The 2024 presidential election is already heating up. But before Iowa Republicans start lining up to caucus in January, voters across the country will send some major signals about what to expect in 2024 in a bevy of state and local elections.
There’s a lot of time for polling numbers and fundamentals to shift before November 2024. But who turns out to vote, which issues get big play and especially who voters pick in the biggest elections of 2023 could tell us a lot about the political state of the nation heading into next year.
Here’s a rundown of what to watch for in the next few months as voters in several states select governors and state legislators, and cast ballots in a few important but more esoteric contests, too.
Kentucky governor’s race
Gov. Andy Beshear is a rare Democrat still prospering in an ever-redder state.
The odds seem to be in his favor as he faces Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who won a bruising primary in May with Donald Trump’s endorsement.
A July poll found Beshear up 10 points over Cameron, but the final result is expected to be close in November: Beshear won his first term in 2019 by just 0.4 percentage points before Trump carried the state by 25 points in 2020.
The race is a test of Democratic popularity in a tough state. Are voters willing (and happy enough with the economy) to stick with a governor they like, even with a “D” next to his name? Or is the combination of deep-red turf and a volatile political environment, plus an unpopular Democrat in the White House, too much for the incumbent to handle?
Virginia legislative elections
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s potential national ambitions are getting a lot of media attention, but they are closely linked to the state elections taking place this fall, halfway through Youngkin’s term.
Republicans are hoping to protect their majority in the state House and flip the Democratic-controlled state Senate, which would open up room for Youngkin and Republicans to pass their legislative agenda in a state that had been trending left for more than a decade.
Youngkin has been campaigning around the state on his support for conservative measures, including forcing guidance on K-12 schools that limits protections for trans students and, perhaps most notably, supporting a 15-week abortion ban.
Yet Democrats hope to capitalize on opposition to Youngkin’s abortion stance to energize their base and win votes from independents. Virginia is the last state in the South that doesn’t have significant restrictions on abortion, a position Democrats vow to protect.
The race will test how powerful abortion remains as a political issue, after backlash to the overturning of Roe v. Wade helped Democrats pull out key wins in the 2022 midterms. Both parties will be watching how candidates talk about abortion and what appeals to voters as they look toward 2024.
Ohio abortion amendment election
The Ohio electorate will vote in November on an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution — another election that will test the power of one of the top issues in national politics, and a key force in the upcoming presidential race.
But the amendment’s path to the ballot box has already jumped some hurdles and is set to encounter a few more.
Republicans in the state — including Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is running for Senate — have sought to make it harder for the amendment to pass.
First, a Republican-backed measure to raise the threshold for passing a constitutional amendment from a simple majority to more than 60% failed in an August special election, keeping the threshold for the abortion amendment at 50% plus one.
Then, the Ohio Ballot Board, led by LaRose, approved the language that voters will see on their ballots in November, which is different from the language in the actual amendment.
The actual proposed amendment seeks to enshrine the right to abortion but also says that “abortion may be prohibited after fetal viability.” The language approved for the ballot, however, uses the term “unborn child” and says the proposed amendment would “always allow an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability if, in the treating physician’s determination, the abortion is necessary to protect the pregnant woman’s life or health,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Pro-abortion rights groups backing the amendment filed a lawsuit last week asking for the language from the actual amendment to be used on the ballot, rather than the language passed by the ballot board.
The loss of August’s special election was tough for LaRose, who is hoping that a win for the GOP on abortion could propel him to a victory in the Senate primary. If he loses, it could set him back, not just among voters but also with former President Donald Trump, who hasn’t yet endorsed anyone in that race.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court race
Following the death of state Chief Justice Max Baer, Pennsylvanians will decide who to send to the state Supreme Court to replace him.
The outcome of the race will not change control of the court, which is made up of four Democrats and two Republicans, with one seat vacant. But the race is the last statewide general election in this battleground state before next year’s presidential and Senate contests. A win for Carluccio could energize Republicans and spook Democrats. Biden almost certainly needs to win Pennsylvania next year to take back the White House.
Republican Carolyn Carluccio is a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Her opponent, Democrat Daniel McCaffery, is a Superior Court judge.
Mississippi governor’s race
Another incumbent governor seeking re-election this year is Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves, who has come under fire after news of a welfare fraud scandal rocked the state during his administration.
Investigations into the fraud scandal found that at least $77 million in federal funds intended for poor families was misused or misdirected, sometimes given to wealthy, politically-connected families instead, according to Mississippi Today.
Reeves’ opponent, Democratic Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, has hammered Reeves on the issue in TV ads.
But Reeves has denied any previous knowledge of or involvement in the scandal. And a Mississippi Today/Siena College poll released on Friday found Reeves leading Presley by 11 points.
Louisiana governor’s race
Voters in the Pelican State will head to the polls Oct. 14 to cast a vote in the governor’s race. If no one wins a majority of votes that day, a runoff will take place Nov. 18.
Ten candidates have qualified for the October election in which candidates from all parties compete on the same ballot to replace term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.
State Attorney General Jeff Landry, a former member of Congress, leads the Republican pack and has earned endorsements from Trump and Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy.
Other Republicans running include state Treasurer John Schroder, business leader Stephen Waguespack and state Rep. Richard Nelson.
The leading Democratic candidate is former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson. Wilson touts endorsements from Edwards (the outgoing governor) and Democratic U.S. Rep. Troy Carter.
Like Mississippi, Democrats face a major uphill battle to make Louisiana races close these days. But it’s worth watching how successfully the party can mobilize its base of Black voters in both states, as well as what arguments Republicans mobilize to keep the potential swing voters who elected Edwards from crossing over again.