Ground Game: Where Pivotal Races Stand on Election Day - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Former Georgia House Democratic Leader and Democratic nominee for Georgia Governor Stacey Abrams begins campaigning across the state on the first day of 'early voting' outside the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia Monday October 15, 2018.
SourceMelina Mara/Getty


Because these are the races that will tell where the nation is going.

By Daniel Malloy and Nick Fouriezos

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At the start of this midterm season, we here at OZY got together with our friends at McClatchy newspapers to decide how best to give readers illuminating stories behind the elections that they can’t get anywhere else. The result was Ground Game, where we took a deep dive into 12 races across the country that are worth watching closely tonight to tell where the country is headed. Click here for McClatchy’s rundown of the six House races they tracked this year, and below you’ll find the latest on the three Senate and three governor races OZY is tracking:

Georgia governor

Everybody wants a piece of the Peach State, with stars from Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama to Donald Trump and Mike Pence stumping in Georgia in recent weeks. And why not? After years of Democrats promising to paint Georgia blue, they finally have a candidate who might do so — Stacey Abrams, the former Statehouse minority leader who could become the first female African-American governor in U.S. history. Republicans are rallying around Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who promises lower taxes, stronger action against criminal gangs and avid support for the president’s policies. Voting rights have been the biggest flash point in this race, with Abrams accusing Kemp of booting excessive numbers of minorities from the rolls, while Kemp maintains he’s following the law to halt fraud. Polls show the race to be basically tied, and with both candidates falling short of 50 percent thanks to a Libertarian spoiler. So if thought this hubbub was fun, just imagine what a Dec. 4 runoff would look like.

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Missouri Senate

Polls and OZY’s exclusive election forecasting model show this to be the tightest Senate race in the country — and it’s been a coin flip pretty much since the attack ads started flying last spring. A skilled campaigner, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has an exceedingly tough task to survive in a state Donald Trump won by 18.5 percentage points in 2016. She’s spending the final days tacking to the right by backing the president’s military deployment to halt the migrant caravan at the Mexican border, though she has been a steady vote for Democrats over two terms and did oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Republican Josh Hawley is running as a solid Christian conservative and enthusiastic Trump backer. A charismatic rising star in the party — if he wins, the White House talk will start quickly — Hawley has nonetheless been dogged by allegations of neglecting his day job as attorney general.

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Arizona Senate

The Year of the Woman fittingly pits two compelling female candidates against each other in a fast-changing battleground. Kyrsten Sinema has been a moderate Democrat in the U.S. House, but old associations with far-left groups are coming back to haunt her in the final days here — polls and our forecast show a toss-up race. Both Republican Martha McSally, a congresswoman who was the first female Air Force pilot to fly in combat, and Sinema, the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress, support Trump sending troops to the border. The immigration positioning is a sign that we’re still talking about a red state here — though Sinema has her foe on the defensive about health care, as McSally voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and weaken protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

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Mississippi Senate

Characters abound in this three-way Magnolia State race, as we found during a trip to the Neshoba County Fair — aka Republican Woodstock. The favorite is Cindy Hyde-Smith, a former Piggly Wiggly cashier who became a rancher and then agriculture commissioner before being appointed to the U.S. Senate earlier this year to replace the ailing Thad Cochran — she brags about having voted 100 percent with Trump. Democrat Mike Espy, a former agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton, could poll close behind on a moderate platform and a promise to oppose Trump’s trade war, which hurts local farmers. In a top-two runoff that would strongly favor Republicans, Espy would much rather face insurgent Chris McDaniel, a conservative lawmaker and former radio host known for his unapologetic rhetoric and Confederate lost-cause overtones.

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Maryland governor

A Republican governor in heavily blue Maryland? Businessman Larry Hogan shocked political observers with his close victory in 2014, but if the popular cancer survivor wins re-election it won’t sneak up on anyone: The incumbent leads Democrat Ben Jealous by double digits in every independent public poll. Jealous, formerly the youngest-ever president of the NAACP and an avid Bernie Sanders surrogate in the 2016 presidential election, has tried to hit Hogan on education disparities and Trumpian immigration policies. But Hogan has played up his cross-aisle appeal, backing transportation projects and criticizing Trump. He’s also got campaign cash to spare: Hogan’s war chest was as much as 24 times the size of Jealous’ in the election’s waning months. 

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Michigan governor

The Rust Belt was critical to Trump’s 2016 triumph, but a shift against the party in power is especially acute here when it comes to state politics. The Flint water crisis has weighed down outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, and even though Republican Bill Schuette has fought often with Snyder as attorney general, the “R” next to his name is a strong liability this year. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has run a strong campaign, vowing to “fix the damned roads” and plow money into infrastructure across the state. Polls give her a healthy lead heading into Election Day.

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By Daniel Malloy and Nick Fouriezos

OZY partners with McClatchy to bring you premium political analysis.

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