The Nov. 8 elections have the potential to be historic, as a record number of candidates are running to become the first Black woman or Black man to hold their office. With diverse faces on ballots nationwide — from governorships to school board races — Tuesday’s midterms could increase Black political power across layers of government.
But for many of the groundbreaking candidates, victory remains an uphill battle less than 24 hours before Election Day.
The high-stakes election will determine which party controls the U.S. House and Senate, potentially tipping the scales in favor of Republicans. That power could determine the country’s path on critical issues including abortion, voting rights, and spending on Medicare and Social Security.
Democrats have said that codifying abortion rights and strengthening democratic processes would be top policy priorities if they maintain control of Congress, while continuing to make historic strides in diversifying the courts. Republican candidates have pushed for reducing federal safety net programs, expanding police ranks, cutting taxes and taking aggressive action to bring inflation under control (though their ability to curb the global rise in prices is debated).
Currently, Congress is more racially diverse than ever, though it remains disproportionately white. Of the 100 legislators in the Senate, only three are Black. Of the 435 legislators in the House, fewer than 60 are Black.
On Election Day, more than 100 Black candidates will be running for congressional offices on major-party tickets nationwide. There also are five Black candidates — all Democrats — running for governor on major-party tickets: in Georgia, Maryland, Iowa, Arkansas, and Alabama.
Typically, the party that does not control the White House — Republicans, in this case — fares better in midterm elections. Recent polling shows most of the Black candidates are lagging behind their opponents.
Quentin James, founder and president of the Collective PAC, a Black-led political action committee, said this is a critical time in the U.S. to elect Black leaders “to protect and save our democracy.” It’s also an exciting time to see a historic number of Black people run for office and raise large amounts of donations never seen before, which will set the stage for more political interest in the future, he said.
“I think we’re gonna see a wave of Black candidates running for local offices next year,” James said. “This part of democracy is awakening a higher political conscience we haven’t seen for a while, and I’m excited to see what that bears for our country and for our community.”
Here are the candidates Capital B will be watching on Election Day:
In a historic contest between two Black candidates for U.S. Senate, Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker are running a tight race that has significant implications for the balance of power in Congress.
Their positions differ widely on key issues such as abortion, voting rights, and the economy. Warnock condemned the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and has championed voting rights legislation, while Walker has supported Georgia’s six-week abortion ban and opposes voting rights protections. If neither receives 50% of the vote, they will rematch in a December runoff.
Read more about Georgia’s Senate race on our sister site, Capital B Atlanta.
Cheri Beasley is running to become North Carolina’s first Black U.S. senator. Three years ago, she became the first Black woman to serve as the state’s chief justice, after being appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper. Now, after losing reelection to the state Supreme Court by 401 votes, Beasley, a Democrat, is running against U.S. Rep. Ted Budd to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr. There are currently no Black women serving in the U.S. Senate.
Beasley has made health care a policy priority of her campaign, along with women’s rights, protecting the environment, reforming the criminal justice system, boosting the amount of affordable housing, and increasing the minimum wage.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief, is running against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Along with Beasley, she’s hoping to increase the number of Black women in the Senate, where there have been none since Kamala Harris left to become vice president.
Demings was elected to the U.S. House in 2016. Before running for Congress, she worked in law enforcement for nearly three decades, and made history as the first woman to serve as Orlando’s police chief. During Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, she was among the top candidates to be considered as his running mate.
Access to reproductive health care and gun control are among the top issues in this race. Demings has said she supports abortion access up until at least fetal viability, and earlier this year, she voted to pass the Protecting Our Kids Act, a collection of legislation that closes loopholes in gun laws.
Mandela Barnes, the first-ever Black lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, is running to make history again as the state’s first Black representative in the U.S. Senate. The progressive Democrat wants to codify abortion rights nationwide, expand Medicare, and pass the Green New Deal.
Earlier this year, Barnes told Capital B about his efforts to center climate and environmental justice in Wisconsin, which has some of the nation’s largest racial disparities in air pollution and health outcomes. Barnes is running against incumbent U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, a climate change denier and ally of former President Donald Trump.
Charles Booker, a former member of Kentucky’s House of Representatives, is campaigning to unseat longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The progressive Democrat was a regular at protests during the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd, and was once tear-gassed by police. His constituents as a statehouse representative include the families of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee, who were killed by Louisville police officers.
When Booker won his seat in the state House in 2018, he was the youngest Black lawmaker in the state. Now 38 years old, the Louisville native is running on progressive issues, including criminal justice reform, Medicare for All, and reproductive rights.
Progressive activist Maxwell Alejandro Frost is running to become the first member of Generation Z in Congress. The 25-year-old is vying to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District, which includes Orlando. The son of Cuban refugees, Frost has spent recent years advocating for gun control and has made issues including mental health care and environmental justice central to his campaign.
Frost is running as a Democrat to fill the seat currently held by Demings, who is campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate. If elected, he would replace outgoing Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., 27, as the youngest member of Congress. Frost is facing off against Republican nominee Calvin Wimbish, a Black retired Army colonel. Their district is a solidly blue seat.
Stacey Abrams’ quest to become the first Black woman to serve as a state governor in U.S. history will be one of the most closely watched races on Election Day. It’s a rematch for Abrams, who lost to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp four years ago in a race that was decided by fewer than 55,000 votes. Since then, 1.6 million more people have registered to vote in Georgia.
Abrams’ signature policy proposal is expanding Medicaid in the state, which she says will bring an estimated $3.5 billion in additional revenue to address hospital closures and create 64,000 jobs, particularly in rural regions desperate for economic growth. Read more about the Georgia gubernatorial race on our sister site, Capital B Atlanta.
Wes Moore — an author and Army veteran — stepped down from his role as CEO of the anti-poverty Robin Hood Foundation to campaign to become Maryland’s first Black governor. The Democrat has received high-profile endorsements from Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama, running on a vision to combat and prevent violence and crime while addressing racial inequities and rebuilding relationships between the community and law enforcement.
Moore is running against far-right candidate Dan Cox, who is serving in Maryland’s House of Delegates. Cox has received support from Trump and has been pictured with the Proud Boys, a white nationalist group. Incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is term limited, did not endorse Cox, calling him an “QAnon whack job.”
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Deidre DeJear is running to become the first Black governor in Iowa, hoping to unseat Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. The Mississippi native, who moved to Iowa during college, is a small-business owner who helps other entrepreneurs across the state access affordable resources.
If elected, DeJear plans to expand access to early childhood education, provide employment opportunities, revitalize rural economies, and improve maternal health access for Iowans. She said she would also work across the aisle to get bills passed in the Republican-controlled legislature.
Chris Jones, a Democrat from Arkansas, is running to be the state’s first Black governor. The graduate of Morehouse College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology is running on a platform to create universal free preschool, expand internet access, and revitalize the state’s agriculture industry. Jones is running against former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Arkansas’ next governor will inherit a record revenue surplus and friendly budget as they work to raise the state’s low life expectancy, the 46th lowest in the country, and quell the state’s ideological wars over abortion and transgender rights.
Yolanda Flowers made history this summer as the first Black woman nominated by a major political party for governor of Alabama. Now, she faces incumbent Republican Gov. Kay Ivey as one of three Black women hoping to become America’s first Black female governor — a significant uphill battle in this overwhelmingly Republican state.
Flowers has a background in teaching and speech pathology and is new to political campaigns. If elected, she said, she would push to solve pay inequities in the workplace and fight for criminal justice reform.
Other key races and issues
Maryland Attorney General
U.S. Rep Anthony Brown, a Democrat, is running to become Maryland’s first Black attorney general. Brown, who is favored to win the race, received an endorsement from the state’s current chief law enforcement officer, Brian Frosh, who announced his retirement in October 2021.
The attorney general’s office is tasked with investigating deadly police use of force incidents, and enforcing federal laws through criminal and civil courts. Brown has said he supports reducing militarization of local police, prosecuting “bad officers,” and making investments that ensure they “effectively police our communities, not occupy them.”
Brown is running against far-right conservative Michael Peroutka, a former Anne Arundel County Council member who has run a controversial campaign often met with protests and is a former member of the white nationalist League of the South.
Slavery Ballot Measures
Voters in five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont — will decide on Tuesday whether to close the “slavery loophole” in their state constitutions.
While the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment is widely credited with ending slavery in 1865, the wording outlawed the practice “except as a punishment for crime” — language that many states also adopted into their constitutions. Amending the constitutions could limit the practice of paying little or no wage to incarcerated people involved in labor while behind bars. After Nebraska changed its constitution in 2020, at least one county jail started enforcing a salary of up to $30 a week, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
Nineteen states total still have the slavery loophole on their books.
Capital B Atlanta reporter Chauncey Alcorn contributed to this story.