Election Day 2016 is finally upon us, which means that the agony of the past year and a half will soon be over. The presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has captured the nation’s attention, and rightly so. However, the down-ballot races for the House, the Senate, and state governorships are just as important, if not more so, than the presidential election. Here are a handful of the most important down-ballot races to watch on Election Day.
Florida Senate Race: Marco Rubio vs. Patrick Murphy
This is arguably the most important down-ballot race around the country; control of the Senate might well be decided by its outcome. Senator Rubio did not enter the race until late June, leaving him well behind Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy in terms of fundraising. Still, most polls consistently show Senator Rubio in the lead. An NBC/WSJ/Marist poll conducted from October 25-26 gave him an eight-point lead over Congressman Murphy. Despite his opponent having endorsements from President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Hillary Clinton, Senator Rubio looks poised to win re-election, which will likely keep the Senate in Republican hands.
Pennsylvania Senate Race: Pat Toomey vs. Katie McGinty
According to CNBC, this race has become the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history. Republican Senator Pat Toomey is running for a second term against Katie McGinty, an Obama-endorsed former environmental policy advisor to President Clinton and Vice President Gore. While the race is virtually a dead heat, recent polls have given a slight edge to McGinty. A CBS/YouGov poll conducted from October 26-28 put her three points ahead of Senator Toomey. Pennsylvania elected a Democratic governor in 2014 and re-elected Democratic Senator Bob Casey Jr. in 2012, so all signs point towards a narrow win for McGinty.
New Hampshire Senate Race: Kelly Ayotte vs. Maggie Hassan
This race is another virtual dead-heat which pits one-term incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte against the state’s Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. Senator Ayotte pulled her support of Donald Trump in the wake of the release of the Trump/Billy Bush audio tape, and then ironically saw her own support take a hit. An NBC/WSJ/Marist poll conducted from October 20-24 gave Senator Ayotte a one-point advantage. Along with the elections for Senate in Florida and Pennsylvania, this race in New Hampshire will prove crucial in determining whether or not Republicans maintain control of the Senate.
Indiana Gubernatorial Race: Eric Holcomb vs. John Gregg
This race gained serious attention when the current governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, dropped out in July in order to be Donald Trump’s running mate. He was replaced on the ticket by Eric Holcomb, who is the state’s current lieutenant governor. His Democratic opponent, John Gregg, is a former Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives who narrowly lost to Pence in the 2012 Indiana gubernatorial election. Most polls consistently show Gregg leading Holcomb by several points; a Gravis Marketing poll conducted from October 22-24 gave him a four-point advantage. No Democrat has won an Indiana gubernatorial election since 2000, but it looks as though that is about to change.
North Carolina Gubernatorial Race: Pat McCrory vs. Roy Cooper
Perhaps the hottest gubernatorial election in America this year, it pits the incumbent governor, Republican Pat McCrory, against Democrat Roy Cooper, who has served as the state’s attorney general since 2001. Governor McCrory has been under constant fire since March 2016 for signing the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or HB2, the notorious “bathroom law.” A CBS/YouGov poll conducted from October 26-28 gave Attorney General Cooper a two-point lead. The race’s outcome will be decided by voter turnout, which gives a slight advantage to Governor McCrory.
Missouri Gubernatorial Race: Eric Greitens vs. Chris Koster
This race pits Republican Eric Greitens, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who was recognized by Time magazine in 2013 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, against Democrat Chris Koster, who has served as Attorney General of Missouri since 2009. Greitens has struggled to unite Missouri Republicans, and the NRA has even endorsed his Democratic opponent. Missouri elected a Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, in 2008 and 2012, so Greitens faces an uphill battle. However, a once-large lead for Koster has narrowed substantially over the past two weeks. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll conducted from October 24-26 put his advantage over Greitens at just one point. The former Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty overseas is mounting an impressive comeback. A Koster win is certainly no sure thing.
5th Congressional District of New Jersey Race: Scott Garrett vs. Josh Gottheimer
It just so happens that I live in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District, home to one of the most hotly-contested House races in the country. Incumbent Congressman Scott Garrett is running for his eighth term against Josh Gottheimer, a former Microsoft executive and speechwriter for President Clinton. Congressman Garrett is an original founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of constitutional conservatives who were instrumental in forcing John Boehner’s resignation as Speaker of the House. Gottheimer has gained recognition for his ability to raise a massive amount of money, due in no small part to his connections to the Clintons and the Democratic establishment. This race is a perfect representation of the ideological divide in this country between liberal and conservative. The district leans Republican, but less so in presidential election years. Although polling data is sparse, and despite the fact that Congressman Garrett has never received less than 55% of the vote, the race is a toss-up. It is the hardest reelection fight of Congressman Garrett’s career, but I believe he will ultimately pull through.
Bonus: Louisiana Senate Race
Louisiana elects its candidates for office via a jungle primary system, whereby all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run at the same time. If no candidate wins an outright majority of the vote, the top two finishers move on to a runoff election. This year’s U.S. Senate election in Louisiana is notable because there are six main contenders, and one of them happens to be Republican David Duke, former Louisiana State Representative and one-time member of the Ku Klux Klan. While Duke has been polling in the single digits, he registered enough support to qualify for the Senate debate on Wednesday, November 2nd. A Mason-Dixon/FOX 8/Raycom Media poll conducted from October 17-19 put Duke at 5%, with Republican John Kennedy leading the race with 24%. Historically, Louisiana polls have always underestimated Duke’s level of support, and his poll numbers should increase over these final few days as he receives more media attention. It will be interesting to see how high he finishes and whether or not he can make it to a runoff election. He could potentially surprise a lot of people on Election Day.