Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots in elections across the country set to be key tests ahead of 2024.
As presidential candidates campaign for next year’s high-profile race, there are consequential contests for statewide and local offices on the ballot in 2023 — and the results could provide insights heading into next year.
Here are five questions to consider as Tuesday’s election gets underway:
Can Democrats win in Trump country?
In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is fighting for reelection in a red state that voted reliably for former President Trump in both 2016 and 2020.
Beshear scored an upset in the Bluegrass State back in 2019, beating then-Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and flipping the conservative state’s gubernatorial seat blue. Now, Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron is challenging Beshear to take control of the governor’s mansion for the GOP.
Eyes will be on the gubernatorial races in both Kentucky and Mississippi — another ruby-red state, where a Democrat challenger has stayed competitive against the incumbent Republican governor.
Both are expected to be serious contests that could give insights into how Democrats can fare in “Trump country” states in the South and elsewhere.
“It’s really all eyes on Kentucky tomorrow,” said Democratic strategist Jon Reinish, pointing to the possibility for either candidate to become a more prominent rising star in their respective parties should they take home the win.
More Election coverage
- Ohio’s Issue 1 abortion access ballot measure: Live results
- Election Day 2023 live updates: First polls close in Kentucky
- Ohio’s Issue 2 marijuana legalization initiative: Live results
- 5 predictions for Election Day 2023
Is abortion still resonating as an issue?
A ballot measure in Ohio is gaining national attention, raising the question of whether reproductive rights is still resonating as a top issue for voters heading into 2024.
Issue 1 would amend the Buckeye State’s constitution to establish abortion protections. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer, Ohio came into the national spotlight when a 10-year-old girl traveled out of the state to receive an abortion after she was denied the service in Ohio.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) called Issue 1 a “radical proposal,” while Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for reelection next year, has argued that it will “guarantee that Ohio women are in charge of their health care decisions.”
The Ohio effort is seen as a possible bellwether for the issue of abortion in next year’s elections. Next November will be more than two years after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, and Democrats have signaled they still see the issue as key to stoking voter energy in 2024.
The Issue 1 vote will test whether that’s the case — and may hint at how successful similar efforts could be in other states going forward.
“This is probably the most indicative barometer of where everyone is heading into 2024,” Reinish said of Ohio’s effort.
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said Ohio’s results “may tell us more about Ohio than it does about national” sentiments on abortion — but noted that if the effort is successful, Brown could make it a big focus in his 2024 reelection bid.
Are there any major upsets?
With wife Elee Reeves at his side, Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves addresses reporters in Jackson, Miss., after winning the party primary Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Reeves defeated two challengers for the party nomination. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Democrats are looking to flip the governor’s seat in ruby-red Mississippi next week, one of the closely watched opportunities for a possible 2023 upset.
In what experts are eyeing as a possibly close race in the Magnolia State, a conservative stronghold that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in 20 years, challenger Brandon Presley is vying to unseat Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.
Democrats have pointed to the incumbent’s relative unpopularity and ties to a welfare funds scandal in the state as possible weaknesses as Mississippians head to the polls.
Though analysts suggest the incumbent still has the advantage in the match-up, Presley — a distant cousin of Elvis Presley — has put up a competitive fight. The nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report shifted its assessment of the Mississippi gubernatorial race last week from “likely” to “lean” Republican.
“It’s a continued test case of the South,” Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said of gubernatorial contests in Mississippi and Kentucky.
And over in solidly blue New Jersey, Republicans are aiming to win control of one or both chambers of its state Legislature and take advantage of what some see as their best opportunity to do so in years.
Democrats have controlled the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly for the last two decades, and strategists suggest the GOP’s chances of taking the majority in either body is slim — but Republicans are pointing to recent close races in the Garden State as reason for optimism Tuesday.
Even if challengers don’t succeed in flipping the seats they’re after in Mississippi and New Jersey, competitive finishes could provide insights and optimism for them heading into 2024.
What is turnout like?
FILE: A “Vote Here” sign marks the entrance to an early voting station. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)
Tuesday is an off-year election, wedged between last year’s midterms and next year’s presidential race. Elections held in these off-year windows typically see lower voter turnout than elections that get more national attention — though key contests are on the ballot in a number of states.
The 2020 presidential election saw the highest turnout rate in more than a century, according to the United States Elections Project — while the 2022 midterms saw the second-highest turnout of a nonpresidential election year since 2000, according to U.S. Census data.
But off-year elections tend to see lower numbers, due in part to factors like voter fatigue and a lack of awareness about local races, according to analysis from Noble Predictive Insights.
This year, Ohio has already seen a surge in early voter turnout, driven in part by Issue 1. Also on the ballot is Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.
In Virginia, where Republicans and Democrats are battling for control of the state Legislature, data from the Virginia Public Access Project shows almost 770,000 Virginians had cast their ballots as of Nov. 5.
That figure’s significantly below the nearly 1.2 million that cast their ballots early before the off-year election in 2021, according to the data.
In Kentucky, where the Democratic governor is defending his seat in a competitive gubernatorial race, turnout could make a difference in who takes the governor’s mansion, according to a report from Louisville Public Media.
“How cities turn out and how they vote, and how the suburbs turn out and how they vote — that’s going to be incredibly indicative looking into 2024,” Reinish said.
What does the election tell us about 2024?
Former US President Donald Trump leaves for a break at New York Supreme Court during his civil fraud trial on November 6, 2023 in New York City. The 77-year-old once and potentially future president is expected to testify at his civil trial in which he stands accused of fraudulently inflating those famous assets to advance his real estate empire. (Photo by Adam GRAY / AFP) (Photo by ADAM GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)
Some are looking at Tuesday’s off-year Election Day as an opportunity to glean insights about next year’s presidential election.
The 2024 presidential race is gearing up to be a possible rematch between President Biden and former President Trump. All of the seats in the U.S. House and more than two dozen seats in the U.S. Senate will also be on the ballot, plus a slew of other state and local positions nationwide.
How Democrats fare in the Mississippi and Kentucky gubernatorial races, how party control splits in Virginia and how voters show up on Issue 1 in Ohio could all give clues about the national mood, party strength and key issues headed into the 2024 elections.
“I think Virginia is the most interesting, because it’s a quintessential battleground state. And so, if you’re going to look towards 2024, seeing what worked and didn’t work in Virginia, what reaction there was or wasn’t in Virginia … is probably the best lesson both parties are going to have,” GOP strategist Saul Anuzis said.
Reinish pointed to whether Presley’s messaging on economic issues plays well in Mississippi as a possible indicator of whether “Democrats will take that as a confirmation to focus like lasers on jobs, the economy [and] cutting taxes” moving forward.
Mackowiak cautioned that Tuesday’s results may give more insights about local and state-specific dynamics than hints about national trends as 2024 approaches.
“I think we want to be a little careful not to overinterpret them and apply to next year,” he said of the results. But if one side or the other sees an “overwhelmingly good night” Tuesday, he said, “it could certainly bring some momentum” for that party.
Seawright said he’s keeping an eye on school board and other local races that have flown under-the-radar, “because I think those things will have a wide-camera view into where the hearts and minds of everyday people are in their communities.”
He also warned against linking the 2023 results to how Biden is doing or how he could do in 2024 — though he did say that Tuesday’s elections will give both parties “a clear indication of where work has to be done.”