2017 Races: What to Watch, What It Means

Each election since President Donald Trump’s inauguration this year has been closely watched and parsed for every minute detail for what they may foretell about the electorate in the Trump Era. Off-year elections are important not only as bellwethers, but also for power at the state and local levels and there is much to watch in 2017 on both of those fronts.

Virginia and New Jersey have garnered the most attention as the only statewide elections this year (Alabama is also holding a special election for U.S. Senate), but voters have already gone to the polls in 40 legislative and congressional elections across 17 states in 2017.

DailyKos Elections has done outstanding work cataloging those races and comparing results in those districts in 2017 to previous presidential elections. Taken as a whole, Democratic candidates have run 11 points ahead of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in those 40 elections and eight points ahead of former President Barack Obama in 2012.

While it is dubious to analyze any single special election due to a variety of unique circumstances, looking at these 40 elections in aggregate shows a consistent pattern toward Democrats across district-level races and regions as diverse as the Deep South, Northeast and parts of Iowa and Minnesota that saw some of the sharpest shifts toward Trump in the Midwest last year.

Of course, much can change between now and November of 2018. However, what we’ve seen so far should call into question conventional wisdom that extreme gerrymandering and midterm voter drop-off allow Republican majorities the U.S. House and legislatures to weather an anti-Trump wave.

Recently, Democratic strategists at ALG Research analyzed the special election results in detail and found a massive wave election is building if the current environment holds. On November 7, the results of elections in Virginia’s House of Delegates will provide another key bellwether of district-level races in a heavily gerrymandered map.

Beyond serving as a bellwether, 2017’s elections are critical for building progressives’ power at the state and local levels where most of the policies impacting communities are made. America Votes and our partner groups are deeply engaged in many of these “off-the-radar” races that will serve as important building blocks to power.

These races include the special election in Washington Senate District 45 where Manka Dhingra’s victory would flip control of that chamber to Democrats and make Washington the seventh state with full blue control of state government — making it a Democratic trifecta.

Additionally, we’re tracking opportunities to elect progressives to important offices in key regions from Florida’s I-4 Corridor (St. Petersburg mayor) to Ohio (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo mayors) to Pennsylvania (Allentown and Erie mayors). In Colorado, elections for the Aurora city council represent an opportunity to oust anti-immigrant ideologues in the heart of the swing sixth congressional district.

In Albuquerque, primary turnout doubled to advance strong progressive mayoral and council candidates to November’s general election. And in Nevada, a strong coalition field effort is underway to thwart an odious right-wing effort to hold recall elections of three progressive state senators in a chamber that flipped to Democrats in 2016.

These elections all point to the vital importance of ongoing engagement of the electorate for every single election. Many will serve as key indicators of future elections, and present important organizing opportunities, but their results are also critical in their own regard. Given the dismal current state of progressive power across America, we need strong wins at every level to build upon in 2018 and beyond.