• July 16, 2021

GOTV 2021: Warm Up Your Team for the 2022 Midterms

While 2021 is an off-year, there are still Congressional special elections, gubernatorial and state legislative races, and dozens of mayoral seats on the ballot. These races offer an opportunity for organizations to get back into election mode.

Every government relations professional knows that the 2022 midterm elections will be a hard-fought showdown that could reshape the political landscape. The party that controls Congress will steer the legislative agenda for years and impact the presidential race in 2024.

But what about this year’s elections? While 2021 is an off-year, there are still Congressional special elections, gubernatorial and state legislative races, and dozens of mayoral seats on the ballot in the next six months. These races offer an opportunity for companies, associations and nonprofits to get back into election mode and sharpen their GOTV game before the major action takes place in the 2022 midterms. 

Why care about off-year races? For starters, they offer some insight into how both parties will fare next year. In some cases, this year’s contests will be treated as a leading indicator of how voters are feeling and parties are faring as we approach the midterms. We can expect to see news coverage that attempts to connect those dots. 

More importantly, this year’s races offer organizations an opportunity to collect their tools, build a strategy, shape messaging and prepare. The 2022 midterm elections will impact the legislative agenda at almost every organization. Campaigning will start early next year and quickly grow to dominate the national conversation. Whether supporting specific candidates or simply encouraging civic participation, smart organizations will warm up their machine now and be ready when the action starts. 

The Election Landscape in 2021

Next year’s midterms will be a battle because the margins in both chambers are so close. In the House, Democrats control 220 seats and Republicans hold 211, with four current vacancies split evenly between the two parties. A majority is 218. The Senate is literally divided 50-50, with Democrats holding the edge because the vice president can cast a tie-breaking vote.

With control that tight, there’s no doubt that analysts will be looking to some of this year’s races as indicators of what’s to come. Here’s what lies ahead for American voters this year:

  • Congressional Special Elections. Four special elections for U.S. House seats left vacant by resignations or deaths are taking place this year in three states: Florida, Ohio and Texas. The results may not alter the balance of power, but some will be well watched.
    • Florida, District 20. This is a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings in April. The primary for both parties will be held Nov. 2 this year and the general election will take place Jan. 11 of 2022. The seat has been held by Democrats for two decades. 
    • Ohio, District 11. This is a special election to fill the seat left vacant when former Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, who resigned to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Biden administration. The primary for both parties is Aug. 3, and the general election is Nov. 2. The district has been held by Democrats for two decades. Some Ohio media are billing the race as a contest within the Democratic Party: liberal candidates versus the establishment.
    • Ohio, District 15. This is a special election to fill the seat left vacant when former Republican Rep. Steve Stivers resigned to head the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The primary for both parties is Aug. 3, and the general election is Nov. 2. The district has been held by Republicans since 2010.
    • Texas, District 6. This is a runoff between two Republicans resulting from a special election in May after Rep. Ronald Wright died from complications related to COVID-19 in February. The election is July 27. The seat has been held by Republicans since the 1980s, and this contest could have some intrigue. One candidate, Susan Wright, is Ronald Wright’s widow and has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Her opponent, state Rep. Jake Ellzey, is supported by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who served as Secretary of Energy in Trump’s cabinet.


  • State Legislatures and Governors. The action at the state level will be focused in New Jersey and Virginia, two well-watched states where voters will choose a governor and state lawmakers.
    • New Jersey. Voters will decide whether to give Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy a second term in a general election Nov. 2. The entire state House and Senate are also on the ballot. New Jersey is a solid blue state. It has supported Democratic presidential candidates for three decades, and Democrats enjoy a substantial edge in voter registration. Yet, in gubernatorial races, no Democrat has won a second term since 2001.
    • Virginia. Governors in Virginia cannot seek two consecutive terms, meaning voters will fill an open seat in a general election Nov. 2. The entire state Senate is also on the ballot. In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2017, is competing against Republican Glenn Youngkin, former CEO of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group. Both political parties have seen victories in Virginia’s state and federal elections. The state has supported Democratic presidential candidates since 2008, but supported Republicans in the seven presidential elections prior to that.

  • City Mayors. Scores of mayoral seats are on the ballot this year, beginning in August. General elections are taking place in dozens of cities around the country Nov. 2 and Dec. 1, including major cities like Atlanta, Detroit, New York, Miami, Minneapolis and New Orleans. The landscape in every race will be different, based on local, regional and state issues. While many mayoral races across the country are nonpartisan, some candidates have a strong party affiliation. Democrats hold mayoral seats in 64 of the nation’s 100 largest cities, according to a Ballotpedia analysis

Turnout this year is an open question, but the trends have been spiking upward. Voter turnout in the 2020 election was the highest in 120 years, according to The Washington Post, with nearly two thirds of eligible voters casting a ballot. Turnout hit a 40-year high in 42 states and Washington D.C.  

Get Your Team Ready

Organizations of all kinds will participate in this year’s elections because there is much to gain. For many, the mission will be simple education and voter registration efforts. Encouraging civic participation is almost always a winning strategy. It is good for list building, good for democracy and shows your supporters that you are aware of the political landscape environment and willing to help them navigate it without partisan bias. Even companies, which are traditionally cautious about election activity, have become increasingly involved (for more on how corporations have been getting active, download the white paper Corporate Activism is Mainstream).

In the 2020 election, more than 10 million people interacted with Capitol Canary Civic Action Centers run by our clients, with 60 percent of that activity taking place in the 60 days before the election. More than 2.6 million new advocates, meaning those who took action with an organization for the first time, participated in digital grassroots campaigns in the weeks around the election. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Update Your Messaging. Many organizations had an election playbook for last year’s charged presidential and congressional races. Now is a good time to dust that off and view it through the prism of the elections taking place this year and next. Re-examine goals, update messaging and set a direction for the next 18 months. Will you add some general information to the newsletter or will you send personal reminders about voter registration deadlines. Focus on what your organization will actually do.
  • Understand the Rules. The 2020 election ushered in changes to voting laws in many states and that has continued this year. Bills have been introduced in every state that could expand or restrict voting. The result is a shifting landscape that will impact every organization differently. Resources at organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Conference of State Legislatures can help. Some organizations may want to assign a staffer to research the impact that changing laws will have on election efforts.
  • Create a Civic Action Center. Capitol Canary Civic Action Centers allow organizations to provide their supporters with a bevy of election resources, all in one place. Your advocates can register to vote and find information on candidates, polling places, early voting deadlines and other helpful facts. Civic Action Centers provide a single, branded and customizable destination to facilitate your election efforts.
  • Consider a Pledge to Vote. One simple way to get started is to ask your supporters to sign a petition pledging to vote. Petitions can be particularly effective at building your list. Capitol Canary’s 2020 State of Advocacy report showed that campaigns asking people to sign a petition are far more efficient at attracting new advocates than other types of campaigns. For example, petition campaigns on average drew 182 percent more new advocates than “contact your lawmaker” campaigns in the first half of 2020. In total, organizations gained almost 600,000 new advocates using petition campaigns from January to June of last year
  • Don’t Ignore Local Races. Organizations in industries that are regulated locally—and there are many—should pay particular attention to the scores of mayoral races taking place across the country this year. While many organizations shy away from supporting or opposing specific candidates, GOTV efforts in municipalities can yield major benefits. It allows you to recruit advocates in the very cities where you are regulated. Those campaigns can also have more impact than state or federal work, because there are fewer organizations getting involved. The result: your efforts are more likely to be noticed.