What To Track in the 2021 Primaries & Specials? A week-by-week guide

Daniel Nichanian

Governors and lawmakers, judges and mayors, and powerful county officials like prosecutors and sheriff are on the 2021 ballot. Here’s what I’m watching as the elections unfold, with particular attention to races where I can identify some ideological contrasts.

September: This site tracks local elections, but this is an uncommonly busy month globally

Act I: 9/13
The left bids to come back to power after 8 years of governance by the conservative coalition. Context.Labor-led center-left win
Act II: 9/14
GOP effort to recall Dem Gov. Gavin Newsom made it to the ballot.Newsom
Act III: 9/20
Justin Trudeau called snap elections, and then the polls tightened. Will Liberals keep power, and will they gain a majority gov? Read the CBC’s preview of what to watch, including on the far-right’s rise.Liberal-Trudeau minority gov.
Act IV: 9/25
The parliamentary elections will decide who has power in the island.
Act V: 9/26
Merkel is not seeking a new term, & the (social-dem) SPD hope to replace the (conservative) CDU in the chancellorship. Big Q is who’ll be in the ruling coalition; plenty of strategic and ideological muddle between the parties.
Act VI: 9/26
The Swiss vote on whether to legalize gay marriage. Context.YES

September 14: The recall is here

CAThe Republican effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom has made it to the ballot. This one you know all about.Newsom
Boston MayorThe first round of this election will decide who will move to the Top 2, and it’s wide open (though polls have hown proressive Michelle Wu favored for one of the spots)
Iowa: HD37A special election to replace a GOP lawmaker in a district that leans narrowly Republican. Context.GOP

July 27 and August 3: Congressional specials

TX-06With Democrats already eliminated, its’ an all-GOP runoff in this special election between state Rep. Ellzey and Trump-endorsed Susan Wright.Ellzey
OH-11 (Dem)It’s a high profile battle here between the left & the Dem establishment. Preview.Brown
OH-15 (GOP)In the race to replace Rep. Stivers, Trump has endorsed Mike Carey while Rand Paul’s camp is spending for Ron Hood.Carey

June 22: New York (yes, beyond the city) has its local elections


New York CityIf you’re here, you know about this one. Ranked-choice voting; strategic questions; scandals; residency questions; and so on. Some previews here or here.Adams
BuffaloIndia Walton challenges incumbent mayor, Byron Brown, from the left in the Dem. primary. See previews here or here.Walton
RochesterMayor Lovely Warren, criticized for her policies after police killing of Daniel Prude, faces WFP-endorsed Melik Evans.Evans

New York City Council

District 7 (M)One of the highest-profile primaries has drawn a crowded field of 15 candidates, and plenty of ideological interests. Abreu
District 22 (Q)Tiffany Cabán runs for office, two years after her close lose for DA in Queens.Cabán
District 37 (B)Another district where the left is making a push, e.g. with an AOC endorsement for Sandy Nurse over Darma DIaz. Context.Nurse
District 9A very tight council election featuring Kristin Richardson Jordan, an AOC-endorsed democratic socialist, who trails in R1.Jordan
A DSA caucus? Will DSA make progress in NYC? They’ve endorsed Cabán, Kaur (D23), Abreu (D14), Hollingsworth (D35), West (D39), and Avilés (D38). More context here.Cabán & Avilés
The WFP nods?The Working Families Party endorsed a much longer list of candidates in 27 districts; review list here to compare to results.

Other New York City elections

Manhattan DAOne of the most powerful DA offices will have a new office-holder, with stakes for policing, prosecution, sentencing, and much else, amid heavy spending. Bragg
ComptrollerA crowded open primary has become another de facto battle between the city’s left and moderate factions. Preview.Lander
AdvocateJumaane Williams, a rare incumbent seeking re-election in prominent NY positions, and a progressive faces a primary. Williams
Borough presidents: DemsThere are many crowded borough president primaries in New York, including in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx.Levine (Manhattan), Reynoso (Brooklyn), Gibson (Bronx)
Borough presidents: GOPStaten Island has the main GOP primary in NYC. Trump waded into this GOP primary with an endorsement of former Rep. Vito Fossella.Fossella

Other local elections

Erie County sheriff (Dem)The candidate endorsed by the local Dem Party has since fearmongered, and lost to Kim Beaty. Context. Beaty
Albany: councilGabriella Romero, a progressive public defender, runs for councilRomero
Syracuse: School boardDebates around presence of police play out in elections for school board, here with activist Twiggy Billue.Billue among winners
Westchester County clerkAn obscure election is under the spotlight. Preview.Idoni

June 8: It’s the big day in both New Jersey and Virginia


Virginia: Gov Dem: 5 candidates are vying for the party nod. [I’ll skip choosing a preview on this one; if you’re here you probably know about it.]McAuliffe
Virginia: Lieutenant GovernorDem: An open race attracted 6 Dems. See candiate rundowns here and here. Progressive support mainly for Rasoul, while the Gov. has endorsed Ayala. Ayala
Virginia: Attorney GeneralDem: Incumbent AG Mark Herring faces challenger Jay Jones, who says the AG should be more proactive on pushing for CJ reforms.Herring
New Jersey: Gov.GOP: Three candidates are vying to take on Dem Gov. Murphy, with two of them being especially intent on the Trumpian lane. Preview.Ciattarelli

Prosecutor elections

Charlottesville, VAA contested Democratic primary, featuring an incumbent vs former public defender.Platania
Norfolk, VA3 candidates in open Dem primary; reform questions central. Office drew widespread attention for dropping marijuana cases years ago.Fatehi
Note: While many local elections are uncontested, the sheriff’s race in Bergen County is a notable one.

Legislative elections

NHA special general election in Merrimack County, vacated by a Dem, that went from +1 Clinton to +10 Biden per DKE.Dem hold
NJ: D2GOP: Seth Grossman was abandoned by the national GOP for his statements duringa 2018 congressional race. Now trying to make it to Senate. Polistina
NJ: D37Dem: To replace party’s retiring ML. Contested primary between G. Johnson, who’s amassed prominent party nods (incl. Sweeney), & V. HuttleJohnson
VA: HD9GOP: A Trump election-lawyer, Williams, challenging incumbent GOP Del. PoindexterWilliams
VA: HD31Dems: Progressive inc. Elizabeth Guzman, who dropped out of LG race, faces primary.Guzman
VA: HD50Dem: Lee Carter, who drew a lot of attention in 2017 for his win as a socialist, faces primary challengers at home while running for Gov.Lopes-Maldonado
VA: HD79Dem: inc. Steve Heretick challenged from left by Nadarius Clark. Among issues DSA-endorsed Clark attacked Heretick for: his vote against the law to enable localities to remove Confederate statutes.Clark

Mayoral elections

Atlantic City, NJIn this heated Dem primary, the challenger (Foley)’s past support for Trump has been an issue.Small Sr.
Edison, NJYou may remember viral news of a racist mailer in a local election here in 2017. A Dem alleged to have been involved in it is running for mayor.Joshi

June 5: The Texas runoffs


Fort WorthParker (chief of staff of retiring GOP mayor) & Peoples (head of county Dem Party). Note: With Parker’s win, Fort Worth remains nation’s biggest city with a GOP mayor. Preview.Parker
ArlingtonAnother Tarrant County municipality with an outgoing GOP mayor and a runoff. Technically nonpartisan. Preview.Ross
McAllenIn Hidalgo Co., open (technically) race: Republican Jose Villalobos vs Vela Whitacre. Villalobos

City councils

Fort WorthFour runoffs. This preview details important stakes for policing, trans rights, among other issues. NOTE: With these results, Dems are claiming a majority on city council.Williams, Firestone, Nettles, Beck
San AntonioProgressives Teri Castillo (profile, profile) and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (profile), both backed by DSA, WFP, and TOP, are vying to make it to city council.Both win
Grand PrairieIn this city in Tarrant Co., progressive are watching Junior Ezeonu, a 22-year old black candidate running against an incumbent in a city long run by white politicians.Ezeonu

June 1: Democrats defend a congressional seat

NM-01It’s the general election in the New Mexico seat vacated by Deb Haaland. The district voted for Biden by 23 percentage points in 2020.DEM HOLD

May 18: Pennsylvania’s local elections

District attorney

Philly: DemLarry Krasner, nationally-watched reform-minded DA, faces a primary challenger, endorsed by the police union. Stakes on probation, exonerations, drug policy, police, and immigration, among other issues.Krasner
Statewide judges
Supreme Court: GOPRepublicans choose their nominee in the nation’s only Supreme Court race this year. (Dems already only have one candidate, Maria McLaughlin)Brobson
Commonwealth Court: DemThis court has 2 slots open, so Dems will have to choose 2 of 4 candidates. Various endorsements, e.g. Lori Dumas has WFP nod. Preview.Dumas & Spurgeon
Superior Court: DemA contested Dem primary for one seat. Candidates include WFP-endorsed former public defender Timika Lane. Preview.Lane
Mayor & city council
Pittsburgh MayorThe mayor Peduto faces a challenger in a race where his record on policing has been at issue.Gainey
State College Progressive group is working to get 3 candidates elected to this borough council as part of a broader effort in Central PA.Progressive sweep

Local judges

Philadelphia: DemProgressives have endorsed a slate in hope of changing the city toward new practices on evictions and bail. Preview.≈8 of slate win
Allegheny Co.: DemA group of reform candidates, the “Slate of Eight,” are running to flip the bench toward more decarceral policies. Preview.5 in slate win
ElsewhereWHYY reviews judicial candidates running in many counties in the Philly suburbs.
Legislative elections
Four special electionsHD59, HD60, SD48 (GOP-held)
SD22 (Dem-held). Details
All holds
StatewideQuestion 1: would allow a majority of lawmakers to end an emergency health disaster declaration Preview.YES
StatewideQuestion 3: An equal rights amendment enshrining prohibition against discrimination. Preview.YES
PittsburghA referendum to prohibit no-knock warrants. YES
Allegheny Co.A referendum against solitary confinement. Preview.YES

May 4: Two mayoral elections

OmahaJean Stothert, the GOP mayor of Omaha, faced a runoff against R. J. Neary. (Technically non-partisan election.) See below for more about the first round.Stothert
AnchorageRepublican Benson versus Democrat Dunbar: the runoff.Benson leds

May 4: It’s Ohio’s turn

Cincinnati mayorFirst round of the mayoral election, with 6 candidates taking various positions on urgent policing and housing matters. Preview.Pureval and Mann
Cincinnati: Issue 3A ballot initiative, supported by affordable housing activists & opposed by the mayor, for $50 million investment in affordable housing fund.NO

May 8: Virginia, part 1

Virginia Gov: RThe GOP chooses its nominee for govenor in a convention. Candidates competing on who is more supportive of Trump. Youngkin 
Virginia AG: RThe GOP running for the AG nomination include a similar spectrum as in the governors’ race. Post-mortem.Miyares
Democrats select their nominees in a primary on June 8

April 24 & May 1: congressional specials

Louisiana’s 2nd DistrictSpecial election to replace Cedric Richmond. Runoff is a face-off between 2 Dems: Richmond-endorsed Troy Carter vs. Karen Carter Peterson, backed by some prominent progressives. Preview.Carter
TX’s 6th CDFirst round of a special election: top 2 candidates move to a runoff. Will one party be shut out? Will Trump-endorsed candidate move on? Preview.Wright vs. Ellzey: all-R

May 1: Texas local elections

AustinReferendum could recriminalize homelessness.YES
Fort WorthMayoral race to replace the outgoing GOP mayor. Only first round.Parker (R) vs Peoples (D)
LubbockReferendum on an ordinance banning abortion in city limits. ContextYES
San AntonioMayoral election; policing activists say no candidate is pushing enough change.Nirenberg
San AntonioReferendum would weaken police union. Preview.NO

April 6: There’s a statewide election in Wisconsin, and mayoral elections take center-stage


WisconsinThe state will elect its superintendent of education, in runoff between progressive Jill Underly (backed by labor unions) and Deborah Kerr (backed by Scott Walker & charter school advocates). Context. Also here on DeVos’s involvement.Underly
WITwo Court of Appeals elections, in red-leaning distrits: Conservatives boost Shelley Grogan & Gregory Gilll to strengthen power in state courts.Grill & Grogan
St LouisWhether to renew the earnings tax for 5 years. Context.YES
CA: AD79Open Dem seat. Assemblymember Weber’s appointment as SoS opened up this Dem seat to a crowded special; will go to a runoff if no one gets 50%.Dem
MO: HD45Open Dem-seat. Dems favored to hold this Boone Co.-area seat in a special.DEM
OK: SD22Open GOP seat. A special election will fill the seat of GOP Stephanie Bice, who was elected to the House in 2020.GOP
WI: SD13, AD89Open GOP seats. The GOP is defending two red seats, one in each chamber.GOP
See DKE for partisan lean of seats.

Mayors and city councils

Anchorage, AKMayor: An anti-homeless movement is trying to take over the city. Preview.Bronson, Dunbar (likely)
Jackson, MSMayor: Chokwe Lumumba seeks a new term in Dem primary. His progressive promises had drawn national attention. Context.Lumumba
Omaha, NEMayor: One of the bigger cities with a GOP mayor. The first round will determine who moves to the runoff. Preview of the stakes for policing and criminal justice.RUNOFF: Stothert vs. Neary
St. Louis, MOMayor: The two most progressive candidates in the first round moved to the runoff, but contrasts remain between T. Jones (who’s generally staked more progressive stances) and C. Spencer. On policing, issues like cash bail & sex work on the table. Jones
St. LouisCity council: Progressives are trying to take over the local board by flipping key council seats. Preview.Progs. gain at least 3
Also keep an eye on
School board elections in Missouri, with debates centered on equity
A vast slew of municipal elections in suburban Cook County (around Chicago), profiled here
6 city coucil elections in Colorado Springs: See this series on each