Elections To Watch. . . Now
Will California's Gubernatorial Recall Battle, Canada's National Election, and Virginia's November Contest Foretell a Trend? And Don't Forget New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Americans are used to focusing on elections in even-numbered years. Only a handful of states - Virginia, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Kentucky - are known for odd-year electoral contests. And Louisiana and Kentucky aren’t due for one until 2023. Some states, like Pennsylvania, have a few local and judicial elections in odd-numbered years.
We have two and possibly three elections this fall - all different, all at the state, not the federal level (one exception) - that might display a few trends ahead of next year’s national mid-term elections. One of them is Canada, with federal elections on September 20.
One of the effects of our worldwide pandemic is the globalization of political environments. The management of the COVID crisis, from lockdowns and mandates to vaccine efficacy and distribution, is a leading factor in every democracy. And Biden’s Afghanistan debacle didn’t just affect Americans - several other NATO members, including Canada, are part of the story as well. The old dictum that “all politics is local” may have just been suspended on a global scale.
The first big test will be in our largest state, California, the result of over 2 million residents signing a successful recall petition engineered largely by State Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Sacramento). California voters (real or otherwise - more on that later) will be given two ballots. On Question A, should incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed from office)? And, on Question B, if he is removed, which of some 46 candidates should replace him? Kiley, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and Salem Radio talk show host Larry Elder are among the throng.
Newsom is not on the second ballot. So if he’s recalled, he’s done. And the currently leading candidate is Elder, a Black Republican from Los Angeles (disclosure, I am a financial contributor to Elder’s campaign). Elder was the subject of a racist attack by a white woman wearing a gorilla mask during a visit to a homeless encampment.
You haven’t heard about it? If only Elder were a Democrat and the woman was wearing a MAGA hat, perhaps, there would be George Floyd level riots and a third Trump impeachment.
Homelessness is a major crisis in California. There are more than 160,000 homeless there and more than two-thirds unsheltered. That’s a quarter of the nation’s homeless, and no, they’re not because homeless people are moving to California). But despite Newsom’s apparent corruption, failed “progressive” politics, and blatant hypocrisy, he’s using the specter of the conservative Elder’s election to scare leftists in California into voting “no” on his removal, despite everything from mismanaged forests that have contributed to damaging fires, sky-high gasoline prices, rolling blackouts, and perpetual water shortages. California is a god-forsaken mess of biblical proportions. Unless you’re a wealthy Google, Apple, Facebook, or other tech executive or Hollywood mogul. Your bubble remains intact. For now.
Polls suggest Newsom’s strategy may be working, but polling in special elections is notoriously unreliable. It is hard to imagine even partisan Democrats being enthused about voting to save Newsom’s rancid bacon. Whatever happens, the next gubernatorial election is 13 months away. Not much time for Larry Elder to fix what’s wrong with California, given the makeup of its loony legislature. That may take a lifetime.
Another thing in Newsom’s favor - California’s horribly lax, “easy to cheat” election laws, featuring everything from ballot “harvesting” (illegal in most states) to “print at home” ballots. What could go wrong? Please don’t put too much hope in a California upset, given how many middle-class voters have abandoned the state in recent years, but we’ll see.
Following six days later is Canada’s “snap” election. As a “constitutional monarchy,” Canada can have elections pretty much whenever 1) the prime minister wants, or 2) when the opposing parties cast a vote of “no confidence” in the current “government.” Believing that Canadians would reward Trudeau’s Liberals with an emboldened majority due to his “stellar” COVID pandemic management, he dissolved parliament (with help from Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Canada, a ceremonial factotum called the “Governor-General”) and forced an election. Canada wasn’t scheduled to have another election until October 2023.
And Canadians are none too happy about it. Instead of rewarding Trudeau, they may be on the verge of granting Conservatives a minority government, or at best, seeing Trudeau’s own minority government (his party does not have a majority of seats in Parliament) shrink further. I haven’t studied polling about Trudeau’s handling of COVID. Still, given the slow rollout of vaccines in Canada, harsh provincial-led lockdowns, and the damage done to Canada’s economy, I have to believe it’s taking a toll.
And Erin O’Toole is no right-wing, MAGA (Make Canada Great Again?) hat-wearing Trump thumper. He’s culturally libertarian - pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay on marriage, marches in gay pride parades, and would not be uncomfortable in the US House Democratic caucus. He’s sensible, grounded, cautious, and is all about making Canadians comfortable about him being in charge (then again, maybe he wouldn’t be comfortable as a US Democrat).
Canadians don’t like lots of drama or controversy in their government. As our mantra is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Canada’s is “peace, order, and good government.” The jury in Canada is out on whether COVID has been properly managed (their quarantine rules for travelers were almost as bad as Australia’s) and whether Canada did what it could to mitigate the Biden Afghanistan disaster.
Canada hated Trump as much as it loved Obama. This is not a conservative country in the American sense. There’s no evidence Canadians hold much regard for the incapacitated Biden. Trudeau played the Trump card with abandon in Canada. That card is no longer available.
One of Atlantic Canada’s provinces, Nova Scotia (home to Pittsburgh Penguin legend Sidney Crosby), had elections recently. They tossed their liberal government in favor of the Progressive Conservatives. By a lot. It may be a sign if Canada dumps Trudeau’s liberals for O’Toole’s conservatives, even if by a slim margin.
Then there’s Virginia. November 2nd is election day; early voting starts on September 17th (yes, 45 days of early voting). Former Governor, Clinton bag man, and New York native Terry McAuliffe is running for his old job (governors cannot run to succeed themselves in Virginia). After eight consecutive years of plodding, embarrassing, and sclerotic Democratic governance, voters here may be poised for a change, and the polls suggest as much.
Successful businessman and first-time candidate Glenn Youngkin is running something akin to a cautious, center-right O’Toole-style candidacy (although Youngkin is pro-life and culturally and perhaps economically more conservative). He’s working to motivate traditional GOP voters outside of northern Virginia without alarming the deep-blue leftists and federal employees (but I repeat myself) who dominate Washington’s close-in suburbs (where I live). It is a balancing act on steroids, but McAuliffe messaging is tone-deaf and far-left. He’s lost his touch and is clearly worried about turnout among his base. And he’s closely tied to the anchoring fortunes of an incompetent Joe Biden.
This is the race to watch. If Youngkin can pull off an upset by winning big “downstate” (GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie won downstate Virginia in 2017 by 50,000 votes) and minimizing his losses in the Soviet suburbs of Washington, DC, it will send shock waves across the country. Especially if the rest of his ticket is elected, including Winsome Sears as Virginia’s second Black Lieutenant Governor (Doug Wilder was first) and Jason Miyares as its first Cuban-American Attorney General. The polling is ever so close.
My New Jersey friends may feel left out of the discussion since they also have an election in November. Republican former State Delegate Jack Ciaterrelli has teamed up with moderate former southern New Jersey St. Sen. and Philadelphia broadcasting legend Diane Allen (“A little ditty about Jack and Diane”) to challenge the disastrous incumbent Democrat, Phil Murphy. Murphy’s “management” of COVID has been no better than Andrew Cuomo’s, including sending 7,000 nursing home residents to their deaths. Unfortunately, with the nation’s highest out-migration rate (more than California’s), too many Republicans may have left for Florida to help Jack overcome a dramatic Democratic advantage in the nation’s most expensive state in which to campaign (New York and Philadelphia media markets dominate). New Jersey has the nation’s highest property taxes, which may not be enough to help elect Ciaterrelli.
And yes, they can pronounce Jack’s name in the Garden State. Remember, this is the state that gave us the legendary Francesco “Frankie” Castelluccio (aka, Valli).
All in all, other than Virginia, none of these elections may serve a bellwether. But stay tuned; there are enough common denominators that if lightning strikes - Newsom is recalled and replaced by Elder, Conservatives win in Canada, Republicans capture Virginia, and even Ciaterelli/Allen makes a surprising showing in NJ - almost any one of them - stay tuned for the panic that will ensue.
One last note. There’s an interesting State Supreme Court election in Pennsylvania. Justices are elected there on a partisan basis. And a Democratic-controlled state supreme court unconstitutionally redesigned the state’s congressional districts in 2018 that handed Nancy Pelosi four new members of her caucus. The election this year could be a bellwether for the upcoming 2022 open seat elections for Governor and US Senator. Pennsylvania remains a state to watch in 2021, 2022, and 2024.