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October 23, 2017

Are there congressional and gubernatorial elections still left in 2017? Hint: YES!

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Note: The video is from the July 2017 debate between the Virginia gubernatorial candidates moderated by PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff. The final debate took place on Oct. 9, 2017.
  1. You may be surprised to learn that several elections remain in 2017, including two gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia and a special election in Utah for a congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 7. In Alabama, there will be a special election for U.S. Senate on Dec. 12, 2017.
  2. In all, seven special House and Senate races will have taken place in 2017 — five to fill vacancies left by members of the Trump administration. A special election is held when a lawmaker resigns, dies or is removed from office before they have completed their term.
  3. While the Democratic candidate in New Jersey, Philip Murphy, has a substantial lead in the polls over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate, the Virginia race is tighter. In July, PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff moderated a debate in Virginia between Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate, and Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate.
    • Depending on time, you may want to show your students footage that deals with specific issues. One event that you may also want to discuss occurs early on (5m:40s) when a protester interrupts the debate and has to be escorted out of the room.
    • Candidates met again on Oct. 9 for a final debate.
  4. Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, the Illinois governor’s race may be on track to be the most expensive in U.S. history with $100 million already being spent by all of the candidates. However, most of the spending has come from the two leading candidates’ themselves, a millionaire Republican incumbent and a billionaire Democrat.
  5. The Republican party currently holds majorities in both houses of Congress. Democrats will need to win 24 seats in order to take control of the House in 2018.

Discussion questions:
  1. Essential questionHow much do debates matter when deciding which candidate to elect?
  2. What is the difference between a special election and a midterm election?
  3. Similar to midterm elections, special elections have a much lower voter turnout compared to presidential election years.
    • Why do you think this is the case?
    • What needs to happen to improve low voter turnout in special elections?
  4. Had you heard about the seven special elections and two gubernatorial elections taking place in 2017 prior to this lesson? Give possible reasons, depending on your answer.
  5. How might the election of individual candidates affect the overall political system?
  6. Why do you think the protester took the approach he did during the July gubernatorial debate in Virginia? Do you agree or disagree with his actions? Explain your response.
  7. State Sen. Daniel Biss who is also running in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary in Illinois has raised $2.7 million mainly from small donations, a tiny amount compared to the two wealthy leading candidates. The former math professor asks: “Are we going to have an election or are we going to have an auction?”
    • What point do you think Bliss was trying to make in his question?
    • Do you think there should be limits on how much a candidate can spend on his/her own campaign? Explain your answer.
      • Note: In Illinois, once a candidate spends more than $250,000 of his/her own money, there is no longer any cap put on how much his/her campaign can spend. What are the campaign finance laws in your state regarding governor’s races? State Senate and House races?
Extension activities:

Use this PBS lesson plan “Hosting a presidential debate” to hold a debate in your class on one of the four upcoming 2017 elections from Line 1 above or watch the video below.  While the lesson says it’s geared to presidential elections, it can easily be adapted for the upcoming gubernatorial and congressional races.

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