Amid all the hustle and bustle over the presidential election, some down-ballot races have been lost in the white noise. From the Senate, to the House, to the governor’s mansion, to one particularly notable ballot question, these races aren’t being discussed enough. Check out the list below to see where you should look when election results start pouring in.
1) Indiana Senate
Of all the races on this list, the battle between Republican State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (who beat longtime incumbent Dick Lugar in the Tea Party primary upset of the year) and Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly has been the most publicized. The race had been tight even before Mourdock, now infamously, said that pregnancies resulting from rape were a “gift from God”; now the race is much closer. Polling in Indiana is spotty, and somewhat untrustworthy, due to strict regulations on telephone calling. That’s why you shouldn’t get too comfortable with polls that have Donnelly up by 11 point. Whichever way the ballots goes (and where they go is now extremely dependent on a massive gender gap), this one is the most important Senate race in the country. If Democrats pick up the seat, Republicans’ hopes for retaking the upper chamber are essentially erased. As one election analyst explains, “Republicans would have to reach so far in to Democratic-safe states. It would require a Republican wave that simply doesn't exist." This race is the bellwether for control of the Senate; keep your eyes firmly glued to exit polls.
2) California District 10
Since the Democrats have all but lost their opportunity to pick up the 25 seats needed to give the House Speaker’s gavel back to Nancy Pelosi, many of the Congressional elections have fallen out of the news cycle. This one, between Rep. Jeff Denham (R) and challenger Jose Hernandez (D), an astronaut, is one such race. First, it’s one of the most expensive in the country, with over $12 million spent since the primaries, with much of that money coming from outside the district, indicating that Super PACs from both sides have their eye on this one. Second, Democrats really need to hold onto this new district if they want to avoid losing seats in the House. That will be a bit tougher than usual in this redrawn district which now leans Republican according to most pundits. However, the main reason to watch this race is to observe the power of the rising American electorate, mainly Hispanics, who have increased their share of the vote here dramatically. With increased registration and participation across the country, this race may be a microcosm for the future: will Hispanics turn out at high enough rates for the Democrat, or can Republicans continue to squeak by without courting these voters?
3) Ohio District 16
This race has less impact on control of the House than it does as a predictor of who will win the swing state for the presidential election. Both Obama and Romney are courting the working class voters who are epitomized in this district, which pits Republican Rep. Jim Renacci against Democrat Rep. Betty Sutton. This area was narrowly carried by John McCain in 2008, but is considered possibly the biggest tossup in the country. Outside spending has reached more than $10 million, much of that in the form of attack ads and negative campaigning, and for good reason. It’s a classic union versus business race, and thus, it’s been a nasty campaign. Regardless, this district may have some prediction powers: if the Republican is able to eek out a win with working class voters, it may bode well for Romney. Otherwise, the district, and the state, will likely go blue.
4) Maine Ballot Question #1
There’s one important reason why this ballot question asking voters to legalize gay marriage in the state will be historic: precedent. The question has some remarkable milestones on the line. First, it is the first time marriage has been put on the ballot by the pro-equality side; all other instances of voting on the issue have been to ban gay marriage preemptively, or as reaction to state legislation. If passed, Maine could become the first state in the country to pass marriage equality by a popular vote, as opposed to legislative or judicial actions. Right now, the pro-equality Yes on 1 campaign has double-digit lead in the polls; however, Maine struck down same-sex marriage just two years ago, and social issues are notoriously difficult to poll accurately. Maine will have important impacts on the future of gay marriage in the United States, regardless of which side wins: if Yes On 1 is successful, it will provide momentum to other states to push for pro-gay marriage initiatives in 2014. It will also provide precedent for the inevitable court cases on the issue. If No On 1 is successful, most gay marriage proponents will probably continue to push for marriage through the courts, and not popular vote. Look to Maine to see the future of the gay marriage movement.
5) Washington Governor
Most pundits predict the GOP to pick up at least one more governors’ mansion this year, adding to their significant gains across the country in 2010. They may get even more, especially if the Washington state race goes their way. Democratic candidate Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna are neck and neck, with neither man beating the other by more than a few points, and undecided voters still on the fence. This election will be an upset if Republicans can pull it off, as Washington hasn’t elected a conservative governor since 1981. Further, McKenna is anti-same sex marriage, and if voters elect him, its legalization in Washington is likely in jeopardy. Further, as Attorney General for the state, McKenna joined the multi-state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act; if he wins, Obamacare’s implementation will likely be halted in Washington.
Bonus: California District 30
For pure entertainment value, take a gander at CA-30. Due to new California election law, Democratic Congressman Howard Berman is facing off against fellow Democrat Brad Sherman, which observers have called a “slugfest,” partly due to the fact that both candidates are virtually identical in all policy positions. As LA Weekly put it, “The battle is now underway to determine which bald, Jewish Democrat who voted for the Iraq war will continue to represent the San Fernando Valley in Congress.” Berman has received most of the high profile endorsements, but Sherman has far more money to spend. Given their similarities, the race has devolved into personal attacks and extreme negative campaigning, all which came to a head when Sherman grabbed Berman during a debate and challenged him to a fistfight. A police officer had to separate the two. Keep your eyes on this race, if only to watch the loser have a meltdown during his concession speech.