As the 2016 campaign rumbles into its final hours, there are other things going on around the country on Election Day that are just as important and engaging.
Forget the fight for the White House, if just for a moment. As the 2016 campaign rumbles into its final hours, there are other things going on around the country on Election Day that are just as important and engaging. Well, almost.
Here’s a quick guide:
Look for marijuana to take another big step into the U.S. mainstream. Voters in five states — California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts — will decide whether to make recreational marijuana legal; if they all pass, that means that recreational marijuana will be legal in nine states. And four other states — Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas and Florida — will decide whether to legalize the use of medical marijuana.
Given the size of California — the nation’s most populous state with nearly 40 million people — approval there alone would be a milestone in the movement toward legalized pot, and no matter that federal law still outlaws it. Voters there narrowly defeated an initiative that would have made pot legal in 2010, but it is back on the ballot now with polls suggesting it is heading for an easy win, particularly in a high-turnout presidential election year.
“The name of the game is California — and that’s where our chances of winning are the best,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been pushing for legalization.
— Blue, Blue, Blue?
Democrats and Republicans have long thought that the nation’s political map has been changing as increasingly diverse and urban states become more favorable for Democrats.
One of the most intriguing states being watched is Georgia, which has not voted for a Democrat since a Southerner — Bill Clinton — was elected president in 1992. (It voted against him in 1996.) With the state growing increasingly diverse, Hillary Clinton has waged a vigorous campaign there. Some polls show it close, and, win or lose, Democrats see Georgia as another state coming into play.
Outside of the south, the political upheaval has been particularly notable in the West and in states with heavy Latino populations. The question is whether the shift that members of both parties believe is taking place is going to be accelerated this year, in no small part because of Donald Trump’s tough language on immigration. Keep an eye on Arizona, North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Virginia.
Indeed, Arizona was a turn-it-blue target for President Barack Obama in 2012, before his aides decided early in the summer the time had not yet come and pulled out.
“Arizona has been slower to change because of the high senior citizen population,” Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s campaign in 2012, told me. “But when you have Donald Trump and you are talking historic numbers of Latino votes, you are putting Arizona in play. When states become battleground states, they tend to stay battlegrounds.”
Messina’s remarks about turnout among Latino voters signals something else to watch on election night: Is this the year that the Latino vote really comes through? In states across the country — California, Texas, New York, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Iowa — the Latino population has been on the rise. But that has not translated into power at the polls, despite concerted efforts by Democrats and Latino political organizations to turn out Latino voters.
If that changes this year, it could make a dramatic difference in swing states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
“All of the early data is pointing to a record Latino turnout,” said Matt Barreto, a professor of political science at UCLA and an adviser on Latino issues to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “In Florida, 30 percent of early ...(Continued on next page)
votes among Latinos are from new first-time voters, and Latino early voting is up by 173 percent compared to 2012. There is no question that the Trump campaign has struck a serious nerve with Latinos.”
— The Obama Legacy
Obama is as popular as he has been for most of his presidency. But can he translate that popularity into votes for Clinton? The president has put his reputation and support behind Clinton more than any outgoing president in memory. And there is a reason for that: concern for the fate of his biggest legislative priorities — Obamacare — but also because the election of Clinton will be judged in part as a validation of Obama’s legacy as president.
There is one important side note here: Can the nation’s first African-American president inspire the kind of turnout among African-Americans that Obama himself saw when he ran? Can Democrats count on the high levels of participation among African-Americans once Obama has left the scene? The early signs were not encouraging for Democrats in early voting; election night should answer that question.
— Where the Action Really Is
Things may have ground to a halt in Congress over these past eight years, but that doesn’t mean that legislators have stopped making new policy or passing laws. It passed to the statehouses — and considering the fact that Republicans have made huge gains in statehouses during the Obama presidency, that means that much of the new policy reflects a Republican view of the world. Over the years, Republicans have used their dominant power in statehouses to, for example, put restrictions on voting, union organizing and access to abortion. Democrats have pushed to expand services to the poor or provide more services to immigrants.
A key question on Tuesday is whether Democrats can recapture some of the statehouses and governorships they lost during the Obama years, in states like Nevada and New Hampshire, where Clinton had been particularly competitive. Right now it is a bit of a mismatch: Republicans held 36 of the nation’s 99 statehouse chambers in 2010, and that number has climbed to 68.
By the way, there is one important thing these legislatures will not be attending to next year: Drawing district lines for congressional and state offices. Redistricting does not happen until 2020, the year when Democrats would hope to get back enough statehouses to make up for the redistricting shellacking they took in 2010.
— Remember Bernie Sanders?
A final question: Will this election produce signs of a lasting movement inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.? Will he be a player in Democratic and national politics going into the next four years, and will the policies he advocated as a presidential candidate influence policy in a Clinton administration or in statehouses?
There are a few things to look for in measuring the durability of a Sanders movement. One, Sanders has campaigned heavily in California for a voter initiative — Proposition 61 — that would hold down the cost of prescription drugs. He endorsed it during his primary race against Clinton there, and has stuck with it since.
In Oregon, Sanders has endorsed a voter initiative that would impose a sharp increase in corporate taxes for many companies. And he has thrown his weight and name behind a single-payer health care proposal that is on the Colorado ballot, another one that might have come right out of the Sanders playbook.
Sanders is also campaigning for Democratic candidates across the country, among them Russ Feingold, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Wisconsin; Katie McGinty, a Democrat running for Senate in Pennsylvania; and Zephyr Teachout, a liberal organizer running for Congress in upstate New York. Their victories could certainly enhance Sanders’s standing in Washington.
Of course, the best way to measure just how much of a force Sanders might be in U.S. politics — and in a Clinton White House, should she win — is how successful he is in getting his army of supporters to the polls to support her on Tuesday.