2023 election races to watch Tuesday


(NewsNation) — Hundreds of races will be taking place across the country on Tuesday as another Election Day nears. A few of these races have gained national attention, as they could be a clue to what Americans can expect for next year’s presidential race.

The most-watched races in Tuesday’s off-year general election have all been dominated by the ongoing debate over abortion rights.

Here’s a list of races to keep an eye on, and what they could mean for the 2024 presidential election:

Ohio State Issue 1: Abortion

Abortion is on the ballot Tuesday in Ohio, where voters will decide whether to enshrine protections into the state constitution.

If passed, the amendment, on the ballot as State Issue 1, would grant a constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions” about abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, continuing pregnancy and miscarriage care.

Abortions would only be allowed up through “fetal viability,” defined as when the fetus has a “significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures.” There are, however, exceptions if a physician determines a post-viability abortion is necessary “to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

For Ohioans, this is the second time this year abortion will be a motivating factor at the polls. Voters in August rejected a constitutional amendment that would have raised the threshold for such measures to pass from a simple majority to 60% support.

Democrats largely opposed the August measure, labeling it an attempt to block future attempts at abortion protections. Its failure means Tuesday’s abortion measure will still only need a simple majority to pass.

Former President Donald Trump won the state of Ohio during the last presidential election, but this vote comes after Roe V. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court last year.

“Let’s say Issue 1 passes and goes into our constitution. I don’t think there’s been a time in Ohio’s history when a provision has gone into the Ohio constitution by referendum like this,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said.

Following the special election, both sides have been campaigning tirelessly, including an ad recorded by DeWine and his wife urging Ohioans to vote against Issue 1.

The measure has already driven a surge in early voter turnout. Groups supporting and opposing the initiative have held rallies and enlisted political leaders and celebrities in recent weeks to draw attention to the race.

Ohio State Issue 2: Marijuana

A second question on Ohio’s November ballot asks whether Ohioans want to legalize recreational marijuana. If passed, it would make Ohio the 24th state to legalize cannabis for adult use.

Legalizing recreational marijuana in Ohio would generate tax revenue to fund the “largest investment in the state’s history” dedicated to criminal justice and bail reform.

Passage of Issue 2 on Nov. 7 to allow adult-use cannabis would not, however, automatically erase the criminal records of those previously charged with marijuana offenses.

Still, the initiated statute would use 36% of tax revenue to launch a social equity and jobs program dedicated to sentencing, bail and parole reform, along with record-sealing and expungement efforts.

Unlike the abortion rights amendment, Issue 2 will appear as an initiated statute — giving state lawmakers the final word. The governor does not have the authority to veto a proposal made law via the ballot, according to the Ohio Constitution, but legislators can still propose and pass modifications to the new law after the election.

Mississippi governor’s race

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ bid for a second term will be at the top of the state’s Tuesday ballot as he faces a significant challenge from Democrat Brandon Presley.

Reeves was first elected in 2019 after serving two terms as lieutenant governor. He won with 52% of the vote, a surprisingly small margin in what is considered a Republican-held state.

Presley is a state utility regulator and cousin of rock ’n’ roll legend Elvis Presley.

Trump also won big in Mississippi in 2020, and no Democrat has been elected governor since 1999. However, the incumbent is facing a popularity problem with no widespread cross-partisan support.

This is also the first time in several election cycles that a Democratic candidate is neck-and-neck with the incumbent Republican in terms of campaign spending. Together, Reeves and Presley have spent over $10 million to date.

Despite their stark differences, Reeves and Presley both support the state’s sweeping abortion ban, leaving some Democratic voters torn over whether to vote for a “pro-life” candidate.

Meanwhile, due to a recent change to the state constitution, candidates must win a majority vote in the general election to avoid a runoff, which could happen this year because of independent candidate Gwendolyn Gray. Gray dropped out of the race and endorsed Presley in October, but announced it too late to be removed from the ballot.

Kentucky governor’s race

Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is running for a second term against Republican candidate and state’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron, highlighting whether abortion restrictions in the state will affect the political landscape.

The race will demonstrate public sentiment toward a Democratic governor running in a Republican state while advancing President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Beshear is campaigning on abortion rights, economy and infrastructure while distancing himself from Biden, who has struggled in the latest opinion polling. 

After the June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, Kentucky prohibited most abortions. And last November, voters rejected an attempt to add an abortion prohibition to the state’s constitution.

Beshear criticized Cameron for his anti-abortion position and condemned Kentucky Republicans for passing the abortion ban. He has been running ads featuring a woman who shares her story of being sexually assaulted by her stepfather when she was 12 years old.

The top topics in Camoron’s TV ads are crime, opposition to Biden, Cameron’s endorsement from former President Donald Trump, opposition to LGBTQ rights, and jobs. 

Kentucky’s track record of electing governors has predicted the outcome of presidential elections a year later. 

This race is one of the two Democratic-held governorships up for election in 2023, even though Trump won the state in the 2020 presidential election. 

Both candidates have previously served as the state’s Attorney General. Beshear held the position from 2016 to 2019, followed by Cameron. 

If Cameron wins, he will become Kentucky’s first Black American governor. 

However, Beshear continues to receive high approval ratings and could be a glimpse into what Biden can expect in Kentucky next year.

Virginia state legislature

In Virginia, every seat in the state’s House and Senate will be up for grabs.

Democrats are fighting to keep control of the Senate and hoping to gain seats in the House as all of the seats in the General Assembly are up for election.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican with two more years left in his term, has made gaining a Republican majority a major goal since he is barred from serving a second consecutive term. Money has poured into the state, with Republicans outspending Democrats as of late September.

However, Virginia has voted Democrat in the last four presidential races.

Fifteen competitive races could determine who gets the majority, with the Democrats needing to pick up three of the competitive Senate seats and five of the competitive House seats to gain control.

Redrawn districts are also shaking up the races, with a number of previously serving legislators retiring rather than attempting to compete in a new district.

Some Democrats have stressed that the future of abortion access in Virginia could be at stake. Parental rights and schools also continue to be hot-button issues after COVID-19 closures and curriculum decisions became big issues.

A detailed list of each race can be found here.

Indianapolis mayoral race

Republican multimillionaire businessman Jefferson Shreve is challenging the Democratic incumbent in the Indianapolis mayoral race, which is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in the nation.

Shreve’s campaign took a turn over the summer when the former city-county councilor rolled out a gun control plan that closely resembled his Democratic opponent Joe Hogsett’s plan — raising the firearm purchase age to 21, ending permit-less carry and banning assault weapons across the city.

The move defied the National Rifle Association, which called his change of heart “truly pathetic,” according to Politico. Shreve earned the NRA’s backing in 2016 during an unsuccessful Senate run.

While Indianapolis traditionally votes blue, it has a history of electing pragmatic GOP mayors, including Dick Lugar, William Hudnut, Stephen Goldsmith and Greg Ballard, who opposed Mike Pence’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and marched in the city’s Pride parade.

If successful, Shreve’s pivot on gun legislation could set a precedent for Republican candidates in urban areas, according to Paul Helmke, the former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Houston mayoral race

The Houston mayoral election has a crowded field, with 18 candidates looking to address crime, infrastructure, budget shortfalls and affordable housing.

Houston, with a population of 2.3 million, is the most populous city in Texas and the most diverse city in the United States. While it leans Democratic, the mayor’s office is nonpartisan.

Some Democrats worry this race is about more than just picking a new mayor.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a new law clearing the way for the state to control elections in Houston if it determines there has been any tampering. Voting rights groups are concerned that Republicans might use any problems in the upcoming election to take control in 2024. 

There’s also a law that limits what city officials can do, and Houston officials are suing over it. They made Harris County, which includes Houston, change how it handles elections. 

The top candidates are two long-time Democrats: U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire. They’re trying to follow the current mayor, Sylvester Turner, who can’t run again due to term limits. 

A recent poll shows Whitmire leading Jackson Lee by a few percentage points, but a lot of voters are still undecided. In the latest survey, Whitmire led Jackson Lee 34% to 31%, within the margin of error. All other candidates combined got 12%. 

With such a crowded field, it is hard to predict any candidate will get more than 50 percent of the vote to win without a runoff. 

The Associated Press, NewsNation affiliate WCMH, Stephanie White, Damita Menezes and Urja Sinha contributed to this report.

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