The presidential election is undoubtedly the most watched and monitored political race in the nation, but there are dozens of down-ballot races involving African American candidates from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House down to gubernatorial, mayoral and even city council contests.
In the most notable race is Democrat Jaime Harrison who is challenging Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, but in others, Black Republicans like John James and Kimberly Klacik are garnering national attention in their attempts to upend long-held Democratic strongholds in Michigan and Maryland.
In some house races, longtime public servants are running unchallenged in several seats like Democrats Rep. James Clyburn and Rep. Maxine Waters. In Baltimore, however, a Democratic city council president Brandon Scott and Baltimore GOP official Shannon Wright are competing to bring the city out of scandal after the resignation of former mayor Catherine Pugh.
Here are 10 of the most important and intriguing races to watch (outside of the Trump and Biden showdown) on Election Night:
Jaime Harrison vs. Lindsey Graham — U.S. Senate, South Carolina
The senior U.S. senate seat in South Carolina has been held by Lindsey Graham solidly since 2003, but Harrison, a 44-year-old associate chair of the Democratic National Committee launched a campaign to challenge Graham, which has now come down to the wire. The two men have been a virtual tie in the polls in recent weeks and Jaime Harrison has outraised Graham in funding. If the challenger wins, he will serve his state in the U.S. Senate with Sen. Tim Scott, which would make it the first time in U.S. history two Black people represented a single state in the Senate.
Kweisi Mfume vs. Kimberly Klacik — U.S. House of Representatives, Maryland 7th District
The passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings in Oct. 2019 left a vacancy that was quickly filled by Kwesi Mfume, who many might remember from his time as NAACP president, in a special election. However, Republicanchallenger Kimberly Klacik, who was beaten in the special election, has mounted a major challenge using the optics of downtrodden areas of Baltimore to illustrate Democratic failings over the years. She has reportedly raised $6.4 million in campaign funds after receiving President Trump’s endorsement. But Mfume responded in a statement saying that Klacik is trying to buy the election.
“Donald Trump and Kim Klacik cannot buy it. They should take their money and greed somewhere else, because we are not for sale.”
John James vs. Gary Peters — U.S. Senate, Michigan
Michigan is a battleground state that has most recently favored Joe Biden in the polls, but in the Senate race, voters could be swayed to pick a GOP candidate. Suburban Detroit businessman and Iraq War veteran John James, 39, is challenging Democrat Gary Peters for the seat he won in 2014, and which had been held prior to that by longtime Democratic statesman Carl Levin since 1979. Despite being a conservative politician, he appeals to progressives more than most Republicans. For example, James said in an interview regarding the death of George Floyd: “I had mixed feelings of anger and sadness and fear. When I take my suit off, I could be George Floyd.” Polls show both candidates in a dead heat.
Mike Espy vs. Cindy Hyde-Smith — U.S. Senate, Mississippi
Mississippi is expected to go to Donald Trump in the presidential election, but Mike Espy, who served as Agriculture Secretary during the Clinton Administration, has been getting support from many Democratic backers who believe in him. According to USA Today, He has raised $3.8 million just since Oct. 1 with the help of Sen. Cory Booker and Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams. Even former president Barack Obama endorsed Espy and lent his voice to a radio ad for him. Cindy Hyde-Smith is currently leading in the polls, but some Republicans are breaking ranks and getting behind Espy. The Lincoln Project, a group of disenchanted group of lifelong GOP members hellbent on removing Trump from office, are supporting him. The last time Mississippi had Black U.S. senators was way back in the Reconstruction Era more than 120 years ago, but Espy says it’s time for a new one. "They don't think a Black man in Mississippi can win," he tweeted. “And they continue to count out the South and Black voters.
Cori Bush vs. Anthony Rogers vs. Alex Furman — U.S. House of Representatives, Missouri 1st District
Inspired to take political action after the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Cori Bush ran twice unsuccessfully for office — once for the Senate in 2016 and once for the House in 2018. Everything happens in due time because in August, Bush ran again in the Democratic primary where she ousted longtime congressman Rep. William Lacy Clay. That makes her strongly favored to take the seat in November, despite the efforts of Republican candidate Anthony Rogers and Libertarian Alex Furman.
If she wins, the single mom would be the first Black woman to Represent Missouri in Congress. She says that she will back progressive reforms once in office like Medicare For All and Universal Basic Income.
“I think it starts with us being very clear about the message and then using every platform we have to talk to regular people,” she told St. Louis magazine.
Jackie Gordon vs. Anthony Garbarino — U.S. House of Representatives, New York 2nd District
It’s a big risk for any person of color let alone a Black woman to run in the longtime Republican stronghold of Long Island, especially when attempting to fill the vacant seat of veteran politician Rep. Peter King. But that’s what Jackie Gordon, a Jamaican-American, ex-military police officer who served on the Babylon, N.Y., town council intends to do. She’s up against Anthony Garbarino, who has been endorsed by King, but has raised far less in campaign funds compared to Gordon. A win would make her the first Black person to represent the district, which has diversified greatly over the past decades. She says that she wants to end the divisiveness in the American political discourse.
“Almost any time anyone speaks, I hear the far right, the radical left...we definitely have a two-party system, but the two parties have to come together because we’re one body,” she told City & State New York.
Brandon Scott vs. Shannon Wright vs. Bob Wallace — Mayor, Baltimore
The scandal that led to the resignation of former mayor Catherine Pugh, the city’s second mayoral resignation in a decade, has made room for three new competitors who want to move Baltimore past its economic and crime troubles. Long a Democratic stronghold, GOP politicians like Kimberly Klacik (running for the late Elijah Cummings House seat) and local pastor Shannon Wright say their rivals left the town destitute. “For me, if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem," Wright told Baltimore Business Journal. But Brandon Scott, the city council president, has the support of the well-entrenched party establishment. And, a third factor, independent candidate Bob Wallace has reportedly outraised and outspent Scott in recent months by more than $100,000, making a race that is normally a shoo-in for Democrats anything but this time around
Joyce Elliot vs. French Hill — U.S. House of Representatives, Arkansas 2nd District
The race between incumbent French Hill and Joyce Elliot, the state senator challenging him, has been wrought with contention while both candidates have collected major funding to endow their battle. FEC data shows Hill has brought in $3.1 million compared to Elliot’s $2.9 million, both raising more than $1 million in the last quarter. Political watchers are calling it a toss-up and polls are currently coming in as even. In a debate earlier this month, the two candidates showed how separate they truly are on most issues, especially a 2017 tax cut bill that Hill supported, which Elliot said cost the nation. Hill says a possible tax increase under a Joe Biden administration will do the same. She has also blasted Hill over his support of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“You have voted over a dozen times, over a dozen times, to take away their health care," said Elliott. “Here we are in the midst of a pandemic and you are still holding that position of doing away with the ACA."
Raphael Warnock vs. Kelly Loeffler vs. Doug Collins — U.S. Senate, Georgia
This particular race is unique. In this heated race for a senate seat, the intention here is to get a winner or two of the three candidates go to a January runoff election. A large field of contenders originally ran, but Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and GOP incumbent Doug Collins and Kelly Loeffler, also a Republican, are the three top candidates left running to fill the seat left open by Johnny Isakson, who resigned in 2019, due to health concerns. But Warnock has gained momentum in the race, with his popularity in Atlanta as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and has used it to fuel major voter enthusiasm among young voters and people of color.
If the Nov. 3 election results do not yield a candidate with 50 percent or more of the vote, the top two finishers will face off in the January runoff. If Warnock is one of those candidates, he will have to continue that momentum to finally defeat his GOP opponent and turn Georgia into a blue state.
Marquita Bradshaw vs. Bill Hagerty — U.S. Senate, Tennessee
After beating the odds to win the Democratic primary, even Marquita Bradshaw has called the race a “Marquita versus Goliath” contest in her challenge of Republican candidate Bill Hagerty. The two are competing for the seat being left open by Sen. Lamar Alexander who announced in 2018 that he would not run for re-election in 2020. An environmental activist, Bradshaw is running on a platform that lies in part with what she feels has been a cavalier attitude to the environment by Alexander and moreover the Trump Administration. But despite the uphill climb she faces in Tennessee, which is solidly GOP country, she garnered heavy support in Memphis and Shelby County and beat opponents who outspent her in the primary. If she scores an upset here, it will be one more step toward a Democratic senate.