While the 2023 elections are absent of presidential or congressional races, several states are holding key contests that could decide which party controls state governments and ultimately shape the 2024 election.
Many states have different elections happening at once. Six states are holding referendums, four states have legislative elections — two of those four also have gubernatorial contests — and one state is holding a Supreme Court race. The most high-profile races are Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, Ohio’s abortion ballot measure, Virginia’s General Assembly race, and Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court race.
Each race has significant implications for whose party controls the state, particularly in Virginia, where all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for reelection and each party is looking to flip the other’s chamber. In Kentucky, there is a fierce battle between the Democratic incumbent and the Republican attorney general for the governor’s mansion. Abortion also lies at the center of most 2023 races, indicating how voters will swing in the 2024 election.
Here are the top four states to watch for elections on Tuesday.
In Virginia, Republicans are trying to hold the House and flip the Senate, which would be a key legislative win for Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), who has faced roadblocks pushing a conservative agenda through the General Assembly due to the divided trifecta.
Control of the House will be decided primarily by 10 close races, where districts won by President Joe Biden in 2020 were either lost or nearly lost by former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in his 2021 faceoff with Youngkin. Of the 10 close races, seven are open seats, two have Republican incumbents, and one has a Democratic incumbent. In the Senate, two of the six close contests have incumbents running, one from each party.
Republicans in Virginia have been making a concerted push for voters to turn out in the traditionally low-enthusiasm off-year elections, particularly this year as Youngkin’s approval rating and legislative record continue to bolster him for a possible shot at the White House in the coming years. Virginia Democrats have even campaigned off their ability to work with the Republican governor in their 2023 ads and avoided pinning him to state Republicans the way national Democrats tie national Republicans to former President Donald Trump.
Money is pouring into Virgnia’s election from within the state and across the nation. Four Democrats running in battleground state Senate districts received a heavy out-of-state donation for their races just six days before the 2023 election from a nonprofit group backed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL).
Abortion has taken center stage in Virginia’s 2023 elections. Youngkin has pledged to sign an abortion limit at 15 weeks of gestation if Republicans take the legislature. Democrats, meanwhile, have made abortion a focal point in their campaign messaging in the state, spending major money on ad campaigns blasting the GOP’s plans as “extreme” and “terrifying.”
Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to vote in favor or against Ohio Issue 1, which would enshrine the right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including but not limited to contraception, fertility treatments, miscarriage care, and abortions.
The direct amendment will not appear on the ballot, as Ohio law requires a summary of the citizen-initiated amendments or statutes that will appear on the ballot.
The summary of the amendment, written by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, replaces medical terms “zygote” and “fetus” with “unborn child” multiple times. Abortion rights activists filed a lawsuit against this language, but the state Supreme Court ruled against it and allowed it to proceed.
Anti-abortion advocates were dealt a loss in August after Ohioans turned out in record numbers to kill an initiative that would have required a 60% vote threshold rather than the simple majority standard to pass state constitutional amendments.
Populist-leaning Republicans, who proved to be the decisive vote against tightening rules to amend the constitution, will most likely again be the deciding factor in November regarding the vote solely on abortion.
Groups who are in opposition to Issue 1 have painted the measure as the framework for advocacy for several abortion amendments expected to arrive in the 2024 election season. Abortion rights advocates in several states, including Florida, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, are working to meet the thresholds required to have abortion rights amendments appear on the ballot next cycle.
The most high-profile governor’s race on Tuesday is between incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Beshear is the nation’s most popular Democratic governor, and he will face off against Cameron, who has national Republican endorsements on his side after receiving one from Trump and one from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), among others.
The Kentucky governor has maintained a slight lead in the polls over Cameron, and he is used to beating the odds. Four years ago, Beshear defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin 49.2% to 48.8% in a state Trump won by 26 points. Since then, Beshear has remained popular in the state and holds a cash advantage over Cameron, raising $17.3 million for this election cycle as of mid-September.
Cameron campaigned heavily on tying Beshear to President Joe Biden and left-leaning policy stances on crime, COVID-19, and the intersection between LGBT rights and education and sports. He was the first black attorney general elected in Kentucky in 2019 and focused his time as lead prosecutor of the commonwealth pushing to block several Biden initiatives, including environmental, social, and governance policies and allowing biological men to compete in women’s sports.
Despite the state heavily leaning red, there have only been three Republicans elected governor of the Bluegrass State since 1947.
The outcome of the state Supreme Court race in Pennsylvania could be one of the most influential when it comes to the 2024 election.
Currently, Democrats hold a 4-3 majority in the high court. On Tuesday, Carolyn Carluccio, a Republican, will face off against Democratic opponent Daniel McCaffery to replace the late Democratic Justice Max Baer for a 10-year term. If Carluccio wins the election, it will give Republicans one more vote in favor of right-leaning policies.
Like several others, abortion is at the center of this state Supreme Court race, particularly after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022. Carluccio has expressed anti-abortion sentiments, while McCaffery has been vocal about his support for abortion rights.
A win from Carluccio would be twofold. On one hand, it would signal Pennsylvania Republicans’ departure from far-right policy stances, especially after Carluccio defeated hard-line conservative candidate Patricia McCullough in the May primary.
Her victory would also give conservatives an edge in important voting cases, as Democratic judges have recently sided with conservative justices in some instances, which could have significant implications in 2024. A win from McCaffery, on the other hand, would increase the Democratic majority and cement certain voting rights rulings in the future.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court race has been built largely on TV advertising, particularly after an October poll found that seven in 10 registered voters did not know enough about McCaffery or Carluccio to form an opinion.