Mar 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

2021 elections are 2022 bellwethers for both parties

Illustration of a group of raised hands contrasted next to a single large hand voting
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The handful of gubernatorial contests and special elections throughout 2021 could be the first litmus test of post-Trump politics during the Biden era.

The state of play: 2021's slate of contests begins this weekend. Two special elections take place on Saturday in Louisiana. The elections are to replace Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R), who passed away last year due to COVID-19, and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D), who joined the administration as a Biden senior adviser.

  • Louisiana's majority-vote system will have all the candidates face off in each of the two individual primaries. The candidate receiving more than 50% of the vote will automatically win the seat.
  • If no candidate breaks the 50% threshold, which could be likely given the crowded field, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election April 24.

In the race to replace Letlow in Louisiana's 5th Congressional District, the congressman-elect's widow, Julia Letlow (R), is running. Former President Trump has endorsed her.

  • In the race to replace Richmond in the state's 2nd Congressional District, the outgoing congressman has endorsed state Sen. Troy Carter (D).

Why it matters: These off-year results will give Republicans a measure of Trump's staying power, and they'll assess the Democrats' favorability heading into a year in which they'd historically lose congressional seats.

  • National immigration, COVID-19 relief and economic recovery debates could affect outcomes at a more local level.

The big picture: These aren't the only elections in 2021. There are two regular gubernatorial elections underway, and three special elections are so far slated for the next few months.

  • May 1: The special election in Texas takes place to replace Rep. Ron Wright (R), who also died from the coronavirus.
    • 23 candidates are running in an open primary to replace him, including his widow, Susan Wright, a Republican.
  • May 8: Virginia Republicans hold their nominating convention.
  • June 1: The special election takes place in New Mexico to replace Rep. Deb Haaland (D), who was confirmed to head the Department of the Interior.
  • June 8: There are multiple primaries happening this day.
    • In Virginia, the Democratic primary for governor takes place. Over a dozen candidates are running to replace Gov. Ralph Northam, including Terry McAuliffe, a former governor, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
    • Virginia is a swing state and its 2021 results will be seen as a strong indicator of the American political palate.
    • Northam won the 2017 gubernatorial election by 8.9 points. Biden also swept Virginia by 10.1 points.
    • In New Jersey, the Republican primary takes place. The key race here is the gubernatorial election in the fall where Democrat Phil Murphy is running for re-election in the solidly blue state.

Aug. 3: Ohio holds its special election primary to replace Rep. Marcia Fudge (D). Fudge was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Nov. 2: New Jersey and Virginia hold gubernatorial elections, while Ohio holds its special election for Fudge's seat.

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