A handful of states are holding important elections today — some of which have gotten a bit of media attention, others which are flying under the radar. Here’s what to watch, and, if you’re in any of these states or know people who are, here’s what to look for at the ballot box:
This summer, Ohio Republicans tried to change the rules so that it would take a 60 percent threshold to amend the constitution because a measure to enshrine abortion rights was polling in the high 50s. That effort failed, meaning abortion access — which is on the ballot today — only needs a bare majority, and it should win comfortably. Pot legalization and regulation is also on the ballot and expected to prevail.
The Pine Tree State will vote on a ballot measure that would seize control of the two state utility monopolies and combine them into the publicly owned Pine Tree Power, which would be operated by an elected board. “By Mainers, for Mainers,” as their slogan goes. Advocates are promising lower prices, fewer outages, and local control. The measure has been endorsed by major environmental groups, which see it as part of a just transition to a clean energy future.
The unknown is just how scared voters are of the unknown. Will they stick with the status quo, which nobody really likes, or seize the moment? That depends on whether the public still believes in its democratic, collective ability to do big things together. The spending against the proposal has predictably been massive, and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is against it, so it’s not looking good, but not impossible either.
Republican Tate Reeves, the flush-faced fella from Mississippi who people love to say looks just like me, is facing a robust challenge from Democrat Brandon Presley, who’s most famous for being Elvis’s cousin. The non-Elvis Presley has been repeatedly elected to the state’s Public Services Commission from a Republican district and was also a popular mayor. If anybody can beat a Republican in Mississippi, it’s this Presley — but it might be that nobody can beat a Republican. Some polls have it close, others have my doppelganger comfortably ahead.
The House and Senate are both up for grabs. If Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin wins a trifecta, not only does he become a major White House threat, but he’ll also have the opportunity to do an enormous amount of culture war legislating — including passing abortion restrictions — along with traditional Republican stuff like cutting taxes on businesses and the wealthy.
The most interesting individual race to watch is Democrat Susanna Gibson running in the 57th House district representing the Richmond suburbs. She’s the one caught up in a scandal: Republican operatives discovered she was doing sex on camera with her husband and streaming it on the website Chaturbate, and they fed the dirt to the Washington Post. The Post hilariously (and erroneously) dinged her for violating the website’s terms of service. (She didn’t, if that’s the part that had you bothered.) Democrats have largely stopped funding her campaign, but the race asks a question I can’t wait to learn the answer to: Do voters care about this more than they care about abortion rights? After all, it’s consensual adult behavior, nobody got hurt, nobody was watching who didn’t want to. And for those with traditional values, hey, it was even with her husband. What’s the problem?
If Gibson prevails, look for Democrats to win both chambers. That makes her race the one to watch — and you don’t even have to pay. (Tips are of course accepted.)
A state Supreme Court election on Tuesday could narrow Democrats’ majority ahead of a critical year for issues from abortion to election integrity. Spending on the election has topped $17 million, with committees tied to Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass pouring money in to back Republican candidate Carolyn Carluccio. With the state party in disarray, Democrats are betting that Superior Court Judge Dan McCaffery’s support for abortion rights will be enough to win the race. But expectations of low turnout, particularly in Philadelphia, amplified by growing frustration with President Joe Biden, have the party on edge.
Pittsburgh voters in Allegheny County will have a say in the latest battle between reformers and “tough-on-crime” prosecutors. Matt Dugan, the county’s former chief public defender, beat 25-year incumbent, Stephen A. Zappala Jr., by 11 percentage points in the May primary and became the Democratic nominee for county district attorney. Zappala switched parties so that he could face Dugan again on Tuesday, gathering enough write-in-votes to become the GOP nominee in the race.
In 2018, Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, with the support of the Democratic Socialists of America, unseated two incumbent cousins in the Pennsylvania state house, Dom and Paul Costa — shocking upsets that flowed from the same current that lifted the Squad to federal office that year. Lee won election to Congress in 2022, and this year, Innamorato won the Democratic nomination for Allegheny County executive, the most powerful position in western Pennsylvania, with control over a budget in the billions, plus oversight of local elections. Given the partisan lean of the area, there generally isn’t a competitive general election. In fact, after beating her Costa in 2018, Innamorato ran unopposed in the general election (aside from a write-in campaign by Costa).
This year is different. Republicans have nominated Joe Rockey — heavily backed by the aforementioned Yass — a former banker running as an old-school moderate, pro-business Republican. The county executive has very little say over abortion policy and zero over Gaza, but Innamorato is hammering Rockey on abortion and Rockey is hitting her back on Israel–Palestine. Innamorato left the DSA in 2019 (Lee left in 2018), but Rockey has hammered her for the connection, demanding she condemn both Hamas (which she did) and DSA for not sufficiently condemning Hamas (which she also did).
She also distanced herself again from the DSA. “I haven’t been affiliated with the DSA since 2019,” she noted. “I urge my opponent to stay focused on who is actually being harmed in the conflict in Israel and Gaza instead of trying to score cheap political points off of people’s pain.”
If Innamorato loses, it’ll be seen as a rebuke to the left, and a warning shot fired at Lee, and it’ll position Rockey as a credible threat for governor or Senate. Plus, look for tax cuts for wealthy homeowners and an erosion of the area’s tax base.
If Innamorato wins, she is pledging to focus on affordable housing, clean water, and other progressive priorities. But in our weird system, the race may come down to how voters feel about Gaza — or how they feel about how other people feel about Gaza.
Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, is up for reelection in Kentucky, facing Mitch McConnell protégé Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general. Polls are extremely tight, and Beshear has the support of enough Trump voters that he might hold on. If Beshear edges it out, he instantly becomes a national political contender. (Which, by the way, is absurd. Should losing by a few thousand votes versus winning by a few thousand votes be the difference in whether he’s a viable presidential candidate?)
The American right has been trying to win elections on culture war issues for as long as there’s been an identifiable right wing in our politics, though what those culture war issues are is endlessly up for grabs. In 2021, Republicans felt like they cracked the culture code in Virginia, electing Glenn Youngkin on the back of anger at school districts over a scandal involving gender, bathroom access, and a high-profile assault. Youngkin claimed the mantle of a “parents movement” that wanted more say in curriculum and in the books in libraries.
Now Republicans think they’ve successfully rerun that campaign on steroids in New Jersey, based on anger at school boards over the question of whether schools must notify parents if their children go through a social gender transition at school. Based on existing law, schools do not have to alert parents. That law was passed largely with sexual orientation in mind, and the idea was that a student ought to be able to confide in a sympathetic teacher and should be able to come out to their parents at a time of their own choosing.
Parent groups today in New Jersey have argued to school boards that the law ought to treat sexual orientation and gender transition differently, given that the latter is — at least as is currently understood in some corners — related to gender dysphoria, which is by definition related to mental health, which is not the case for sexual orientation. And if mental health is involved, any treatment, including social transition, ought to be implemented in coordination with parents, the argument goes. Democrats have tried to strike a balance on the question, not wanting to repeat Terry McAuliffe’s debate gaffe — “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” — which helped elect Youngkin.
School boards are up for election, but so is the state legislature, and Republicans are hoping one will bleed into the other.
Correction: November 7, 2023, 1:25 p.m.
Due to an editing error, the piece mistakenly said that Matt Dugan switched parties to run in the general against Stephen A. Zappala Jr. in Allegheny County. It was Zappala who switched parties to run against Dugan.