With all the talk about turkey and Black Friday shopping this week, you might not be thinking much about politics, much less the 2018 midterm elections.
But these contests are now less than a year away, and here in New England, there are several that promise to be highly entertaining and worth watching, even if they’re not hugely consequential.
Yes, even in New England, land of the true blue Democrat, there are interesting contests. And some contests — like those in Maine and Rhode Island — could say a lot of about the trajectory of state politics there.
Here is a look at what are shaping up to be four of the most interesting races in the region next year. Turns out, they’re worth watching.
Maine’s race for governor
For a brief period this fall, all eyes were on Maine’s open race for governor next year to replace the headline-grabbing (and term-limited) Paul LePage. For two weeks, US Senator Susan Collins held her state and the Senate in suspense as she pondered whether she would run for the seat in the state’s capital of Augusta. She eventually passed on the idea, and now there is a wild number of 20 candidates in the race. This group includes Republicans, Democrats, and four independents — some you’ve heard of, most of whom you have not.
The race is fascinating for two reasons. First, it comes at a time when Maine has been grappling with its political identity. Maine voted for the Democrat in the last seven presidential elections, but it also has quite the spectrum of Republicans representing the state. There’s the firebrand conservative currently serving as governor, a traditional Republican serving in the US House, and Collins, a moderate Republican serving in the Senate. And if you thought the middle was missing, don’t forget Angus King, the longtime independent who serves as the state’s junior senator.
Second, Maine is on track to be the first New England state to offer “ranked choice voting.” Under this approach, voters will rank their top choices. If one candidate doesn’t get a majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated with his or her votes reallocated to the person the voter identified as a second choice. (The Maine Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion stating that this plan violates the state Constitution, so it’s unclear whether this will happen.)
What does all of that have to do with the governor’s race? With political representation across the spectrum, it can be hard to tell these days whether Maine is a red or blue state. But the next governor could tip the scales — a Democrat could push the state back toward blue, while a Republican could solidify its emerging red status. Meanwhile, a lot of states will be watching the new voting method to see whether it’s something worth adopting elsewhere.
New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District race
The Democratic incumbent in America’s “swingiest” Congressional district announced she will not run again, all but guaranteeing another wild race will take place in the Granite State. Democratic US Representative Carol Shea-Porter won four out of six elections (she was twice bounced out by the same Republican). Now she is one of the few Democrats in Congress serving in a district that Donald Trump won.
With Shea-Porter retiring, six Democrats quickly jumped in the contest, joining three Republicans who were already in the race. On paper — with Trump’s job approval rating in the state low — this should be a seat Democrats win. But what kind of Democrat will that be? That’s when things get interesting. Every member of the state’s Democratic Congressional delegation backed Hillary Clinton in the primary, but Bernie Sanders won the presidential primary here by more than 20 percentage points. The Democratic field in this race is shaping up to be similarly divided. Whoever wins could signal what kind of candidate might have a leg up in the 2020 presidential primary.
Connecticut’s race for governor
This is an open seat for what could be America’s worst job in elected politics. Connecticut’s budget is a mess. Two-term Democratic incumbent Governor Dan Malloy, among the least popular governors in America, announced he wouldn’t seek a third term. Deep budget cuts, higher taxes, and structural changes to the state’s employee pension system await the next governor.
Once Malloy announced he wasn’t running, speculation turned to state Senator Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late Massachusetts politician. He declined to run. Then the Democratic field was frozen waiting for popular Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman to make a decision. Last week, she, too, turned down the opportunity, leaving just one formally declared Democratic candidate, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, along with four others who have formed exploratory committees.
On the Republican side, former US comptroller David Walker is running against a largely unknown field. It could be tough for a Republican to win statewide in Connecticut, a longtime Democratic hold. That could be especially true in 2018, which experts have said could be a Democratic wave year. Then again, all those Democratic candidates will have to explain the last eight years of unpopular Democratic rule in Hartford.
Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor race
In theory, Governor Gina Raimondo’s reelection bid should be the race that has everyone talking in the Ocean State, particularly because she only won with 41 percent of the vote last time and her approval ratings are hanging around the same percentage today. But without a strong Republican candidate in the race and no one yet challenging her from the left, the conventional wisdom is that she will easily win.
This means that the most interesting contest might be the down-ballot race for lieutenant governor, specifically in the Democratic primary. The lieutenant governor position is mostly powerless in Rhode Island, but incumbent Democrat Dan McKee is on the ropes against his party’s liberal base. McKee is facing a primary challenge from 27-year-old state Representative Aaron Regunberg, a big Bernie Sanders supporter. Regunberg already has a lot of union support, as well as backing from the progressive community.
If Regunberg were to unseat McKee, it would say a lot about the future of the Democratic party in this deep blue state. It could also create a lot of drama at the State House. Regunberg wouldn’t have a lot of power, but he would have a platform to criticize Raimondo, a moderate Clinton backer, at a time when she has worked to raise her national profile. Once in office, he could also directly challenge Raimondo for control of the party.