In this Election Day edition: An hour-by-hour guide of what to watch, the final polls and ads in key races, and what that Charlottesville tiki torch stunt was all about.

Sometimes it really does come down to turnout, and this is The Trailer.

Virginia could elect a Republican governor after eight years of Democratic power. New Jersey could send a Democrat back to Drumthwacket for the first time since the 1970s. Pittsburgh and St. Petersburg, Fla., could elect their first Black mayors, Buffalo could elect its first socialist mayor — Boston will elect its first female mayor — and Minneapolis could vote to replace its police department.

That's some of what's in play in today's scattered off-year elections, the single biggest day of voting across the country until the midterms. We already know that the results will tell us how effective Republican messaging on race and gender education in public schools has been, especially in Virginia, and how nimble (or not) Democrats have been in turning debates about policing into debates about social spending and public safety. But these races also represent a chance since 2020 for conservatives to take over dozens of school boards, and a chance for the urban left to take over more cities and prosecutor's offices. 

These are the key races to watch tonight, though don't be shocked if there's more on your own ballot. Outside of Virginia and New Jersey, there are special elections in 17 state legislative districts, and Daniel Nichanian's “What's On the Ballot” page is an incredibly helpful guide to everything else:

7 p.m. Eastern: You've probably heard about the race for governor in Virginia. The Democrats' new majority in the House of Delegates is also up for grabs, along with the lieutenant governor and attorney general offices they've held since 2014. In the former race, either Republican former state delegate Winsome Sears or Democratic Del. Haya Alaya would be the first woman to hold the commonwealth's second-highest job; in the latter, Democratic Atty. Gen. Mark Herring is seeking a third term against Del. Jason Miyares, who in the race's final days said he would investigate Loudoun County's school board over a decision to allow a student accused of sexual assault be quietly sent to another school.

Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the House, after wave elections in 2017 and 2019 pulled them out of the deep minority. (The party held just 34 seats at the start of Donald Trump's presidency.) There are more than enough competitive races for Republicans to win control, with the GOP targeting more than a dozen seats and gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin saying they can win. The 28th, 40th, 76th, 83rd, 91st and 94th districts, which flipped in 2017, are the most obvious battlegrounds, but a good Republican night would reach deeper; Democrats are trying to gain or mitigate their losses by winning two Richmond-area seats carried by Joe Biden, the 27th and the 66th. (The state Senate is not up for reelection until 2023.)

Those races, as much as the statewide elections, will reveal what's happened to the distributed Democratic turnout operation that was so successful in the Trump years. Groups that had mobilized in 2017 and 2019 were joined by groups like the States Project, which put $1 million into legislative races, and offered a “Door Knocking Bonus” to the candidates who hit the most homes — a return to traditional campaigning after the Democrats' queasiness about canvassing during the pandemic. Republicans are counting on new resources, too, with Youngkin launching a Virginia Wins PAC to spread money to down-ballot candidates.

The Trailer covered the Democratic primary in Florida's 20th Congressional District last month: The Democrats with the most endorsements, money or name recognition in the 11-candidate field are Broward County Commissioners Dale Holness and Barbara Sharief, state Sen. Perry Thurston, state Reps. Bobby DuBose and Omari Hardy, and home care CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who is running for the third time.

Atlanta will hold the first round of voting in its mayoral elections, with the top two finishers heading to a Nov. 30 runoff if no candidate wins a majority. Former mayor Kasim Reed is seeking a comeback, and he and City Council President Felicia Moore have led in most public polling. In St. Petersburg, Democrats are trying to hold on to city hall, with Ken Welch trying to become the city's first Black mayor.

Twenty-two cities across South Carolina will also elect new mayors, including Columbia, where outgoing Mayor Steve Benjamin has endorsed longtime aide Sam Johnson to replace him.

7:30 p.m.: Polls across Ohio will close, with quick counting expected in the special elections for the 11th and 15th Congressional Districts — read more about that here. Democratic nominee Shontel Brown is expected to cruise in the 11th District, which gave Biden 80 percent of the vote, while Republican energy industry lobbyist Mike Carey is favored over Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo in the 15th. (Biden lost there by 14 points.)

Republicans, confident of Carey's chances, are paying just as much attention to school board races across Ohio, after a number of conservative groups invested in candidates critical of mask mandates and liberal curriculums. The races for mayor of Cleveland and Cincinnati pit younger non-White Democrats with no experience in city government against older, White candidates with plenty of experience. In Cleveland, 34-year old nonprofit executive Justin Bibb faces 53-year old city council president Kevin Kelley; in Cincinnati, 39-year old Hamilton County Clerk Aftab Pureval faces 82-year old former mayor David Mann.

8 p.m.: The elections in New Jersey have gotten a fraction of the attention paid to the year's other statewide elections in Virginia — although obviously not in this newsletter. Gov. Phil Murphy is favored to be the first Democrat to win election to a second term since 1977, and has led in every poll over Republican Jack Ciattarelli. But the ex-legislator, who jumped into the race nearly two years ago, has given Murphy more of a challenge than his party's last nominee.

One metric is campaign funding. Both Murphy and Ciattarelli opted into the state's public campaign finance system, granting them matching funds and capping what they could raise. In 2017, Republican nominee Kim Guadagno only raised $3.9 million to Murphy's $13.3 million. This year, according to the candidates' mid-October filings, Ciattarelli raised $10.1 million from donations and public funds; Murphy raised $13 million. Ciattarelli outspent the governor on TV, with New Jersey Democrats running their own adds to supplement Murphy's.

Ciattarelli promised to cut taxes, highlighting a 2019 quote from Murphy about how if “tax rate is your issue,” then “New Jersey probably isn't your state.” Murphy, in his first debate with Ciattarelli, defended a new tax on income over $1 million and said he wouldn't raise any taxes in second term. Ciattarelli attacked Murphy's management during the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters; polling found most voters still viewing the governor's response favorably, and siding with him on a requirement that public employees get vaccinated or regularly tested.

Democrats hold a 52-28 majority in the state Assembly and a 25-15 majority in the state Senate, elected across 40 legislative districts. (Each has two assembly members and one senator.) Last year, Biden carried 29 of those districts, including the 8th Legislative District, where state Sen. Dawn Addiego, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is seeking reelection. Biden won 53 percent of the vote there and 55 percent in the 2nd Legislative District, where Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo is facing Republican Vince Polistina, a former assemblyman.

Voters in Boston will elect the city's first female mayor, with city council member Michelle Wu leading in the final polls of her race with fellow council member Annissa Essaibi George. In Manchester, N.H., where Democratic Mayor Joyce Craig is seeking a third term, Republican challenger Victoria Sullivan is running against a perception of higher crime, though crime has fallen since Craig took office.

The only statewide races in Pennsylvania are for jobs on the bench: one on the state Supreme Court, one on the superior court and two on the commonwealth court. Most competitive races today will unfold in Bucks County, Delaware County and Chester County outside of Philadelphia, where Democrats gained in Trump-era off-year elections, and where races for local school boards have attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in conservative political donations. In Erie County, which narrowly voted for Trump in 2016 and narrowly voted for Biden in 2020, Democrat Tyler Titus would become the country's first transgender county executive if he beats Republican Brenton Davis

The left, meanwhile, is looking to make or consolidate gains in the cities. In Pittsburgh, Democratic state Rep. Ed Gainey, who defeated Mayor Bill Peduto in this summer's party primary, faces Tony Moreno, a conservative ex-Democrat who has said he'd reverse the city's vaccine mandates if elected; in Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner faces Republican Chuck Peruto, but hasn't bothered to debate him, considering the race to be over when he defeated a Democrat backed by police unions in the summer primary. (In 2017, Krasner defeated a Republican foe by a landslide, even though the Philadelphia Inquirer had endorsed her.)

9 p.m.: All eyes not on Virginia will be on city elections, like the ones in Minneapolis, where the ballot includes the race for mayor, 13 races for city council, and Question 2 on whether to create a new Department of Public Safety and replace the current police department. Mayor Jacob Frey, who is seeking a second term, opposes Question 2, opposes the rent control-focused Question 3 and supports Question 1 to centralize more power in the mayor's office.

While the ballot questions are yes/no, the race for mayor uses ranked-choice voting; Frey's opponents on the left have urged voters not to rank the mayor at all, and to support community leader Sheila Nezhad or former state Rep. Kate Knuth. Attorney Clint Conner, who entered the race in August, is running as a critic of Frey's management who, unlike the left's candidates, would hire more police. In 2017, it took nearly a day for Frey's victory to be confirmed, after four rounds of ballot ranking eliminated his competition.

New York is holding municipal elections in most of its cities, with Democratic Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams heavily favored to defeat Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa in New York City itself. Republicans are more optimistic in suburban races. Nassau County Executive Jenny Laura Curran is seeking another term, and Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky is running to be the county's district attorney; as the Trailer wrote last week, Republicans have been outspent in that race but are hopeful that Kaminsky's support for cash bail reform in Albany will elect prosecutor Anne Donnelly. And in Buffalo, Democrat India Walton is facing Mayor Byron Brown, who lost the nomination to Walton in June, and waged a far more energetic write-in campaign than his phoned-in primary effort. Walton is the only candidate whose name is actually on the ballot, but public polling has shown Brown, a Democrat who's seeking a fifth term, in the lead. 

That race has deeply divided Democrats, and enraged the party's left, which sees the party's establishment trying to take back something it lost fair and square. The party's more united on five ballot measures that were passed by Democrats in Albany but must be approved by voters: two that would let the legislature expand voting rights by passing same-day registration and no-excuse absentee voting, one that would allow new redistricting maps to be approved by simple majority votes (instead of two-thirds supermajorities), one that would guarantee a right to “clean air and clean water” and one that would reduce the number of cases that head to the New York City Civil Court.

In New Mexico, the Democratic mayors of Albuquerque and Santa Fe are both seeking reelection, both against a Democrat and a Republican. (Like many of today's mayoral races, candidates do not appear next to party labels on the ballot.) Albuquerque's Tim Keller has built a lead over Bernalillo County Police Chief Manuel Gonzales and Republican radio host Eddy Aragon, and Santa Fe's Alan Webber has been criticized by both opponents — Democrat Joann Vigil Coppler and Alexis Martinez Johnson — for his handling of a 2020 protest that toppled a statue.

11 p.m.: Polls will close in Seattle's all-mail municipal elections, with two Democrats — current City Council President Lorena González and former City Council president Bruce Harrell — battling to replace embattled one-term Mayor Jenny Durkan. Endorsed by local U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, González has run to Harrell's left, voting against a county-level homelessness authority that she felt gave too much leeway to the suburbs, and criticizing single-family zoning, which Harrell supports. Harrell, who briefly served as mayor in 2017, has warned that González is too sympathetic to the “defund the police” movement, and got his rival to take down a TV ad attacking him for defending a previous mayor over a sexual assault accusation; Harrell's campaign brought local Black leaders together to accuse González of advancing “dangerous racist tropes” about her half-Black, half-Asian former colleague.

There's a wider gulf between the candidates for city attorney. Corporate attorney Ann Davison became a Republican last year to unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor, explaining in a statement that “some parts of the Democratic Party in Seattle didn’t have room anymore for a pragmatist like me.” She's promised to crack down on crime, while public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy has pledged to “end the criminalization of poverty” by no longer prioritizing petty crimes and making it easier to fire “clearly abusive officers that commit misconduct.” Every living former governor of Washington, all Democrats, has endorsed Davison.

Even a relatively good night for Democrats across the country would mean that some factions in the party outran the others. The battle between the Democrats' business-friendly and developer-friendly wings and its rising left wing is going to play out again next year.

Reading list

Democrats wrestle with another vote for a party that's been disappointing them.

The last hours on the trail, with Republicans holding much larger rallies.

The 10-minute phone call that shook the world.

A new kind of resistance.

“Not it: Democrats dodge blame for stalled agenda as McAuliffe teeters,” by Heather Caygle, Marianne Levine and Sarah Ferris

House and Senate Democrats try to push past the Virginia results, not expecting much good for their party.

Why the ex-V.P. didn't try to overturn the election.

New documents raise more questions about a Trump-endorsed U.S. Senate hopeful.

Ad watch

Youngkin for Governor, “Social Warrior.” The GOP nominee in Virginia is closing with a sort of sequel to his first general election spot: footage of the candidate pushing through a crowd of White men in suits. In May, he did so alone; in November, he's doing it with a diverse group of people representing frustrated police officers and parents. It's a complement to his final negative ads, which continue to take Terry McAuliffe's quotes about schooling and diversity and repackage them as racism that's dividing Virginians. The ads all year have told a consistent story, even as the issues have changed: McAuliffe as wild-eyed and political, Youngkin as a fed-up non-politician.

Terry for Virginia, Home. McAuliffe's closing ads have mixed his anti-Trump messaging with sepia-toned positivity about his agenda if he gets another term. They've been less memorable and vivid than Youngkin's; as the Trailer reported last month, some of McAuliffe's first spots recycled footage from his successful 2013 campaign, because the candidate limited early campaign appearances because of the coronavirus pandemic. This spot mixes file footage together with the Democrat endorsing “good-paying jobs” and “affordable health care.”

Jack for NJ, “Better.” While Youngkin has rarely used Biden in his paid media, one of Jack Ciattarelli's final spots links Gov. Phil Murphy to the president, saying neither of them is “up to the job” voters gave them. “We can shake things up in Trenton,” the Republican gubernatorial nominee says. Polling has found Murphy's favorable rating staying steady even as Biden's has fallen below 50 percent in the safely Democratic state.

Murphy for Governor, “Imagine.” One of the final digital spots from the Democrat's campaign pictures (literally, with cartoons) a future where “reproductive health care is illegal” and “insurance companies can charge wherever they want,” explaining that a Ciattarelli victory would make that happen. It's a stretch, but it's how the Democrats are trying to activate a base that hasn't seen a competitive Republican campaign in eight years.

Poll watch

Virginia governor (Fox News, 1,015 likely voters)

Glenn Youngkin (R): 53% (+7 since mid-October)
Terry McAuliffe (D): 45% (-6)

Even when public polls showed McAuliffe consistently ahead, neither campaign believed the margins, and Republican tracking showed them close or in the lead. This poll, released at the end of last week, found a 1-point race among registered voters but a surge toward the GOP among likely voters; the registered voter number also represented a collapse for McAuliffe. The change was partially explained by voter enthusiasm, with Democrats less likely than Republicans to follow the race, and partly by the redefining of the “education” question — an issue that McAuliffe had led on all year, and a focus of his early campaigning, became a slight positive for Youngkin.

Phil Murphy (D): 53% (+5 since June)
Jack Ciattarelli (R): 44% (+11)

The final public polls of New Jersey’s elections have pointed in one direction: Gov. Phil Murphy heading for reelection by a smaller margin than the one that got him his first term. New Jersey Republicans, who still talk about Christine Todd Whitman defying the polls to win an upset 28 years ago, have gotten used to candidates consolidating Republican votes, making up ground with independents, then struggling to get to 50 percent. Ciattarelli leads among independent voters here by 17 points, a reversal from 2017, when Murphy won them by 4 points. But 94 percent of Democrats support the governor, and they have a 1 million-voter advantage in registration compared to Republicans.

On the trail

On Friday, five people in matching clothes — khakis and white shirts — walked in front of Glenn Youngkin’s campaign bus and held up tiki torches. “We're all in for Glenn,” they said, as they had been told to say. They were in Charlottesville, where the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally had unfolded, and they were there to remind voters of it, to try to persuade them not to support Youngkin.

It would be difficult to say that it worked. Republicans condemned the stunt, but so did Democrats, including Terry McAuliffe. (“Disgusting and distasteful,” said McAuliffe campaign manager Chris Bolling.) After photos of the stunt were shared on Twitter, the Lincoln Project took responsibility for it. And after it became clear that McAuliffe’s campaign didn’t participate, the story began to fade.

But what was the point? Lauren Windsor, a liberal activist who’s posed as a conservative to get Republicans to reveal their views into her hidden camera, had shaken up the Virginia race before, capturing video of Youngkin saying he is not emphasizing his abortion views so he can win independents, and saying he'd be able to reverse the state's vaccine mandate. She helped strategize with the Lincoln Project on a dramatic way to force a question: Did Youngkin think that the white supremacists who marched at “Unite the Right” included some “very fine people,” as then-President Donald Trump said when distinguishing racists from other people who wanted to preserve a statue of Robert E. Lee, or didn't he?

“We've been discussing how to expose Glenn Youngkin on this sort of tacit — I wouldn’t even call it tacit, his explicit acceptance of Trump's endorsement, and his tacit acceptance of the racism and the white supremacy that goes along with it,” Windsor said. “The failure to condemn Charlottesville, his hawking of critical race theory as the primary point of the campaign? What we're trying to force is the question: Do you denounce the very fine people that are espoused by Trump and his ideology? And he hasn't done that.”

Windsor said that the media, in covering the race, never pinned Youngkin down on whether he agreed with Trump's waffling assessment of “Unite the Right.” But the bus stunt did not force that question either, and McAuliffe's noninvolvement in it brought a short end to a messy news cycle. The stunt epitomized McAuliffe's problem at the end of the race: Democrats wanted Republicans to have to answer for Trump and the far right, factors that dogged Ed Gillespie's 2017 campaign for governor, even when he repeatedly denounced the “Unite the Right” rally. Youngkin, who had made substantial donations to Republicans but had no real political presence before entering the race, did not court the same national media coverage that McAuliffe did; instead, he had much more success framing what was and wasn't a real issue in the race.

Countdown

… 70 days until the election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District 
… 119 days until the first 2022 primaries