How to watch Election Day 2017

Last Updated Nov 7, 2017 6:33 PM EST

Voters go to the polls for the first regularly scheduled Election Day since Donald Trump won the presidency. Virginia and New Jersey will each be casting ballots for governor, while Maine votes on expanding Medicaid. In Virginia, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is running against Republican Ed Gillespie to succeed Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who limited to a single term.

In New Jersey, the race is between Democrat Phil Murphy, a Goldman Sachs alum who was U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Republican Gov. Chris Christie is also term-limited.



What to watch on Voting day:

  • Virginia gubernatorial race: Polls close at 7 p.m. ET
  • New Jersey gubernatorial race: Polls close at 8 p.m. ET
  • Maine votes on Medicaid expansion: Polls close at 8 p.m. ET


New Jersey

Murphy is expected to easily defeat Guadagno. As of Tuesday, the RealClearPolitics polling average has Murphy up 15.5 points over Guadagno. In fact, every poll since Labor Day has shown Murphy up double digits over Guadagno.

This race is shaping up to be simply a referendum on Christie, who, with an 18 percent approval rating in a recent Morning Consult poll, is the most unpopular governor in America. Guadagno, who has served as Christie's lieutenant since 2009, has been a sharp Trump critic and has received no help from the president (not even a Tweet!) or Vice President Mike Pence; Murphy, on the other hand, has campaigned in the state with former President Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Polls open at 6 a.m. ET and close at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Early voting: In-person no-excuse absentee voting ended at 3 p.m. on Monday.

Virginia

Virginia's gubernatorial race has turned into one to watch over the past several weeks. While polls have shown Northam consistently ahead, they've generally tightened in recent weeks, although there are some huge differences in poll results, including a couple even showing Gillespie ahead. The RealClearPolitics average as of today has Northam up 2.8 points over Gillespie.

One historical note -- Gillespie ran against Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, in 2014, and after weeks of polling showing Warner with a comfortable lead, Gillespie nearly upset Warner, losing by a slim 18,000 votes (0.8 percent). The unknown factor this year compared to 2014, however, is President Trump.

Polls open at 6 a.m. ET and close at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Early voting: Absentee voting was allowed either in-person or by mail. Virginia law requires a stated reason to vote absentee. In-person absentee voting began on Sept. 22 and ended Nov. 4. Requests for an absentee ballot by mail were due Oct. 31.

As the Virginia ballots are being counted, one thing to remember, University of Virginia's Larry Sabato points out is when the votes come in.  "In recent elections, Fairfax County — at about 14 percent of Virginia's population, it's by far the state's largest locality — has typically been one of the later-reporting parts of the state. This is particularly true of its large absentee voting precincts. On Election Night in 2016, Trump still led in Virginia late into the evening, only to suddenly fall behind when Fairfax's remaining precincts reported."

Virginia governor: The candidates

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), 58, served as an Army medic, worked as a pediatric neurologist and was a Virginia state senator from 2008-14 before becoming lieutenant governor. He defeated progressive former Rep. Tom Perriello 56-44 percent in the June primary; this race was seen as a battle between the Sanders/Warren wing and the establishment wing of the Democratic Party.

He was described in today's Richmond Free Press endorsement as someone who "has not electrified the crowds. His style is more like that of Mr. Rogers." It's that lack of electricity that has people like former Democratic strategist Carter Eskew saying Northam is "sucking wind" in the final days of the race.

Ed Gillespie (R), 56, is a former Republican strategist, lobbyist, RNC chairman and White House counselor to George W. Bush.

Gillespie ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 against Sen. Mark Warner (D) and almost shocked the political world with a surprise upset. Polling showed Warner with a wide lead going into Election Day; Gillespie only wound up losing by 0.8%.

Gillespie, who for most of his career was considered a centrist Republican, defeated unabashed Trump backer Corey Stewart by only 1.2% in June's primary, a race seen as a proxy battle between pro-Trump populists and the GOP establishment.

Since becoming the nominee, Gillespie has tried to frame himself as a cross between a George W. Bush "compassionate conservative" and someone who embraces Trump's policies without embracing Trump, the president.

Virginia's electoral landscape

Currently, Virginia's governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and both U.S. senators are all Democrats; Republicans haven't won a statewide race since 2009 when they swept the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general races. And the Democratic presidential nominee has won Virginia in the past three presidential elections (Obama 2008, 2012; Clinton 2016).

Republicans saw some growth in rural areas in 2016, especially in coal country, where Trump did better last year than Mitt Romney did in 2012. The GOP is hoping those voters will show up on Tuesday while also hoping that Democrats, especially minority voters in Northern Virginia, Richmond and southeastern Virginia, don't turn out in huge numbers. Democrats are very concerned, especially since turnout last year fell by 8 percent in mostly black precincts compared to 2008 and 2012, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

As a result, Northam is making a strong play for African-American voters. President Obama, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and former Attorney General Eric Holder have all campaigned on behalf of Northam.

The Trump effect

Northam has been hammering President Trump for months, repeatedly calling him a "narcissistic maniac" on the stump and in ads. He has also, at every turn, tried to tie Gillespie to the president.

Although Mr. Trump has tweeted on Gillespie's behalf,  Gillespie has rarely mentioned the president's name. And despite keeping his distance, Gillespie is championing various tenets of Trumpism, including: tough-on-crime, a hard line on immigration, pro-confederate statues. If Gillespie pulls this out (or comes close), Republicans may see a blueprint for future races about how to embrace Trumpism without embracing Mr. Trump.

Negative campaigning

One hallmark of this race is the sheer negativity coming from both sides, more so from Gillespie and especially over the airwaves. Gillespie fired the first shot in September, releasing an ad criticizing Northam for being "weak" in dealing with the MS-13 gang, which has been growing in Democratic Northern Virginia. The ad was so harsh that critics have compared it to the famous "Willie Horton" ad run against Mike Dukakis in 1988.

Last week, the Latino Victory Fund, a group supporting Northam, unveiled a highly-criticized ad featuring a truck with a confederate flag chasing minority kids through the streets before tying Gillespie to the Charlottesville white supremacist protests. That ad was yanked after the New York City terror attack on Oct. 31.

Gillespie favors protecting the state's confederate monuments and, in a mailer, the state GOP criticized Northam, who may have Civil War lineage, for turning "his back on his own family's heritage." The state party later apologized.

Gillespie has also slammed Northam for his support of "sanctuary cities," provoking Northam to flip this week and say he'd support a ban on them in Virginia (even though there aren't any in Virginia). Northam's change of heart has cost him the support of the progressive group Democracy for America.

What the results will and won't mean

Whatever happens Tuesday, don't assume it has any bearing on the 2018 midterms. 

Fun fact: From 1977-2009, the party holding the White House lost the Virginia governor's race (McAuliffe in 2013 bucked that trend). But this race's history has a mixed record at predicting what will happen in the following year's congressional races.

 

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.