With the Iowa caucuses just 64 days away and the one-year countdown to the 2012 election rapidly approaching, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that voters nationwide will be heading to the polls in just eight days.
Although these elections are lower-profile than the presidential contest, several are particularly meaningful — because they are being held in a swing state or because they are making a bit of history.
Here’s the Fix’s take on the 2011 elections to keep an eye on:
Ohio Issue 2: The fight over collective-bargaining rights for public-sector employees, which went national this year, will write its latest chapter in the Buckeye State. The ballot measure concerns a law, passed this year by Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature, stripping public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights. Unions are pouring millions of dollars into the campaign— the union-backed group We Are Ohio has spent $17 million — and recent polling suggests that the measure, which would keep Kasich’s law in place, is likely to fail. After Democrats were unable to take over the Wisconsin state Senate in the wake of a similar fight over collective-bargaining rights this summer, labor needs a win here.
Mississippi governor: Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D) made history as the first African American major-party gubernatorial nominee in the Magnolia State. He is hoping to make more by winning next week, but that prospect is unlikely. DuPree has struggled to raise money, while Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is running a well-financed and front-running bid as the heir apparent to two-term Gov. Haley Barbour (R).
Virginia state Senate: Democrats hold a 22 to 18 edge in the commonwealth’s upper chamber, but with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) presiding over the Senate, Republicans need only a two-seat pickup to regain the majority. The tight margin in what is expected to be a major swing state at the presidential level next year is drawing many boldface political names — including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who rallied voters in Fairfax County last week. The suburbs are at the center of the fight, and Republican candidates are doing everything they can to link their Democratic opponents to President Obama. If that strategy works, expect significant hand-wringing from other Democrats on the ballot in 2012 in other swing states.
Charlotte mayor: Two years ago, Anthony Foxx made national headlines when he became the first Democrat in two decades to win a mayoral race in Charlotte. On a dismal night for Democrats nationally, Foxx’s victory was touted as evidence that the messaging that won North Carolina for Obama in 2008 still worked. Now Foxx is up for a second two-year term and is being challenged by an unknown politician named Scott Stone. (Random factoid: Stone worked for the 1994 Senate campaign of Oliver North in Virginia.) Foxx has greatly outraised Stone and is expected to win the race relatively easily. A closer-than-expected result would suggest that North Carolina won’t be such friendly territory in 2012 for Obama — even with the Democratic National Convention set to take place this summer in Charlotte.
Kentucky governor: On its face, this race should have been ripe for a Republican pickup. Obama is deeply unpopular in the Bluegrass State, and Kentucky’s economy continues to struggle. But Gov. Steve Beshear looks like a strong front-runner in spite of it all — a testament to the fact that, under the right circumstances, a Democrat can still get reelected in a Republican-leaning state in this national political environment. Those right circumstances? Beshear has focused heavily on the idea that things are getting (slowly) better for the state and has painted himself as a trusted hand on the tiller. Meanwhile, his Republican opponent — state Senate President David L. Williams — has struggled to stay on his anti-Obama message, beset by a series of campaign slip-ups.