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I was doing a little research regarding elections and I notice that the GOP hasn't made an attempt for mayor positions in some cities, like in Portland or Atlanta. Why is that?

According to Wikipedia and other sources, it looks as they haven't even tried to in several decades. Instead the Democrats run against each other (labelled as "Nonpartisan")

So what's the deal?

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    While James K's answer is much more specific, major cities in the US tend to skew heavily Democrat in general and Portland and Atlanta skew Democrat even more than most. – Jared Smith Jul 21 at 13:26
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    Note that this goes both ways. I live in a red congressional district (PA 12) that rarely has a democratic challenger. – RBarryYoung Jul 22 at 14:41
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Portland and Atlanta are a little different in this case

Portland has a non-partisan primary election: All candidates from all parties enter a single primary election, this includes Republicans (if they wish to stand) Bruce Broussard stood for the Republican party in 2020. The top two candidates the progress to the second round of voting. Current mayor Ted Wheeler (Democrat) and urban policy activist Sarah Iannarone (Socialist) advanced to the runoff.

Atlanta has a longer tradition of non-partisan mayoral races, with no party affiliation on the ballot. Officially, all the candidates are independent. There is a two-stage process in which the top two candidates progress to a second round if no single candidate achieves a majority in the first round. Now although all candidates are "independent", Atlanta is a deeply Democrat city, and all the independent candidates who stood are from the left wing of American politics. There are ballot access arrangments: $5600 or 2000 signatures. Apparently none of the city's Republicans were willing or able to achieve this. Mary Norwood is seen as the most Republican of the independent candidates, and certainly the Atlanta Democratic party try to portray her as such. She identifies as a "progressive independent"

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    It might be useful to expand this by pionting out that — these days — all local politics are subject to a cost/benefit analysis at the upper party level. Campaigns are so expensive that parties are forced to allocate funding carefully; dumping money and support into a challenge that has little chance of success means money and support taken away from a campaign that is highly contested, which might result in a net loss. Local candidates are often forced to fend for themselves, without much party support, and that can be daunting. – Ted Wrigley Jul 21 at 14:53
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    Just an FYI, Portland-style elections are also called jungle primaries (and coming from a state where that's all we had, partisan elections sound frankly ridiculous ...) – Azor Ahai -- he him Jul 21 at 16:13
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    @AzorAhai--hehim Honestly, to me, jungle primaries sound ridiculous, but to each his own. Incentivizing fewer choices in the primaries doesn't sound like a positive, though. For example, with jungle primaries, it would be possible for one party to have 2 candidates in the primary and another to have 5. Even if the party with 5 candidates got 60% of the vote that was relatively evenly split between their candidates (i.e. ~12% each) and the party with 2 only got 40% of the vote (~20% each,) the general election would be between the two candidates from the party that got 40%, which sounds insane. – reirab Jul 22 at 16:09
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    @reirab As opposed to leaving a spot for a member of one party, no matter how much support they have? – Azor Ahai -- he him Jul 22 at 16:47
  • @AzorAhai--hehim In a normal primary/general scheme, there's no limit to the number of candidates in either phase, so you don't have to worry about spots being used up. You will certainly never have the case of the most popular party (or any party) being completely locked out of the general election in the normal scheme. – reirab Jul 22 at 16:55
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James' answer is correct in regards to the specific cases of Portland and Atlanta, but I think you'll find, in the more general case, that it's not at all unusual for either the Democratic party or the Republican party to not run a candidate in lots of different state and local-level elections in the U.S.

There are a few factors that make this especially likely to happen:

  • A reasonably-popular incumbent is running for re-election.
  • The electorate of the district in question skews heavily toward one major party or the other.
  • The office in question simply isn't an especially political one (e.g. school board, property assessor, road supervisor, local district judge, sheriff, etc.)
  • The position in question isn't a particularly powerful or prestigious one (doesn't apply to mayor of, say, Atlanta, but might apply to mayor of some tiny rural town in the middle of nowhere.)

Even in positions as powerful as member of the United States House of Representatives, it's not uncommon for a popular incumbent candidate in a district that skews heavily toward one party to run either completely unopposed or only nominally opposed.

When this happens in a more powerful/prestigious position, such as member of Congress, member of state legislature, mayor of medium/large city, etc., it's usually a matter of an electorate that skews heavily toward one party or the other. The party of a reasonably-popular incumbent has no desire to run anyone against them in a primary and the other party can't find anyone who wants to run in a general election they are sure to lose and for which they will receive essentially no financial support. Not many politicians want to waste their time and money being a sacrificial lamb in an election in which they have no chance.

This effect is certainly not unique to the Republican party, though it probably happens more often in the Republican party in the specific case of mayor of a large city simply because large cities tend to have heavily Democratic-leaning electorates. In the case of major of small or medium-sized towns, which tend to skew heavily toward Republican electorates, the trend is likely the opposite with the Democratic party being much more likely not to run a candidate.

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    "Even in positions as powerful as member of the United States House of Representatives..." Yep. The area that I live in has rarely had a Democratic challenger for the GOP held congressional seat, even across multiple redistricting events. – RBarryYoung Jul 22 at 14:46
  • @RBarryYoung Funnily enough, just in the last 10 years, my congressional district went from being held by a Democrat with few serious Republican challenges since the 1800s to being held by a Republican with no serious Democratic challenge. The first election that wasn't won by a Democrat since the 1920s (in 2010) was won approximately 3-to-1 by the GOP and the margins have been that much or more since then with some years being virtually or completely uncontested. – reirab Jul 22 at 16:15
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JamesK's answer is great.

I have run as a candidate and here are some other reasons a party may not run:

  • Money is limited, especially at local level. Generally money has to be raised at a local level. There may be higher priorities for those resources
  • Person-power is limited. There may be higher priorities for those resources
  • Someone can be seen as a 'serial candidate' if they run and lose too many times. This is less of an issue if the candidate holds office already (e.g. a local councillor nominating as mayor)
  • Being a candidate is crazy hard. Does someone really want to put all that effort into something that is unlikely to succeed
  • There may be strategic reasons. Especially with first-past-the-post voting a far left or far right group may drop out to support a centre left or centre right group that is likely to win. Outside the US multiparty is common and at local level issue groups (Save the Trees Party etc) can also act strategically to achieve their goals
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In the cases where they have won, it's a dead-end job.

It's been mentioned in other answers that voters in big cities often skew to the liberal end of the political spectrum. A Republican candidate pushing conservative policies has little chance of being elected by such a constituency. However, moderate (e.g. some aspects of Rudolph Giuliani) and liberal (e.g. Michael Bloomberg) Republicans can be competitive in big cities against Democrats, and have actually been elected mayors.

But they have a problem if they seek a higher office, such as governor or president. Higher offices expose the mayor to a more conservative electorate. The moderate/liberal track record needed as mayor now becomes an impediment. They are not welcome by other Republicans, nor does switching parties help.

Giuliani and Bloomberg both campaigned for President, and failed to gain support from either Republicans or Democrats.

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    This doesn't seem very convincing to me. Many people run for mayor with no thought of running for governor or president. Giuliani dropped out of the republican primary in 2008 not because he was losing to conservatives but because he came in third in Florida behind two other moderates. Bloomberg ran in the democratic primary in 2020, so it's not as though being mayor of NYC committed him to positions that were too liberal. He lost because of his history: supporting republican candidates over democrats; discrimination as an employer; misogyny and homophobia; and stop-and-frisk. – Ben Crowell Jul 22 at 22:49

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