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5 important state and local races you may have missed

Americans head to the polls Tuesday to elect the 45th president of the United States. For the last several months, much of the national conversation has been focused on the contentious race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Not to be forgotten, however, are the many important races and issues at the state and local level that also appear on the ballot this year. Here’s a look at a few of the most interesting races that have flown under the radar in 2016.

Fighting for D.C. statehood (again)

Residents of the District of Columbia will get another chance on Election Day to approve a measure that could make the “taxation without representation” slogan a moot point. The last time citizens of the nation’s capital voted on the issue was in 1982, when they ratified a constitution, a step towards statehood, but Congress opposed the move.

A “yes” vote on the  ballot measure, called the “Advisory Referendum on the State of New Columbia Admission Act Resolution of 2016” would give the city council permission to petition Congress to reconsider D.C.’s statehood. Under the “split” proposal, the city council would push for the creation of a new state for residents, and a federal district for government buildings.

READ MORE: What to watch for on Election Day

This vote is tricky, however. Even if voters approve the referendum, it would still face a serious hurdle in Congress. Some prominent Republicans have already criticized the measure, saying that it would disproportionately benefit the Democratic Party.

Marco Rubio, back to the future

Before Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida changed his mind back in June about running to keep his seat in the Senate, many observers thought that the seat represented an easy pick up for Democrats. But polls show that Rubio, who initially vowed to leave the Senate when he launched his failed White House bid in 2016, has a slight lead over Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Rubio has deep ties to Florida’s predominantly conservative Cuban-American community. Cuban voters’ support for him helped Rubio win his senate seat in 2010. These ties could prove useful again this time around.

But Rubio’s advantage in some parts of the state — his decision to back Trump — is a move that could push Hispanic and non-Hispanic voters alike to vote him out of office. Murphy has linked Rubio to Trump in a steady barrage of attacks in recent weeks. Though Rubio is a national figure, his senate re-election race has gotten less attention than usual due to the focus on the race for the White House.

The ‘toss up’ governor’s race in Indiana

When Republican Gov. Mike Pence was selected as Donald Trump’s running mate, he withdrew his bid for reelection as Indiana governor, paving the way for Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb to enter the race. Holcomb is now running against John Gregg, a former Democratic speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives who lost the governor’s race to Pence by three points in 2012.

Back in September, polls showed Gregg with a slight lead. A local WTHR-Howey Politics Indiana poll released last week showed Gregg and Holcomb deadlocked at 42 percent. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report has the race rated as a “‘toss up.”

READ MORE: 5 important stories that got lost in the Clinton and Trump election chatter

The race may not be grabbing big headlines outside of Indiana, but that hasn’t stopped supporters on both sides from pouring millions of dollars into the election. Indiana’s race ranks third among all gubernatorial contests this year in terms of ad volume and spending, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, a group that tracks campaign spending. Ads for and against Holcomb and Gregg have aired 11,670 times in the state.

California reconsiders the death penalty

On Election Day, three states will take up measures related to capital punishment: Oklahoma, Nebraska and California. This comes at a time when national support for the death penalty is at its lowest in more than four decades, according to the Pew Research Center.

California will consider two ‘rival’ measures: one that would repeal the death penalty altogether, replacing it with life in prison without parole (Proposition 62), and another that would keep the death penalty intact, but speed up the appeals process (Proposition 66).

A recently released joint poll from the University of California, Berkeley and The Field Poll showed that 51 percent of voters support Prop 62. The same poll showed that 48 percent of back Prop 66.

Both propositions would mean a historic change for the death penalty in California. Executions could resume after a decade long halt, or could be banished altogether. If both measures happen to pass, the proposition with the most “yes” votes would take precedence over the other.

An opening for Democrats in New Jersey

It’s unlikely that the GOP-controlled House will flip this election, but that doesn’t mean Democrats won’t chip away at the Republican majority. According to the Cook Political Report, Democrats have a chance to pick up anywhere from five to 20 seats.

One race to watch is the one for New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District, between Republican Rep. Scott Garrett and Democrat Josh Gottheimer.

Garrett came under fire last year for saying that he didn’t support the National Republican Congressional Committee because it “actively recruited gay candidates and supported homosexuals in primaries.” The remark didn’t play in the moderate suburban district, creating an opening for Gottheimer. He now has a seven-point lead heading into Election Day, according to a DCCC poll.