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ANALYSIS: Six Must-Watch Elections In 2021

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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Most political prognosticators are already looking ahead to 2022, but a number of elections being held this year will give Americans an idea of where the country is headed on key issues.

Special and municipal elections in 2017 and 2019 gave an idea of things to come in 2018 and 2020, respectively, and the same could be the case for 2021 and 2022. Here are the state, local, and federal elections to keep an eye on taking place this year:

Virginia gubernatorial and House of Delegates

Virginia and New Jersey will be holding gubernatorial elections in 2021, and the Commonwealth seems almost certain to have the more competitive of the two. Embattled incumbent Democratic state Gov. Ralph Northam is ineligible for another term, and the frontrunner to replace him is his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Convention (DNC) chair, represents the party establishment and has led heavily in primary polls against the likes of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. (RELATED: McAuliffe Celebrates Northam’s Endorsement To Replace Him As Governor. Just Two Years Prior, McAuliffe Called For His Resignation)

On the Republican side, the nomination will likely come down to state delegate Kirk Cox and state Sen. Amanda Chase. Chase represents the full-blown pro-Trump wing of the party. She was censured by the Virginia Senate for calling the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters “patriots,” but she’s led in early polls. Cox is more closely aligned with the establishment of the party, having served as Speaker of the House of Delegates from 2018-2020.

While Republicans face an uphill battle to win a statewide election in Virginia for the first time since 2009, the GOP convention (not a primary) serves as one of the first proxy battles for the future of the party. Meanwhile, the GOP only needs to flip six out of 100 seats in that chamber to retake a majority, which it lost in 2019.

Gavin Newsom’s recall

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom will likely face a recall election later this year after 2.1 million signatures were gathered to force one over his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Signatures are still being verified, but only 1.5 million are needed to trigger the recall, making it a near certainty that Newsom’s political career will be on the line at some point in 2021.

Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 2018 gubernatorial nominee John Cox and former state Sen. John Moorlach are among the leading GOP candidates to potentially replace Newsom. Democrats don’t seem likely to run another serious candidate alongside Newsom in the recall.

Most polls have indicated Newsom is likely to survive the recall, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. Newsom will be the first high-profile pro-lockdown governor to face voters after the COVID-19 pandemic, and his fate could forecast how others like him will fare in more competitive races. (RELATED: Gov. Gavin Newsom Announces California Will Reopen In June)

Ohio’s 11th District: A proxy battle between Bernie and the establishment

Ohio’s 11th District is up for grabs after former Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge was tapped to lead President Joe Biden’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two leading candidates to replace her, Cuyahoga County Councilmember Shontel Brown and former Democratic state Sen. Nina Turner, represent opposite wings of the feuding Democratic Party.

Brown is the chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and has gotten endorsements from several local Democrats and labor unions. Turner has been one of Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ highest-profile surrogates since 2016, having led Our Revolution for the past three years and served as the co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Turner has earned endorsements from members of The Squad like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, as well as Sanders himself. This race could indicate just how much power within the Democratic Party the new socialist wing has.

A new battleground in Texas?

A special election will be held in Texas’ 6th Congressional District after Republican Rep. Ron Wright passed away after contracting COVID-19 in February. Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, is widely expected to be the leading Republican in the jungle primary. If no candidate receives a majority in the first round, the top two vote-winners will proceed to a runoff.

TX-6 is likely to be the most competitive House race of 2021. It’s a seat Republicans should win, with Wright having held it by nearly nine points in 2020. Former President Donald Trump only won the district by about three points, so it could be a bellwether of which party has the momentum following 2020.

Will the Yang gang take the Big Apple?

The political mood of New York is hard to gauge right now. Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is embroiled in multiple scandals, from sexual misconduct allegations to fueling a surge in nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 policy. Outgoing Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has been a polarizing figure in his own right, and the current leader to replace him is failed Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

Yang possesses the highest name-recognition in the race, but faces some strong local challengers in New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Will the national figure emerge victorious, or will he be defeated by the progressive Stringer or establishment Adams? (RELATED: Andrew Yang Heckled, Accused Of Being ‘Pro-Cop’ During Bicycle Protest For Daunte Wright)

The most unwanted mayoral post in America

Democratic Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is running for reelection in 2021, and his competition is fairly light despite his embroilment in the fallout following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Frey has been criticized by other officials and booed off the streets by protesters, but few have come forward to challenge him.

According to local media, that’s because the situation in Minneapolis is so volatile that nobody really wants the job. “The trend toward harassing people’s family at their homes has crossed a hideous line that I think would have made me question whether I would want to subject and endanger my family,” former Mayor R.T. Rybak told Axios.

Local officials in Minneapolis have been harassed by Black Lives Matter since last summer, and crime is spiking as the city debates whether to defund the police. “We would not wish these crises on any mayor in the country,” said Kenza Hadj-Moussa, director of public affairs and communications for TakeAction Minnesota.