMI: open seats are up, major party competition is down in this year’s state legislative elections

Yesterday, we took a deep dive into our 13th Annual State Legislative Competitiveness Report.

We use this report to determine how competitive each state legislative election cycle is by assigning it a competitiveness index on a scale of 0 to 100. A higher index indicates more competition in the form of more choices on the ballot. A lower index indicates less competition in the form of fewer choices.

Three stats power this index, which we average together: the percentage of open seats, the percentage of incumbents in contested primaries, and the percentage of seats with major party competition between Democrats and Republicans.

This year’s report analyzes the 578 seats up for election in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia.

Here are some key takeaways:

Open seats

At least 24% of all legislators elected this year will be new to the job. That’s because they are running for open seats, those where no incumbents are present. This equals the decade-high open seats rate reached in 2022. 

Both 2022 and 2023 are the first election years after redistricting, which can result in more incumbents choosing not to run for re-election because of redrawn district lines. Term limits are also playing a role, but more on that below.

Incumbents in contested primaries

Most incumbents don’t face primary challengers. Across both odd- and even-year elections, only an average of about 22% of incumbents have to win a primary to advance to the general election.

This year has an above-average rate, though: 26% of all incumbents faced or will face primary challengers. This is also the first odd-year election cycle where more Republican incumbents faced primaries compared to their Democratic counterparts.

Major party competition

Of the 578 seats up for election, only 42% feature major party competition, meaning the remaining 58% are effectively guaranteed to either Democrats or Republicans. 

This is the second-lowest rate of major party competition in odd years we have recorded. Only the 2015 election cycle had more uncontested elections, with only 38% featuring major party competition.

Comparison to even-year election cycles

The number of state legislative seats up for election in an odd-year election cycle is never more than 578, making it a much smaller pool compared to the roughly 6,000 seats up for election during even-numbered years.

Since 2011, odd-year cycles are only slightly less competitive than what we typically see in even years. 

The biggest difference between odd-year and even-year election cycles is the percentage of open seats. On average, 14% of seats are open during odd years, compared to 19% during even years.

This is primarily due to term limits. These limits create more open seats, which contribute to higher competitiveness indices. Over the past decade, the 10 states with the most open seats all had term limits. 

Sixteen states have these laws, including 15 that hold elections in even years. Louisiana is the only state with term limits and odd-year elections. And since Louisiana holds elections every four years, that means term limits have no effect on open seats in every other odd-year election cycle.

The 2021 election cycle, featuring elections in New Jersey and the Virginia House, had the highest competitiveness index at 40.0, due almost entirely to the fact that 93% of all elections had major party competition.

The 2022 election cycle had the highest competitiveness index among even years at 36.6. Unlike 2021, this high score came from increased rates of open seats and incumbents in contested primaries, two stats that also had an uptick in 2012, the last post-redistricting election cycle.

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Seven candidates to appear at tonight’s Republican presidential debate

Seven presidential hopefuls are set to appear in the second Republican presidential primary debate tonight, Sept. 27:

The debate will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. It will air at 6 p.m. PDT on Fox Business with Stuart Varney, Dana Perino, and Ilia Calderón moderating.

Each of the above seven candidates met a polling and fundraising threshold to qualify for the debate and signed several Republican National Committee pledges, including one to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

All seven candidates also qualified for and participated in the first primary debate on Aug. 23. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also participated in the first debate but failed to qualify for the second.

Former President Donald Trump qualified for both the first and second presidential debates but declined to participate in both.

Tonight’s second debate has the smallest number of participants since three candidates participated in the second Democratic debate in 2016.

One reason for this smaller crowd: the bar for qualifying is higher now than in previous election cycles, with candidates required to meet polling and fundraising thresholds.

In the second Republican primary debate in 2016, candidates only had to meet a polling threshold. In the second Democratic primary debate in 2020, candidates could meet either a polling or a fundraising threshold.

Tonight’s polling threshold is 3% or more in either two national polls or one national poll and two early-primary state polls.

In 2016, Republicans required a 1% average across three polls. And, in 2020, Democrats required at least 1% in three different polls.

Tonight’s participants also need to have at least 50,000 unique donors, including 200 unique donors from at least 20 different states.

The Republican Party didn’t have a fundraising threshold in their second debate in 2016, but did require candidates to have at least one paid staffer in two of the four early primary states—that requirement is gone now.

In 2020, the Democratic Party had a very similar fundraising threshold for their second debate but required an additional 15,000 unique donors.

And keep your eyes peeled for our recap of tonight’s debate. You can find our recap of the first Republican primary debate here.

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