Voters are heading to the polls to decide critical races for governor as well as for state legislatures, judicial positions and ballot measures.
2023 isn’t just an off-year election — it’s an off-off-year election. But in several states, important races will be on the ballot Nov. 7.
Kentuckians will decide whether Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear wins a second term, while Mississippi is holding a surprisingly competitive race for governor. Both states will also hold contests for attorney general and secretary of state.
Virginia, meanwhile, has a high-stakes election to determine control of both the state Senate, which today is narrowly Democratic, and the state House, which is narrowly Republican. New Jersey will also be holding state legislative elections, although Democrats are favored to retain control in both chambers in the Garden State.
In Pennsylvania, voters will decide whether to extend the Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court to 5-2 or narrow it to 4-3.
In Ohio, measures to protect abortion access and permit recreational use of marijuana will be on the ballot, while Maine will be asking whether the state’s electricity utilities should be publicly owned.
Here’s a rundown of what’s on the ballot this year.
In Louisiana’s all-party primary for governor Oct. 14, Republican Jeff Landry crossed the 50% threshold, meaning he avoided a Nov. 18 runoff. We had rated this contest Safe Republican.
This leaves two 2023 gubernatorial races still to be decided. Both are more competitive than Louisiana’s.
In Kentucky, Beshear – the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear – faces Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a protege of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Despite Kentucky’s strong Republican leaning, Beshear has benefited from incumbency and strong approval ratings. He’s also painted Cameron as too conservative on abortion, even in a red state.
A late October poll for a conservative political action committee found Beshear up by 2 points, while a mid-October poll for Beshear’s campaign found the incumbent up by 8 points. We’ve rated this contest Lean Democratic.
Mississippi’s gubernatorial race, meanwhile, has continued to be closer than expected despite being run in one of the nation’s reddest states.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves faces Democrat Brandon Presley, an elected member of the state Public Service Commission (and a distant relative of Elvis Presley). Presley has hammered away at government corruption, advocated cutting the state’s grocery and car taxes, and said he would expand Medicaid, which Reeves has long fought.
A Democrat hasn’t won an election for Mississippi governor since 1999, and just four years ago, another seemingly strong Democratic challenger, long-serving Attorney General Jim Hood, lost to Reeves in an open-seat contest by 5 points.
However, a Democratic-sponsored mid-October poll by Public Policy Polling found Reeves up by only a point, and another Democratic poll by Impact Research found the same spread. This suggests a surprisingly close race. If no candidate surpasses 50%, a runoff will be held.
To win, Presley will have to energize Black voters to overcome Democrats’ structural disadvantages in heavily Republican Mississippi. But doing that is not out of the question. We’re shifting this race from our previous rating of Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
State Legislative Contests
Virginia is hosting high-stakes contests for both of its legislative chambers that could spell the difference between Republican hopes for enacting GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s conservative agenda and a continued defensive role for Democrats on policy in the state.
All 100 seats in the GOP-controlled House and all 40 in the Democratic-controlled Senate will be contested, though only a handful in each chamber are poised to be highly competitive. The contests will be held in freshly redrawn districts that prompted a flurry of incumbent retirements in both chambers.
To win Senate control, the GOP would need to flip two Democratic-held seats, while holding all of their own. That would force a 20-20 tie that would be broken by Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears.
In the House, the results in about eight highly competitive districts will likely determine who wins the majority. Republicans currently have a 52-48 majority in the chamber. Most of the competitive contests are in districts that Youngkin won in 2021 but that voted Democratic in U.S. House races the following year. They tend to be in suburban and exurban portions of Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads.
While a recent Washington Post-George Mason University poll found that Virginia voters approve of Youngkin’s job performance by a 54%-38% margin, the poll also found Democrats were concerned about allowing the GOP to take full legislative control, fearing the party would enact Youngkin’s proposal to ban abortion after 15 weeks. The poll found that among women, 70% said abortion was a “very important” issue, up from 47% in the 2019 legislative elections. Among men, the share saying that rose from 45% to 50%.
The survey also found that 48% of all voters see unified Republican control as a “bad thing” and 43% as a “good thing.” Other polls asking for voters’ generic partisan preferences in legislative races found slight advantages for the Democrats. This suggests that the battlefield is close, with any outcome possible.
In New Jersey, meanwhile, both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by the Democrats, as they have been for the better part of two decades. Democrats have a 25-15 edge in the Senate and a 46-34 lead in the Assembly. Democrats also control the governorship. incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy is not up for election this year.
Republicans see some signs that the political environment could produce gains for their party, such as the recent indictment of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, weak approval ratings for President Joe Biden, and a better-than-expected showing for the GOP in the 2021 gubernatorial election.
Still, New Jersey Republicans would need some excellent luck in swing districts to pull off a flip of either chamber.
State Supreme Court Races
The biggest judicial race of 2023 is for a state Supreme Court seat in Pennsylvania, which became vacant when Justice Max Baer died in September 2022.
In party primaries, Republicans nominated Carolyn Carluccio, who was first elected as a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in 2009, while Democrats nominated Daniel McCaffery, who was elected in 2019 to Superior Court, an appeals court.
Democrats have had a majority on the Supreme Court since they won three open seats in 2015, and that edge has helped the party in overturning GOP-leaning district maps and rejecting Donald Trump-aligned challenges to how the 2020 election was run in the state. As is the case in Virginia, abortion could be a motivating factor that benefits Democrats.
Since Democrats currently have a 4-2 edge on the court, losing the race this year wouldn’t immediately flip partisan control to the GOP. But it could make the court easier to flip Republican during the next couple years.
Voters in several states will face major ballot measures this year, notably in Ohio and Maine.
In Ohio, voters will consider the highest profile measure this year: Ohio Issue 1, which would establish a state constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” while allowing the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability, as was the case under Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court overturned it in 2022. The Republican and Democratic parties are on opposite sides of Issue 1.
In August, Ohio voters rejected a measure that would have raised the threshold for passage of ballot measures to 60%. It was rejected by a 57%-43% margin. That was a victory for abortion-rights advocates, because it meant the November abortion measure can pass with just a simple majority. Despite Ohio’s increasingly Republican leaning, the measure is expected to pass the 50% threshold.
Ohio voters will also consider Ohio Issue 2, which would permit the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and over, allowing cultivation (including at home) as well as processing, sale, purchase and possession. Sales would be taxed at 10%.
The marijuana measure is less certain to pass than the abortion measure, but it stands a reasonable chance of winning.
In Maine, voters will consider Question 3, which would turn two existing for-profit electric providers in Maine into a single, publicly owned utility called Pine Tree Power. The idea’s supporters, including independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the Sierra Club, argue that a publicly owned utility would help reduce rates, improve customer service and heighten grid reliability.
However, the state’s AFL-CIO and the state Chamber of Commerce both oppose the measure, arguing that the acquisition cost could reach $13.5 billion, putting Pine Tree Power in a debt hole from day one. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills also vetoed a similar plan.
Question 3 could go either way on Election Day, experts say. So could a related measure, Question 1, which would require voter approval for certain state entities, including utilities, to incur more than $1 billion in debt. Question 1 is effectively a countermeasure backed by Avangrid Inc., the parent of one of the privately owned utilities.
Maine voters will also consider Question 4, which would confirm that vehicle owners and independent car repair shops can access information, tools and software to repair vehicles, something critics say are sometimes hoarded by auto manufacturers. Massachusetts voters approved a similar law in 2012 and a related measure in 2020.
Meanwhile, voters in Texas are expected to approve Proposition 14 ($1 billion for state parks), Proposition 6 ($1 billion for water infrastructure) and Proposition 8 ($1.5 billion for broadband).
The gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi are competitive, but the attorney general races are less so.
In Kentucky, voters will fill the open seat created when Cameron decided to run for governor.
The favorite is GOP nominee Russell Coleman, who served as legal counsel to McConnell and was appointed by Trump to serve as U.S. attorney for Kentucky’s western district.
His opponent, Democrat Pamela Stevenson, serves in the state House and spent 27 years in the Air Force, including extensive legal experience as a judge advocate general.
Coleman’s party affiliation, his background in rural Kentucky, and his tough-on-crime approach make him the favorite.
In Mississippi, Republican Lynn Fitch is seeking a second term against Greta Kemp Martin, the litigation director of Disability Rights Mississippi. Fitch is the clear favorite.
Meanwhile, Louisiana will hold its runoff for attorney general on Nov. 18.
Solicitor General Liz Murrill, the top deputy to Landry, Louisiana’s incoming governor, easily won one of the two runoff slots for attorney general, taking 45% of the all-party primary vote. She was the most conservative candidate in the race as well as the best funded.
Democratic attorney Lindsey Cheek won the other runoff slot by taking 23% of the all-party primary vote. In deeply red Louisiana, Murrill is a prohibitive favorite in the runoff.
Secretary of State
Kentucky and Mississippi also have secretary of state contests this year.
In Kentucky, Republican incumbent Michael Adams negotiated bipartisan electoral reforms with Beshear, a Democrat, which has given him some crossover appeal. Democratic nominee Buddy Wheatley, a former state representative, is considered a credible candidate. Still, incumbency and the state’s red tint should help Adams.
In Mississippi, Republican incumbent Michael Watson is seeking a second term and should easily defeat Democrat Ty Pinkins. Pinkins, an attorney and Iraq War veteran, replaced the original Democratic nominee, Shuwaski Young, after Young dropped out for health reasons.
And Louisiana has a Nov. 18 runoff to fill the seat of Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who decided to retire, citing the “pervasive lies” of election deniers. Former state Rep. Nancy Landry, who has worked in Ardoin’s office for four years (and who is not related to the incoming governor), finished first in the all-party primary, though only narrowly. Landry won a bit over 19%, ahead of four other Republicans who each won between 6% and 18% of the vote.
She will face Democratic attorney, accountant, and small business owner Gwen Collins-Greenup, who finished second in the primary.
Observers expect the GOP vote to consolidate in the runoff. Collins-Greenup has previously run twice for secretary of state, losing to Ardoin both times with 41% of the vote. A similar result is expected this year.