The U.S. presidential campaign is putting race and ethnicity issues in the spotlight. But Black voters also will head to the polls to elect representatives to the U.S. Congress and Senate in addition to those at the state and local levels.
This is a great time to be a candidate, especially if you’re a Democrat, says Christina Greer, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at New York’s Fordham University, where she covers Black ethnic and urban politics. “It’s not quite as good as 2008 when you had the coattails of President Obama to pull you along,” she says. “You always want someone strong at the top of the ticket for inspiration, because even if you’re running in a smaller race, you’re still part of your party.”
The professor says though there may not be as much excitement for Hillary Clinton, she can still help. “She can bring attention to Black and lesser-known candidates, and if she has a strong showing, she can pull in more Democrats from districts that haven’t seen Democratic representation for some time,” Greer says.
While every race can be considered a must-watch, here are some that will get a lot more scrutiny:
North Carolina’s lieutenant governor’s race is a rematch between the incumbent, Republican Dan Forest, and Democrat Linda Coleman. Forest won the race in 2012 by an ultraslim margin of only 0.2 percent and is one of only two Republicans to have ever held the office. This time around, Forest may get mowed over by a tide of voter anger directed at Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-controlled legislature that cut funding for education, created a voter ID law that has since been struck down by a federal court and a law limiting transgender use of bathrooms that led to the NBA pulling the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte.
When U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was convicted on corruption charges in June, it put the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the unique position of having to hold two elections in November: one to fill Fattah’s unexpired term in the 114th Congress and the other to fill a new term in the 115th. Candidates in both elections will be primary winners state Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203rd) and Republican James Jones, who has little chance of winning in the predominantly Black, heavily Democratic district that encompasses Philadelphia.
Sen. Barbara Boxer decided to retire from the seat she’s held since 1993. Two rising stars of California’s Democratic Party are vying for the chance to replace her: Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Harris made her mark in November 2010, when she was elected as the state’s first female, first African-American and first Indian-American attorney general. She was re-elected in 2014 and is expected to win Boxer’s seat, which would make her only the second African-American female to serve in the U.S. Senate.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott was appointed in January 2013 by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Jim DeMint, who left to run the conservative Heritage Foundation. Scott, who previously served the state’s 1st Congressional District, was South Carolina’s first African-American senator and the first Black Republican elected to the U.S. Senate since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts in 1966. His opponent is Thomas Dixon, a Democrat, community activist and the founding pastor of Summerville Christian Fellowship.
Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love, a Haitian-American New York native, gave a well-received speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention that resulted in her being elected to the House of Representatives from the state’s 4th district in the 2014 mid-term elections. She made history as the first African-American Republican female in Congress and the first African-American to be elected to the House from Utah. But Love is getting a run for her money from Democrat Doug Owens in a district that usually votes Republican.
Two Democrats are battling for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes most of New Orleans. Incumbent Rep. Cedric Richmond, who’s held the seat since January 2011, is facing stiff competition from Kip Holden, the mayor of Baton Rouge, whose profile has since been raised by high-visibility events including the Alton Sterling shooting.
Georgia House District 151, located in Albany, doesn’t have an official Democratic candidate. But Democrat and pastor Kenneth Zachary Jr., has stepped up to run as an independent against incumbent Republican Gerald Green, who’s held the seat since 1982. Democratic challenger James Williams was disqualified from running by the secretary of state after the incumbent challenged his district residency.
Georgia voters also are considering an amendment to the state constitution allowing the state to take over the supervision and operation of about 20 failing public schools. It would give the Georgia the power to receive and control all funds appropriated for the schools. Opponents say the state-created Opportunity School District would operate them as private charters with a superintendent who would bypass the state’s department of education and report directly to the governor. The measure, backed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, is modeled after a similar initiative passed in 2005 in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.