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California recall, Virginia governor among the 2021 off-year election races to watch

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The 2021 off-year elections in Virginia, California and New Jersey will give political leaders an early look at how the high stakes 2022 midterm elections could play out.

All three gubernatorial races could be a harbinger for key races at all levels, especially in Congress.

Democrats narrowly control Congress, with a razor-thin majority in the House and an evenly divided Senate. Midterm elections in 2022 could tilt the balance of power in Congress.

Republicans are predicted to retake the House through redistricting following population shifts documented in the 2020 census. In the Senate, the GOP needs only a one-seat gain to take control. Losing control of Congress could threaten President Joe Biden's chances to pass his agenda in the second half of his presidency.

Here are some of the key races lawmakers are paying attention to this election cycle.

Virginia's gubernatorial race

Virginia's gubernatorial race pits Terry McAuliffe, a moderate Democrat, against Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former CEO of private equity firm the Carlyle Group.

McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, previously served as governor of the Old Dominion from 2014-18. Youngkin is a political newcomer, whom former President Trump has endorsed.

Despite Democrats' controling the office of the governor, state House and Senate, the commonwealth is not automatically a blue state. From 1970 until 2018, Virginia went back and forth between Republican and Democrat governors. The last time a Republican governor won the commonwealth was in 2009.

A Youngkin win would provide a blueprint for Republican efforts to simultaneously sway suburban voters and the Trump base.

Virginia voters will decide the commonwealth's next leader Nov. 2.

California's recall race

California voters will decide on Sept. 14 whether they will replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election that could mark only the third time in U.S. history that a sitting governor is removed from office by voters.

This race is another barometer of voter support of Democratic leadership. If a Republican becomes the next leader of the Golden State it would be a stunning rebuke and would have national implications in politics.

Republicans successfully launched a sixth recall effort over Newsom's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. They turned in 1.6 million signatures in April. More than 100,000 signatures were needed to force a recall vote.

Larry Elder, a right-wing talk show host, is the leading Republican in a race that features 46 candidates, including former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.

National Democrats have come to Newsom's defense ahead of the recall. Vice President Kamala Harris stumped for Newsom Wednesday and Biden campaigned in California on Monday.

LONG BEACH, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters cheer for U.S. California Gov. Gavin Newsom who would later be joined by President Joe Biden to campaign to keep the governor in office at Long Beach City College on the eve of the last day of the special election to recall the governor on September 13, 2021 in Long Beach, California.
LONG BEACH, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters cheer for U.S. California Gov. Gavin Newsom who would later be joined by President Joe Biden to campaign to keep the governor in office at Long Beach City College on the eve of the last day of the special election to recall the governor on September 13, 2021 in Long Beach, California.

New Jersey's gubernatorial race

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is the only governor up for reelection on Nov. 2 and is favored to win a second term.

A Monmouth University poll released in August shows Murphy with a 16-point lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. More than half of voters, 52%, preferred Murphycompared to Ciattarelli's 36%.

Murphy's advantages extend beyond the polls. He is well-funded, well-known, and registered Democrats in New Jersey outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million.

If Murphy wins the race he will be the second Democrat to win reelection after Brendan Byrne was reelected in 1977.

Two special elections in Ohio

Housing and Urban Development Sec. Marcia Fudge's former House seat is up for election Nov. 2.

Democrat Shontel Brown faces off against Republican Laverne Gore. Brown is widely expected to win due to the decades-long Democratic stronghold over Ohio's 11th Congressional District.

The Democratic primary for the seat was a bitterly fought battle between progressive Nina Turner and moderate opponent Brown.

Brown, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party chair, had the support of the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, including top member Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. Turner was backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and members of the "Squad" in Congress.

Voters sided with Brown over Turner.

In Ohio's 15th Congressional District, coal lobbyist Mike Carey is the Republican nominee running against Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo. With Trump's endorsement, Carey beat out a field of 11 Republicans vying for the nomination.

The GOP primary was widely viewed as a test of Trump's endorsement strength after Susan Wright, a Trump-backed candidate, lost a Texas House special election in July.

Carey and Russo are vying to replace former U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican who resigned in May to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The 15th district leans Republican by 9 percentage points according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Election races in 2021 a harbinger of the 2022 midterm elections

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