It's election day. And, a year from now voters will go to the polls and select a new president, a new House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Plus across the country voters will be picking state legislatures, nearly a dozen governors, and scores of local offices.
Several states have elections today including Virginia and Mississippi. There is also an election in Utah's San Juan County. A ballot initiative would add new members to the county commission. That three member body has a majority of Navajos for the first time in the county's history and critics say the initiative is an attempt to roll back electoral success.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez urged a no vote on the initiative.
The Navajo Nation won against the county in 2012. The court found that the county had diluted the Navajo vote -- the majority of the county residents -- by using voting districts. The districts were re-drawn and a Navajo majority was elected. But this election could change that victory. And, as Nez pointed out in his written statement, "San Juan County, Utah, has a long history of undermining voters, particularly Navajo voters."
Beyond today’s vote, a year from now are the next national election. How does the 2020 election cycle look in comparison to the 2018? Two years ago at this point there were eight Native candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate. And, by election day a year later, across the country there were more than a hundred candidates running for Congress, state legislatures, and state executive offices.
At this point in the 2018 election cycle there were nine candidates for Congress, four of them Republicans, Rep. Tom Cole, Choctaw, Oklahoma; Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, in Oklahoma; Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, in New Mexico; and former state Sen. Dino Rossi, Tlingit, Washington — as well as four Democrats — now Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico; Carol Surveyor, Navajo, in Utah; and Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols, Cherokee, in Oklahoma and J.D. Colbert, Choctaw, in Texas. There was one candidate for the U.S. Senate, Eve Reyes-Aguirre, Calpolli, in Arizona for the Green Party.
There are a couple of names not on this list, including Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, in Kansas. Why’s that? Because she did not begin her candidacy until February 2018.
This election we start with the four members who now serve in Congress: Cole, Mullin, Haaland and Davids. Two Democrats and Two Republicans. It’s likely they will all run for another term.
There is also a special election this winter in Wisconsin where Tricia Zunker, Ho-Chunk, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination. The winner of this election will serve in this Congress (and likely compete for the next one, too).
The state with the most action so far is New Mexico. Including Haaland there are five candidates for the House and Senate. On team GOP: Herrell and Karen Bedonie, Navajo, for the House and Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, running for the Senate. Democrat Dineh Benally, Navajo, is seeking a House seat as well.
Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele is seeking the Democratic nomination for the House seat now held by presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Kahele is Native Hawaiian and his family is from a small fishing village, Miloli. (Kahele decided to seek the seat before Gabbard said she would not run again, and he likely leads the field, but expect other candidates and possibly even another Native Hawaiian.)
That totals eleven candidates for Congress in the 2019-2020 cycle.
So far. But remember that a couple of candidates, including Davids, did not enter the race until early in the year. So it’s likely that this list will grow.
There are no Native American candidates for state executive offices, including the office of governor. There were three tribal citizens running for governor two years ago, including Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.
And, oh yes, there is a presidential election. That’s a big deal in Indian Country for many reasons but the most important might be an uptick in turnout. People really want to vote for president. That race is starting to narrow. The first actual votes will take place in Iowa in February.
What are the prospects for the Native candidates running for Congress? One way to answer that is to look at the fundraising.
Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Democrat, raised $345,616 from Hawaii donors in his bid for Congress. What's really interesting about that number: It's more than Gabbard’s presidential campaign raised in Hawaii over the same time frame.
In the New Mexico Senate race, Gavin Clarkson is leading the Republican challengers with donations topping $324,248 (as of Sept. 30, 2019) but that trails the leading Democrat, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and his $2.6 million.
In the House, Rep. Haaland collected $610,729 in the same time frame in the first district. In the second district, the incumbent, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, has $1.6 million while among the challengers Yvette Herrell is at $441,403. In the third district, challenger Karen Bedonie raised less than $500 compared to the leading Democrat, Valerie Plame, who raised $683,122. Dineh Benally, a Democrat, had not filed before the last time period ended.
In Wisconsin, Tricia Zunker has yet to file a campaign finance report.
In general the incumbents are raising a lot of money. Oklahoma's Tom Cole has raised $686,272 but that's an understatement because he has a campaign chest that exceeds $1.5 million. His colleague, Markwayne Mullin already raised $555,244 during the same time frame.
Today’s election roundup
Gubernatorial and legislative elections in four states Tuesday will test voter enthusiasm and party organization amid impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and a fevered Democratic presidential primary scramble.
Results in Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia won't necessarily predict whether Trump will be reelected or which party will control Congress after the general election next fall. But partisans of all stripes invariably will use these odd-year elections for clues about how voters are reacting to the impeachment saga and whether the president is losing ground among suburban voters who rewarded Democrats in the 2018 midterms and will prove critical again next November.
Trump is eager to nationalize whatever happens, campaigning Monday evening in Kentucky for embattled Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, a first-term Trump ally, as he tries to withstand Democrat Andy Beshear, the attorney general whose father was the state's last Democratic governor. The president campaigned in Mississippi on Friday, trying to boost Republican Tate Reeves in a tight governor's race against Democrat Jim Hood. Reeves is lieutenant governor; Hood is attorney general.
Legislative seats are on the ballots in New Jersey and Virginia, with the latter presidential battleground state offering perhaps the best 2020 bellwether. Democrats had a big 2017 in the state, sweeping statewide offices by wide margins and gaining seats in the legislature largely on the strength of a strong suburban vote that previewed how Democrats would go on to flip the U.S. House a year later. This time, Virginia Democrats are looking to add to their momentum by flipping enough Republican seats to gain trifecta control of the statehouse: meaning the governor's office and both legislative chambers.
In New Jersey, Democrats are looking to maintain their legislative supermajorities and ward off any concerns that Trump and Republicans could widen their reach into Democratic-controlled areas.
Both parties see reasons for confidence.
"With a Democratic Party engaged in a race to the left and promoting an increasingly radical impeachment agenda, the choice for voters is extremely clear," said Amelia Chase of the Republican Governors Association, predicting victories for Kentucky's Bevin and Mississippi's Reeves.
Yet Democrats point to their expanded party infrastructure in states like Virginia and believe it positions them to capitalize on the GOP's embrace of a president with job approval ratings below 40 percent.
"Republicans are sweating elections in traditionally conservative areas," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. "Democrats are making historic, early investments to lay the groundwork for our eventual nominee to win the White House in 2020 and for Democrats to win at every level."
Indeed, Kentucky and Mississippi are expected to be closer than the states' usual partisan leanings would suggest, though that has as much to do with local dynamics as with any national trends.
Bevin's first term as Kentucky governor has been marked by pitched battles against state lawmakers — including Republicans — and teachers. Beshear, meanwhile, is well known as state attorney general and the son of Steve Beshear, who won two terms as governor even as the state trended more solidly Republican in federal elections.
Given Bevin's weakness, Trump would claim a big victory if the governor manages a second term. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who easily defeated Bevin in a 2014 Senate primary, also has a vested interest in the outcome. McConnell is favored to win reelection next year in Kentucky, even as national Democrats harbor hopes of defeating him. And the powerful senator would quell some of those hopes with a Bevin victory.
As with the 2018 midterms nationally, Beshear is looking for wide margins in cities and an improved Democratic performance in the suburbs, particularly in formerly GOP territory south of Cincinnati.
In Mississippi, Republicans have controlled the governor's office for two decades. But Phil Bryant is term-limited, leaving two other statewide officials to battle for a promotion. Reeves and Republicans have sought to capitalize on the state's GOP leanings with the Democrat Hood acknowledging that he voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016. Hood would need a high turnout of the state's African American voters and a better-than-usual share of the white vote to pull off the upset.
Virginia is where national Democrats are putting much of their attention.
For this cycle, the DNC has steered $200,000 to the state party for its statewide coordinated campaign effort that now has 108 field organizers and 16 other field staffers in what the party describes as its largest-ever legislative campaign effort. At the DNC, Perez and his aides bill it as a preview of what they're trying to build to combat the fundraising and organizing juggernaut that the Republican National Committee and Trump's reelection campaign are building in battleground states.