Election 2023: Five key races to watch Tuesday

Tuesday is Election Day. It’s a sleeper in California: Only a few scattered races for school board and a handful of local issues are in play.

But in other parts of the United States, it’s a big deal. With exactly one year until the 2024 presidential election, high-stakes contests will be decided Tuesday in multiple states that could affect everything from abortion to voting rights. Several possible future presidential candidates will see their fortunes rise or fall. And there’s even a celebrity angle — voters in Mississippi will decide whether to elect Elvis Presley’s cousin as governor.

Here are five of the biggest races to watch as returns come in Tuesday night:

1) Abortion in Ohio

In a landmark decision last year, the conservative-controlled U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, which had guaranteed abortion rights nationwide. Many conservative states imposed strict limits soon afterward.

Since then, the issue has moved to the ballot box. Measures backed by abortion rights groups have won in election after election, even in states that former President Trump carried. Last year, voters in liberal-leaning California, Michigan and Vermont added abortion rights guarantees to their state constitutions. In three red states — Kansas, Kentucky and Montana — voters rejected efforts to roll back abortion access.

On Tuesday, voters will decide the fate of Issue 1, a ballot measure that would establish a right to abortion in the Ohio Constitution. Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Mike DeWine, have pushed for a ban after six weeks and oppose the measure. But Issue 1 leads in the polls.

“The Ohio election looms larger than anything else on Tuesday,” said Larry Gerston, a professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University. “This issue has been on the ballot in six states since the Dobbs decision, and voters have supported abortion rights in every one. That’s significant. Will that trend continue in Ohio? Or is this an issue that is slowly beginning to retreat?”

Democrats see abortion rights as critical to turning out women and younger voters in the 2024 race for president and control of Congress. Abortion-rights advocates are working to place initiatives on the ballot in several states next year, including key swing states Arizona and Nevada, along with Colorado, Florida, South Dakota and Nebraska.

2) Virginia Legislature

Two years ago, Republican Glenn Youngkin, a multi-millionaire businessman, defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe to win the governor’s race in Virginia, a blue state that President Biden carried by 10 points in 2020. Youngkin made crime and parents’ rights key issues to win independent and Democratic voters.

Some deep-pocketed Republican donors view Youngkin now as a possible replacement in 2024 for Trump, if Trump were to drop out, suffer health problems or be sentenced to prison.

How Youngkin’s party fares Tuesday will decide whether his momentum continues. Republicans control the Virginia House of Delegations by 52-48 seats, while Democrats hold a 22-18 majority in the state Senate. Democrats have blocked many of Youngkin’s initiatives, including a ban on abortion after 15 weeks. Youngkin has campaigned vigorously for Republicans to take full control of the Legislature on Tuesday.

“Youngkin is backed by Rupert Murdoch and a large number of billionaires,” said Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia. “Of course if Democrats hold even one house, the air will quickly go out of Youngkin’s trial balloon.”

3) Kentucky governor

This is another race with potential impacts for the White House. In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear, 45, is trying to win a second term as governor. Beshear, son of a previous Kentucky governor, narrowly won election four years ago in the Bluegrass state, which voted for Trump by 26 points.

If he can win re-election, Beshear’s buzz as a candidate for president will increase.

“If Beshear wins, he instantly will become part of the ’28 discussion,” David Axelrod, chief strategist of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, told Politico this week. “A young, charismatic Democrat who won twice in a deep red state? There will be a great deal of chatter.”

His opponent, Republican Daniel Cameron, 37, is the state’s attorney general. Cameron, who is Black, is closely allied with Sen. Mitch McConnell and Trump and is being mentioned as a potential candidate for president or to succeed McConnell in the Senate. Polls show Beshear with a narrow lead.

4) Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Nearly everyone who follows politics knows that Pennsylvania, with 19 electoral votes, is a critical swing state in presidential elections. On Tuesday, voters in the Keystone state will choose whether to place a Democrat or a Republican on the state Supreme Court.

Democrats currently have a 4-2 majority. If Democrat Daniel McCaffery prevails against Republican Carolyn Carluccio, that margin will grow to 5-2. If not, it will be 4-3. The court is expected to decide key cases, including mail-in voting, redistricting and election certification that could affect White House races in 2024, 2028 and beyond.

5) Mississippi governor

Tupelo native Elvis Presley died in 1977. But there’s another Presley making headlines in the Magnolia State: Brandon Presley. A public utilities commissioner, Presley, second cousin to the King of Rock and Roll, is looking to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

Presley, 46, aiming to become the state’s first Democratic governor since 1999, has campaigned on expanding Medicaid and cutting car registration fees. Reeves, who has among the lowest ratings of any governor in America after a series of financial scandals, says Presley is too liberal on crime and social issues.

Reeves has a slight lead in the polls. Voters will decide if Mississippi will remain ruby red, or if politically, it will be “all shook up” come Wednesday morning.

Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley speaks to reporters during a campaign stop on November 06, 2023, in Jackson, Mississippi. Presley continues campaigning across Mississippi ahead of Tuesday’s election. The state of Mississippi has not elected a Democrat to the governor’s office in more than 20 years. Presley, the Democratic challenger and public commissioner, is going up against Gov. Tate Reeves. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)