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Is this where we debate Gailen, whether the Virginia governor's race is more important than New York City mayoral race? I mean, it's not really a debate where I know the answer.


Well, let the listeners get. Hello and welcome to the 538 Politics podcast, I'm Galen Druke the year after a presidential election is generally the slowest period when it comes to elections. The midterms are still more than a year away and the presidential primaries won't really get going until the midterms have passed. That, however, does not mean that there are no elections. Folks, there are always elections this year. There are gubernatorial and state legislative elections in Virginia and New Jersey and a very likely, almost certain recall election for governor in California.


There are also mayoral elections in more than two dozen major cities, as well as special elections for a handful of vacant U.S. House seats. Those elections are going to give us some insight into how the national political environment has changed since Biden took office. The primaries and those races will also help clarify which factions of the parties are electorally the strongest in the mayoral elections. Issues of policing that came to the fore last summer will be on the ballot.


So here with me to preview elections to watch in twenty twenty one are political reporter Alex Samuels. Hey there, Alex Hagelin. Also with us is elections analyst Nathaniel Rakha, Nathaniel Hegland and elections analyst Jeffrey Skelley.


Hello, Jeffrey Egal. Let's begin with statewide elections. So as I mentioned, those include the regularly scheduled gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and then the recall election in California. There are also races for state legislative seats in New Jersey and Virginia where Democrats currently hold majorities. From what I understand, the most competitive statewide election this year, though, appears to be the governor's race in Virginia. Incumbent Ralph Northam is not eligible to run for reelection because of term limits.


So let's key in on that race first and foremost. Jeffrey, you're based in Virginia. How competitive do we expect that race to be in the general?


Well, I think you look at Virginia and you say, oh, well, it's it's voting for Democrats for president in 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020. Joe Biden just won it by 10 points. Republicans haven't won statewide election in Virginia since two thousand nine, actually the gubernatorial election that year. So you might say, oh, well, surely Democrats will win it again. And I do think you would start out with Democrats is at least slight favorites.


But while Virginia is Democratic leaning now, I think you still have to view it with sort of a purplish blue tone. And so, you know, with that in mind, it's easy to imagine circumstances where the race gets very competitive and where the GOP has a chance of winning. A lot of that will come down to who the Republicans nominate, who the Democrats nominate, and also, perhaps most importantly, what the national political environment is. You know, if Joe Biden is still relatively popular, that will be a boon for Democrats.


But if things start going sour in D.C. for Democrats and Biden, that could really help the GOP in the Virginia race. Jeff, you've written about this for the site.


And I want to key in a little bit on the primary races going on there now. But before we get to that, Alex and Daniel, how are you two thinking about this race as far as its competitiveness or what we can learn about the overall political environment from it?


I would always caution people not to read too much into the political environment based on one race, particularly a state level race that might be decided by local considerations. But certainly it's the case that the last time Republicans won in Virginia in 2009, it was the foreshadowing of the Barack Obama midterm, quote unquote, shellacking in 2010. So I certainly agree with what Jeffrey said, that Virginia is not a safe blue state yet and that the political environment could hand Republicans an opening.


Yeah, and I think some of the trends that we see playing out on the national scale are playing out in Virginia, too. So for Republicans, these races are becoming a referendum on the direction of their party post Trump. And we see a debate over whether to elect someone who's, you know, embracing this, quote, Trump ism or someone who's more on the establishment side. And then I think on the Democratic side, we see those debates that we see all the time, whether you elect someone who is, again, more establishment or a little bit more to the left.


Alex mentioned the primaries. There are sort of a battle between the two different factions of the two parties. Let's key on the Republicans first, Jeffrey, is it clear whether the more Trump aligned or more establishment part of the Republican Party seems to be faring best in the primary?


Well, I think to some extent you have to look at it is Republicans are going in on Trump, but perhaps not all in. And I say that because there's certain messaging and issues that Republican candidates are keying in on that clearly relate to Trump. And the Republican Party in Virginia is certainly pro Trump like it is in most parts of the country. You know, there was a poll recently from Christopher Newport University's Wassan Center that. Found that on the whole, about two thirds of Virginians thought Biden had won the election legitimately, but about 60 percent of Republicans said he hadn't.


So you still see the big lie. The idea that Biden didn't win legitimately is a strong force in Republican circles in Virginia as it is elsewhere. And so you see candidates who are not necessarily super trumpy in terms of the way they showcase themselves and talk still key in on this issue in particular. For instance, you have this wealthy businessman named Glen Junkin who has come in. He's talked about spending millions and millions of dollars on this race. But as a part of his campaign, he set up this election integrity task force.


And we've heard that term election integrity get thrown around a lot on the right as it sort of relates to more restrictionist voting rules, basically trying to figure out Trump was robbed of the election. So let's let's figure out ways to make sure that doesn't happen again. And you also see tech entrepreneur Pete Snyder, another candidate on the Republican side, basically laid out this detailed election security plan. So it's very much trying to touch on this Republican doubt about the election result in 2020.


So I think that's a good example of the influence of Trump on the election in Virginia and also how Republican candidates, for the most part, are trying to balance that, because at the same time, an all out Trumpy message in Virginia is probably not going to win you the election because of the nature of the state now. So if you're trying to win over some suburban moderate types in Northern Virginia, aligning yourself completely with Trump is not the way to do it.


So what you're saying here is that there's not actually like a clear divide between the more Trump and part of the party and the establishment part of the party, because the establishment or more establishment part of the party has picked up on Trump in themes.


Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, there is one candidate who is most certainly trying to be as Trump as possible. She's called herself Trump in heels and that state senator Amanda Chase. But besides her, the other three candidates who I think are sort of viewed as the leading contenders, I mentioned Snyder young kid and then also longtime delegate Kirk Cox, who's the former speaker of the House of Delegates in Virginia and is maybe the most establishment candidate in the race.


There's sort of those three and then there's Chase. And so I see it as a battle between the all out Trump versus the establishment Trump mix. Maybe on the other side might be the best way to look at it. One thing that I think is also important to note is that the Republican primary in Virginia is not a traditional primary. They're calling it a convention. But really, it's maybe better termed a firehouse primary or even a caucus that kind of works similarly to the way the Iowa caucuses work in that it is open to voters in Virginia who are Republicans, who become delegates and anybody is eligible to become a delegate.


But I do have to go through this process. So the electorate's going to be much, much smaller. And so that kind of creates this unpredictability about who is it going to be. I think generally nationally, the conventional wisdom is that a smaller electorate and a convention often favors ideologues. But in this case, I think the conventional wisdom is that Amanda Chase, the extreme far right candidate, has no chance of winning a convention, and that played into the decision for the Republican Party to hold it this way.


So it'll be really interesting to see who wins out.


Normally, a convention in Virginia would be all in one place, but because of covid restrictions, the GOP has decided to hold what they're calling an unassembled convention where delegates are going be able to vote at 30 some odd locations around the state to decide the nominee. And they're going to use rank choice voting at those sites for casting a ballot instead of going through ballot after ballot at one convention site. And that was a big hangup in the determination of how to pick a nominee.


Virginia Republicans have been going back and forth between using a state run primary and using a convention for nominating statewide candidates for a long time. And primaries usually have produced or sort of seen as producing more electable general election candidates, conventions, more ideologically pure candidates. But this time around, weirdly, the conventional wisdom is that a convention will do a better job of actually nominating someone who might be supported by a majority of Republicans because you need a majority support of the delegates at the convention, whereas Chase could have won a plurality in a primary to win the nomination.


You said there are three candidates who are occupying the more establishment part of the race. Is it clear at this point who has the best shot here?


I think the conventional wisdom is sort of that. Kirk Cox, longtime delegate in the House, former speaker of the House, and Pete Snyder, who's this tech entrepreneur who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in twenty thirteen but has been involved in Republican politics for a while, are probably the two most likely candidates. Young Ken has a lot of money and he's come in as sort of this outsider and has tried to portray himself as such. And Chase is a very, very Trumpy candidate, but I think because of the convention format.


It's a little unclear, to say the least, conventions by their nature are somewhat more unpredictable. I think we have to also be careful not to totally write off Chase, not the convention choice by the state party clearly had her in mind as a way to try to prevent her being the nominee because she's seen as the weakest general election candidate. But I do think that her message could still resonate with enough delegates, that it's not impossible to imagine her winning.


But I do think that the view is that Snyder and Cox are probably the most likely to come out of this convention format. So that's the Republican side.


We see the the divisions within the party are playing out in the primary. Alex, what about the Democratic side? Are we seeing similar divisions there?


I think we are seeing some similar divisions. I think the clear front runner on the Democratic side is McAuliffe. I think he has the advantages of experience and money. And I think the last campaign finance filings show that he had the biggest cash on hand advantage. But I think a big question for Democrats here is to primary voters continue picking this safe middle of the road nominee or do they go a different direction? Of course, there's the potential to elect the state and the nation's first black female governor.


And then, of course, can Democrats continue their political dominance in the state?


Right. I mean, I think Alex is spot on. Terry McAuliffe, former governor of Virginia, has a one term limit on governor. She can't immediately seek reelection. So he won twenty thirteen, couldn't run again in twenty seventeen. And now he wants his old job back. You know, he left office as a relatively popular governor, approval ratings just above 50 percent. And the early primary polls, and they're very early at this point and largely reflect name recognition, to be fair.


McAuliffe is in the 30s and 40s and in a five way race that might be all he needs to win the nomination. So I think it is sort of his race to lose because it is a crowded field. And I think the fact it is a crowded field has helped him. If the opposition to McAuliffe could potentially rally around one candidate, that could help him. But that makes it harder. And I do think that McAuliffe has also helped out by the fact that at least in modern times, Virginia, Democrats have tended to prefer more establishment types.


We've seen that in presidential primaries. We've seen that in gubernatorial primaries. So those are forces that I think are working in McCullough's favor.


We started off this segment talking a little bit about how this might be reflective of the national political environment, how competitive this gubernatorial race is in Virginia. Obviously, the Democratic Party has suffered a number of scandals since the last statewide election there. In particular, both the governor and A.G. were involved in a scandal regarding wearing blackface. The lieutenant governor has been accused of rape. Democrats also controversially tried and failed to pass a bill that would make it easier to get a third trimester abortion in the state.


So the last four years, since the last statewide election haven't necessarily been easy statewide. But nationally, of course, Biden still won Virginia. How much of this race is going to be driven by local politics versus national? Is everything national now?


I mean, my thought is that it's going to be mostly national issues that drive things in the national environment will be critical in the sense that if Biden remains reasonably popular or doesn't become unpopular, that should give Democrats a lay of the land where they're in a position to win the governorship for four more years. And that's just because Virginia is somewhat Democratic leaning. But if things get worse and Republicans are able to harness attacks on things like school reopenings, cancel culture, I mean, these are things you're hearing from Republican candidates in the gubernatorial race that sound a lot like the national messaging from Republicans in D.C. So if the environment gets worse, that messaging and talking about maybe if the economy is not doing that well and Virginia is slow to reopen businesses in the face of covid and that sort of thing, that messaging might have the potential to work and Republicans could be in a position to win.


But I do think a lot of it comes down to national stuff in the sense that covid is a national issue, even if the sort of state specific conflict over reopening and went to open schools. I mean, some of that even getting down to local school district level. But at the end, it's still a national conversation.


In addition, this year, Virginia is also going to have state legislative elections. New Jersey is going to have state legislative elections as well. Those two states, Democrats control the majority. Are either of those chambers at risk of going Republican as far as Democrats are concerned?


Sort of like the gubernatorial election. The thought is that Democrats are starting out at least with a slight advantage. But I do think there's an important wrinkle here, and that's that in most years, ending with one, Virginia would have redistricted already or would be in the process of finalizing its redistricting for state legislative seats. However, because of the. DeLay in census information, the Virginia House of Delegates elections will be held in the same districts that currently exist.


So you're not going to get a new batch like you normally would. So it's important to remember that the current map was a Republican gerrymander and one that helped Republicans hold on to power until Democrats took back the House of Delegates in twenty nineteen. And now Democrats have a fifty five forty five edge. And so on the one hand, yes, Democrats have that edge. Biden won more votes than Trump and about 60 of those seats out of one hundred.


So, yeah, you know, you think the turf is generally advantageous for Democrats, but at the same time, a lot of those seats are marginal. And if the environment does get a little worse for Democrats, you can imagine a scenario where Republicans are in a position to win a majority.


All right. Let's move on from Virginia and talk about New Jersey and California, where there are other statewide and state legislative races this year Nathaniel.


Are we expecting the gubernatorial race in either of those states to be competitive?


No, not really. I'll start with New Jersey, which is in a similar situation to Virginia, except New Jersey is even bluer than Virginia is. Biden won New Jersey by 16 points instead of 10. And then in New Jersey, you also have the incumbent governor, Phil Murphy, running for reelection. So he'll get a and incumbency advantage for whatever that's worth. And a recent Stockton University poll found that Murphy has a fifty nine percent approval rating and only thirty six percent of New Jerseyans disapprove of him.


So he seems like he's in very solid shape to win reelection. California is more interesting. Of course, this is not an election that was supposed to happen. As listeners probably know. People, Republicans in particular, have gathered almost two million, I believe more than two million at this point signatures in order to put a recall election on the ballot for Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has been accused of, depending on who you listen to, either having to strict covid-19 restrictions or being too loose and capricious about them.


He also had this mini scandal where everyone's discontent with the covid-19 regulations was brought to the fore when the governor, who was telling people to stay home and be responsible, went out to a dinner party with people from outside his household, dining in a quasi indoor space, not wearing masks, etc., basically breaking every rule in the book. And so this recall election looks very likely to make the ballot. They're still verifying the signatures, but the number that the recall supporters have collected far exceeds the one point five million that would be required to trigger the actual election.


It's looking that like that election will probably happen sometime in the fall. But the issue is that although Newsom there's a lot of grumbling about Newsom, he's far from unpopular. He's not in the same situation that, say, Gray Davis, the California governor who was recalled in 2003, was. So Newsom's approval rating is generally about 50 50. And, of course, we all know how blue of a state California is. And so Davis is, by contrast, his approval rating was down in the 20s and California wasn't as blue back then.


So basically, every poll so far is saying that a pretty solid majority of Californians are going to vote to keep Newsom in office.


I personally found it interesting how seriously Newsom seems to be taking this recall effort. I think he what I find interesting is he launched this campaign in mid-March to, quote, stop the Republican recall and he's attempting to tie the effort with far right extremists. I think he used the phrase anti boxer's. Q And on conspiracy theories and anti-immigrant Trump supporters. And beyond that, he's also lobbying support among Democratic elites. I think he has the backing of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.


So that just shows, of course, like how seriously he's taking this effort.


Yeah, the Democrats have made an interesting tactical move there, which is they're basically instructing no Democrats to run in the recall election because there are basically two elections here, which is first, you have to choose whether or not you want Governor Newsom to be recalled. And then if that is 50 percent plus one of the votes, you have to choose who he will be replaced by. Theoretically, you could be replaced by a Democrat if that was the most commonly chosen alternative.


But it looks like Nancy Pelosi and others within the Democratic Party are discouraging any Democrats from running to be the replacement for Newsom, essentially setting it up as a question of if you want a Democrat, this is the only Democrat you have the option to choose. Nathaniel, as far as you're concerned, is that the right tactical move for Democrats?


Yeah, it's an interesting kind of collective action problem, right? It's probably a smart move for Newsom. Right. He can say I'm running against these Trump Republicans. That's a great campaign strategy in California. If that is how the race is perceived, he should win easily if he gets all of the Democratic votes. As we know, California is full of Democrats. But where he could get in trouble is if there starts to be some Democratic discontent, if maybe progressives are like, yeah, we don't really like Newsom and maybe this is our chance to get rid of them and we put our own candidate up as an all.


Nativ and then losing those Democratic votes is what could get Newsom under 50 percent in that first election. But it is a gamble, right, because you don't know who which candidate or Republican or Democrat is going to come out first. And the second question, so I would say that for the Democratic Party, if I were the chair of the Democratic Party in California, I would probably want a single strong Democratic candidate to run as the alternative, as kind of a safety net in case that does happen, so that it's not like if maybe there's a low turnout and Republicans are super enthusiastic, a maybe a tenth of California voters decide the next governor because that's how many people voted for this small fraction of a Republican alternative.


But of course, creating a situation where you can vote yes on the recall and keep a Democratic governor takes away the incentive for Democrats to vote for Newsom. And Newsom himself would probably not like that.


Yeah, I mean, that is exactly right. But the collective action problem, I mean, you heard just the other day a story that Tom Steyer, the former presidential candidate on the Democratic side, is privately polling and considering running in the race. And a lot of Democrats have sort of pooh poohed the idea. There's also been former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been mentioned as a possible candidate as well. But so far, at least no one has entered on the Democratic side.


And in 2003, this is sort of trying to to battle what was seen as a tactical error in twenty three by Democrats where the lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante, was the leading Democrat among the like one hundred some odd candidates who ran in the 2003 recall. So you had sort of this conflict of interests where the sitting governor is trying to stay in office. But the lieutenant governor, who clearly wants to be governor one day, is running as the the alternative if Davis were recalled.


And so this created all sorts of issues. And Bustamante, toward the end, when it looked like Davis really would get recalled more actively, was was trying to put himself out there is this alternative. And so you just Democrats are trying to avoid a repeat of that situation. Yeah.


And that's, of course, because the sitting governor who is being recalled can't also be one of the alternative choices on that second ballot question. Anyway, we're going to watch and see how this all plays out in Virginia and in California and to a lesser extent in New Jersey, if that does get competitive.


We will, of course, keep people apprized of the situation there. Let's move on and talk about mayoral elections.


But first. There are over two dozen mayoral races in major cities around the country this year, some of those races of note are taking place in Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Seattle and, of course, New York City. There are only three Republican mayors in the country's third largest city. So these races are largely going to be debates about what kind of leadership the Democratic Party wants in its urban strongholds. The issues at play include pandemic era unemployment, policing and public safety, education, attracting and retaining businesses that may no longer need the office space they once did—hello, pandemic. And working from home, as you can see if you're watching this on YouTube and much, much more.


So let's begin with New York City, and we're not going to be able to zoom in quite so closely on all of the mayoral races so you can accuse me of New York bias if you would like to.


But in my defense here, New York City is more populous than all but 12 states has faced some of the biggest challenges from Covid and has a highly competitive primary in addition to completely revamping its voting process. So, yes, we are going to spend more time on New York City here than the other races. But hopefully you will understand my explanation. Alex, you have written about the mayoral race in New York City that is highly competitive, has a lot of different characters.


What are the contours of that race at this point?


So the primary will be the first under this new ranked choice voting system, which, of course, is going to be interesting. And then, as you kind of alluded to, there's this super crowded field of candidates that doesn't just include the one to nobody's. I mean, you have someone like Andrew Yang who has this die hard following that he accumulated when he tried to run for president in twenty nineteen. You have Comptroller Scott Stringer. You have Maya Wiley, who worked for outgoing Mayor de Blasio and a bunch of other people outside of that.


So, of course, when you have so many candidates, it's hard to break out of the pack. And when you have someone like Andrew Yang, who maybe if you're not the biggest fan of him, either at least heard of his name. So maybe that helps him in a rank choice voting system. So it'll be interesting to see how those different factors play out. But from the polls that I've seen on the race and when we did the story on the New York mayor's race, there were only three polls out at the time.


But Yang was in first place in all three of those polls and everyone else was struggling to break out of the low teens or single digits. So I think it'll be interesting to really figure out if anyone else can break out of the pack.


Yeah, when we were talking about the primaries in the governor's races, particularly in Virginia, we mentioned that there are different factions of the party in competition with each other. Who represents what kind of factions? How are we seeing that play out in New York?


You have people like Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer Morales. They're running more as progressive candidates. I'd say I I know there are a couple of other progressives who probably phone. I can't begin with so many candidates. I'm just not keeping up with every individual one. You have someone like Ray McGuire who's more of a Wall Street type, more of like a moderate. Galen, I think a tweet last night comparing him to a Bloomberg. If you were trying to find a way to compare these candidates to the twenty twenty presidential candidates and then Andrew Yang, I guess he's kind of in his own camp.


But I think the main debates that we're seeing play out is this moderate versus progressive debate, which is playing out in Democratic primaries across the nation, too.


Yeah, and I think it's worth mentioning here, it's interesting and that you do have this large progressive camp, which includes Scott Stringer is probably the highest profile one of those. But Maya Wiley as well, who would be the first black woman to be mayor of New York, first woman in general to be mayor of New York. She's a contributor on MSNBC. There's also Diane Moralez.


But the first to kind of the polling leaders right now are Andrew Young, as you mentioned. But then Eric Adams and Eric Adams is much more of like a Biden type who has put together a coalition of African-American voters and more moderate white voters, particularly in some of the outer boroughs, for example. And he is currently Brooklyn borough president. So it's interesting that the progressives are very crowded. And you're seeing right now the main competition between Andrew Young, who's kind of the celebrity extremely high name recognition, twenty twenty presidential candidate, and then Eric Adams, who is like kind of ideologically the Joe Biden of the race.


You know, I'm here based in New York. So this is kind of surrounding me. But I'm curious to hear from Nathaniel or Jeffrey how you're seeing this race play out and the issues that are being debated and the parts of the parties that are performing the best.


I definitely see this as Andrew Yangs race to lose. If you're comparing presidential candidates from twenty twenty to twenty one mayor's race, he's Andrew Young because he's Andrew Young, but electorally, he's kind of the Joe Biden. Right. He starts out with the most name recognition and he's got this polling lead and everybody's kind of contorting themselves in different ways to say, oh, here's how Scott Stringer or Adams could overtake him as particularly in like rank choice voting or something like that.


But like some. The polling frontrunners do end up winning and races don't end up changing that much, and so I would have to say that he is probably the front runner until proven otherwise.


We were chatting earlier about the New York mayoral ship and whether or not it's a really tough job. And it's interesting to me that Yang is in this race because he ran for president. Does he have further national ambitions? Because I think as Bloomberg and de Blasio and Giuliani would show you, being a New York mayor is not necessarily a path to national political success when it comes to winning, because it's a tough job, obviously, and it just seems to not work out too well.


And that's been true, actually, going back a very long time. For instance, John Lindsay was mayor of New York back in the I think late 60s, early 70s, running for president, had a terrible run for president. And so just this is a long running problem. So if Andrew Yang has a future national ambitions, you know, run for president again or something, it's an interesting move to run for mayor of New York if you're just purely thinking about this physically.


But maybe Yang really does want to do something and change things in New York. And I'm not trying to discredit that. But if I'm just thinking about him as a national political figure, it is an interesting move.


And also he has a lack of governing experience, which I don't think we've seen with past New York mayors. And I think some of his opponents in general are just calling him out for the fact that he's never held higher office. And so I think obviously that could be a real issue when you have responding to the coronavirus and proving wage and creating more jobs. Those were voters top two issues in choosing a candidate, according to a December Public Policy Polling survey.


So I just think it's going to be interesting to see how candidates continue to paint him. As you know. Does he have the experience to actually lead the city?


Yeah, we're going to have another test here of whether or not name I.D. is everything when it comes to elections these days. And I think his name ID, name recognition in the most recent poll was eighty five percent, which was the highest of anyone running as far as the issues are concerned in these mayoral races. We mentioned the pandemic. What other issues are going to be kind of at play here?


Yeah, so police reform is, of course, going to be a big issue, not only in New York, but also in cities like Minneapolis and Atlanta to where we saw these big protests following the death of George Floyd. So then I think among the candidates in New York particularly, there's going to be this question of how they plan to address police funding through their new administration. Of course. Yeah, Jeff.


And Nathaniel, how do you see this debate playing out right now? Because, of course, it played out in last year's presidential race, but Joe Biden doesn't ultimately make decisions about funding for municipal police departments. And so this is where this question is really going to get answered for the Democratic Party.


On the one hand, I think because we're talking about cities and cities tend to be more left leaning, I think you're going to see, you know, a push and in some cases success by those who want to reduce funding for police departments or change how policing functions in major cities in the United States. But at the same time, you see polling that even people who we talk about being particularly affected by policing or people of color, for instance, who who will still say that they value police or they want the security of that.


So it's a thorny issue to be clear. And I think it's going to be very dependent location by location. There's not going to be some sort of absolute through line, I think. I mean, it's going to depend, obviously, on who who these cities elect as their mayors. But also, if you're pushing for police reform, you know, sort of the coalitions in each city and how they could build out those coalitions. So I think it's going to be very locality by locality.


And it may be difficult to say make some sort of overarching statement about the direction it's going to go. I'm not going to make any predictions. I'm just curious to see how it all unfolds. There are some interesting things that maybe you wouldn't have expected. So, for example, the mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Phrae, has not exactly covered himself in glory, I think, with the way that he handled the protests last year. And also, I think he's gotten low marks for his reign in general, but he's not facing a lot of serious challengers.


On the other hand, the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, did get a lot of recognition, at least on the national level, for handling the protests well. But she looks like she's going to face some serious challenger inflation, more who I believe is the president of the Atlanta City Council. So just in terms of challenger quality, that hasn't necessarily checked out as expected, but of course, there's a long way to go in these elections.


Yeah. And I can say here in New York, part of the way this conversation is shaping up is that Scott Stringer, city controller, last summer, was pretty vocal about wanting New York City to, quote, defund the police. He's brought that back a little bit since. And we see that Eric Adams, who is polling in second, his Brooklyn borough president, he's also a former police officer. And he is a black man who has talked about responsible policing, and you don't have to defend the police, but you can police better and so on and so forth.


So so far, we are seeing that in New York, the loudest advocates for defending the police are not actually rising to the top among the mayoral candidates. But I will be curious to see how this plays out in other cities around the country. And, of course, there are a lot of other mayoral races. So before we do move on, I just want to take the opportunity to mention what some of those races are and some of the dynamics there.


So what other mayoral races are we watching here?


There are two that I'm watching in particular. One is my home city of Boston where the old mayor, Marty Walsh, just became secretary of labor. So we've got a wide open race. And the acting mayor now is actually the first nonwhite man to be mayor of Boston in its entire history, which is pretty remarkable. And, of course, in the election, the regularly scheduled election coming up in the fall, Boston has the chance to elect the first nonwhite man to be mayor.


And actually, there are five candidates in the race so far, and none of them is a white man, which I think really reflects how far Boston has come. Of course, the city has a history of a lot of racism with the bussing riots in the 1970s, but now it's actually a majority minority city. So that'll be interesting. And a lot of the candidates in that race are particularly progressive as well, even more progressive than Marty Walsh, who was not a shrinking wallflower, moderate by any stretch of the imagination.


In particular, Michelle Wu, the former president of the city council, is running with Elizabeth Warren's endorsement. And I think she has to be considered a front runner as well as the the acting mayor, Kim Jany, who I think most people expect to get into the race. And then another race that I'm watching is the mayoral election in Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth is actually one of the few cities, major cities that is still governed by a Republican mayor.


And, of course, that could change this year, that Republican mayor is retiring. And it looks like it's probably going to be a contest between Republican Mattie Parker, who has the endorsement of the outgoing mayor and then Democrat Deborah Peeples. And I think the result there could be very indicative of this general trend that we're seeing of obviously urban areas are becoming and suburban areas are becoming bluer and bluer. And is this going to extend even into the heart of Texas, one of the last remaining major cities that is still red, particularly now with the showband trial underway?


I'm just curious to see if that plays at all into the Minneapolis mayor's race. We talked about it before. There's not that many candidates running. There hasn't really been too much coverage of the race. I'm just curious what the result of that trial, if at all, that will have any impact on the race there?


Yeah, I saw an article in the Minneapolis Post that essentially said a lot of people are getting in the race, in part because it seems like nobody wants to be mayor of Minneapolis right now. Essentially, there's not a lot of competition to deal with the real challenges that the city is facing, which, you know, we'll see if that changes. Of course, there's still time. I'll just shout out some of the other mayoral elections this year. There is Anchorage.


There's Albany. The Burlington mayoral election already happened. So someone filling the shoes of Bernie Sanders, that Burlington mayor to presidential candidate pipeline. We'll see if that plays out. Similarly for the new mayor of Burlington, there's Cleveland. There is Jackson.


There is Syracuse, New York, Raleigh, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Omaha.


Anyway, if you are listening and you live in one of these cities and there is an interesting dynamic playing out in your mayoral race, get in touch with us at podcast 538 Dotcom or get in touch with us on Twitter and we will dig into those dynamics and maybe talk about them on the podcast. But let's move on and before we go, talk about the special elections this year.


But first, they're going to be a number of special elections for U.S. House seats in the coming months, particularly as a result of vacancies created by lawmakers who have gone to work for the Biden administration. I think Biden went out of his way to not really pick lawmakers from competitive seats to fill positions in his cabinet or in his administration. So some of these special elections are not very competitive. However, folks will remember from twenty seventeen that the margins in these races, even if they don't flip, can tell us something about the direction of the national political environment.


So, Nathaniel, what are you watching so far?


Yeah, so there are four vacancies in the House left to be filled. You have the race for Cedric Richmond's old seat in Louisiana. Second, that is a Democrat versus Democrat runoff on April 24th. Fourth, Democrats will obviously hold. That is just a question of whether it'll be the more progressive candidate, Karen Carter Peterson, or the more moderate, which is Troy Carter. Then you have on May 1st, the Texas 6th District special election, which is actually caused by the death of Representative Ron White from complications of covid-19.


That's probably the most competitive race. I'm sure we'll talk about that more than you have on June 1st, the New Mexico first special election, which will fill Deb Holland. The now interior secretary's old seat, that's a pretty safe Democratic seat as well. And then on November 2nd, you have Marcia Fudge, his old seat in the Cleveland area of Ohio. That's also an extremely Democratic seat. But again, a potentially interesting Democratic primary. There you have Nina Turner, who, of course, is a major figure on the progressive left.


She's running for that race. And I think a lot of moderate Democrats really don't want to see her in Congress.


Is it clear within these primaries which part of the parties are winning out?


I think it's too early to say. You know, you still have these contests like in Louisiana and in Ohio, where those are going to be TBD. But even so, just those two primaries wouldn't necessarily be the start of a trend. I think you have to wait until twenty, twenty two to really determine that. And I think another complication with that is very much a small sample size. Also, Louisiana, Texas, those are states that have unique election rules and that all the candidates run together.


So you don't get sort of a strict all Democrats or all Republicans face off all the candidates on the ballot the same time. And in New Mexico, where the two parties just finished nominating candidates for the special election there on June 1st, the election rules there for special elections is that local party committees do the choosing. There's not like a primary. So how much that tells you about what's going on in terms of the overall Democratic primary electorate or the overall Republican primary electorate is it's hard to say because it just reflects the votes of committee members, though I will say that the Democrats did just pick Melanie Stansberry, who's a state representative in New Mexico, very narrowly over Antoinette Lopez, who I think was viewed as sort of the more left leaning of the two candidates, though to be clear, Sansbury, I think, is pretty left of center.


But I think there were some grumbling on the progressive left when the party committee made that choice. It was a very narrow vote between the two. But again, I don't know how much that tells you about what's going on in the Democratic Party.


In twenty seventeen, it was pretty quickly apparent that Trump was facing a backlash because of the margins that we saw in special elections. I think we've only had one special election so far this year where we've actually seen the results of Louisiana's 5th District.


Can we tell anything from those margins? What tea leaves are you reading in terms of where the national political environment is right now?


So I've actually been tracking not just the results of U.S. House special elections, but also state legislative special election results, which provide you with a much bigger sample size. And so far, there really hasn't been much of a surge for one party or the other when you compare against the twenty sixteen presidential results, because we don't have the twenty twenty presidential results calculated yet, the average margin shift has been toward Democrats by just one point. So really, you're not seeing things and you're seeing a lot of races where Republicans do better than expected and than others, where Democrats do better than expected.


So there's not really clear pattern. And I think the important thing to say with these things again is that any one race could be subject to local factors. You shouldn't read too much into it, really, where these things start to become predictive of the national environment and of the next midterm is in the aggregate. And we're just not seeing that right now, which I think makes sense because Joe Biden is still fairly popular. He's still arguably going through his honeymoon period.


Trump was unpopular basically from the start. So you kind of got a head start on this midterm backlash. But going back to Obama in 2009, he didn't start getting unpopular until really into 2010. And of course, that election ended up being very bad for Democrats. So I don't think it's unusual that we haven't seen the twenty, twenty two environment get baked in yet.


As you mentioned, as far as U.S. House races are concerned, we don't really have any sample large enough to start to come to conclusions yet, but we are going to see a competitive race in Texas. What are we seeing so far there?


I think one thing that's particularly interesting about the district is just how it's changed over time. So the district was initially drawn as a pretty safe Republican seat, but now it's been seen as more competitive. So you have Romney, who carried the district by 17 points in 2012, versus Trump, who only won it by three points in twenty twenty. And Ron, right. He won the district by nine points in twenty twenty. I think there are about a dozen candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, running for the seat.


The person seen as the front runner on the Republican side is actually rights widow Susan Wright. She's amassed a good amount of endorsements and fundraising since she announced she was running for the seat. On the Democratic side, we have Jianlin Sanchez, who ran for this seat in the past and lost to Wright. And then you have like people who ran for state House seats, also been like that Fort Worth area, also running for the seat. While the seat is becoming a little bit more competitive.


Democrats are also going into this year after suffering some not losses, but they didn't make any net gains in twenty twenty in Texas, they didn't flip a single congressional district. And the one seat that they won in the state house was offset. By a Republican gain. So I think the main argument for Democrats now is, OK, this argument of electability, like who's going to raise the most money? Who's going to be able to get people out to the polls?


Because as we're seeing, the district is just becoming sort of this purply color over time. So I think in this race, it might be kind of indicative of how Texas will do with its congressional seats in twenty twenty two.


Alex, are you getting a sense of course, you're based in Texas from either Democrats or Republicans working in these elections. Who has confidence? I mean, do Democrats genuinely think they're going to be able to make this competitive, given that they haven't won it so far? And you would think that the general political atmosphere isn't going to improve for Democrats with an incumbent in the White House. But who knows?


What are you hearing? I think that they have the sense that they can at least make the general election competitive now, whether they can win it. That's an entirely different thing. And I think a lot of the Democrats who are running for the seat are at least acknowledging, like we are going into this race after, again, just not winning any seats in twenty twenty. So I think there's this question within the Texas Democratic Party writ large of, OK, what can we learn from 20, 20 and how can we apply that to these twenty, twenty one races.




And so what should we use as a benchmark here in terms of should we be looking at the 20 20 election as the neutral and of Democrats or Republicans do better than that, that it seems like the winds are shifting in Texas when we're trying to make heads or tails of the direction of the country based on these special elections. How do we do that?


Well, the big thing in twenty, twenty one is obviously Trump is not on the ballot. So I'm just interested to see if Trump was the reason that this district became, quote, competitive over the last several years or if there was more to it, if it's really the changing demographics of the district. And I think that's one thing that will actually be able to see what the results of this election.


Yeah, I think normally we like to do a blend of the two most recent presidential election. So I think it might be unrealistic or at least less likely for Democrats to match or exceed Biden's performance. But this district is not going back to the days when I voted for Mitt Romney by however many points it did. And I should say that this is another jungle primary where it's going to probably go to a runoff, probably between a Democrat and a Republican.


But who knows? It could be between two Republicans. But assuming that it becomes a D versus R race in the end, I would say if the Republican wins by double digits, that would be considered a strong performance. And if the Democrat wins at all, that would be considered a strong performance and anything in between would be fairly.


All right. Well, let's leave it there. Thank you, Alex, Nathaniel and Jeff, for joining us today. Thank you, Galen. Our pleasure. Thanks for having us. My name is Gail Drew. Tony Chao is in the virtual control room. Claire Beggary Curtis is on audio editing. You can get in touch by email us at podcasts at five thirty eight dotcom. You can also, of course, treated us with any questions or comments.


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