Today, Mainers will vote on eight ballot questions, hoping to settle contentious issues such as foreign involvement in state elections and public ownership of electrical utility services. But it’s not only Mainers who are heading to the polls.
Voters in Kentucky and Mississippi will participate in closely watched races that will determine the occupant of their gubernatorial offices in 2024 and beyond. Meanwhile, voters in Virginia will select new members of their state legislature, while those in Ohio will choose a path for their state on marijuana restrictions, among many other races across the country.
The marquee race of the 2023 cycle is the Kentucky gubernatorial election, where incumbent Governor Andy Beshear (D) seeks to keep incumbent Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) at bay. While Kentucky is often viewed as an archetypal home of American conservatism, and indeed voted for Donald Trump by an overwhelming margin in 2020, the state has a long tradition of electing Democratic governors under certain circumstances: Andy Beshear’s father, Steve, had served as a two-term governor in his own right.
The younger Beshear came to power in 2019, defeating the unpopular incumbent Governor Matt Bevin (R) on issues of education and social spending as well as Bevin’s own personal unpopularity. He has carved out a moderately liberal path for Kentucky, seeking to focus mainly on local matters and avoiding contentious national issues. His even keel and effective response to disasters that have struck Kentucky in recent years have allowed Beshear to become one of the nation’s most popular governors.
However, Kentucky is still a staunchly conservative state. Cameron, a protege and supposed successor to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), has challenged Beshear’s rule and hopes to use the state’s partisan lean to his advantage. Cameron is notable for being the first Black person elected to a statewide office in Kentucky and would be the state’s first African-American governor. He has sought to portray Beshear as no different from national Democrats, campaigning on red meat issues such as transgender youth athletes and restrictions on abortion in the state in the wake of the Dobbs decision (Kentucky voters narrowly rejected a ballot question that would have entirely extinguished the right to an abortion in 2022). Beshear has campaigned mostly on his incumbency and the successes of his administration. In his few negative ad campaigns, he has sought to cast Cameron as a culture war radical.
Polling has thus far indicated a substantial lead for the incumbent, although Cameron has gained ground in recent weeks and tightened the race considerably. Beating Kentucky’s conservative leanings requires exceptional campaign prowess, but if there’s any one Democrat who could do so, it’s Andy Beshear.
Residents of Mississippi will choose whether to reelect Governor Tate Reeves (R). Reeves is considered an embattled incumbent, having been caught in an extensive corruption scandal relating to mismanagement of the state’s welfare funds. Additionally, under his leadership, the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis peaked. Residents of overwhelmingly-Black Jackson were forced to boil water for several months in 2022, as flooding had rendered the outdated water treatment plant inoperable and contaminated, undrinkable dark water spewed out of pipes. The crisis sparked a nationwide debate about the maintenance of such facilities in areas where persons of color make up the majority of the population.
Brandon Presley (D) hopes to harness anger with Reeves’ governance and transform it into the first Democratic victory in Mississippi since 1999. Presley, who shares a surname with a vastly more famous cousin, has broken with the national party on many occasions. For example, Presley (who serves as an electrical utilities commissioner in the state’s northern end), supports abortion restrictions and is devoted to preserving gun rights in the state.
As with Kentucky, Democrats hope to again skirt the state’s partisan lean and deliver an unexpected victory against an unpopular incumbent. Presley’s chances of victory are quite slim, however, despite the family name and national media hype. Elections in Mississippi are intensely polarized upon racial lines, and Black turnout is usually lesser during off-year elections. Jim Hood, another conservative Democrat with statewide name recognition and impeccable credentials, was himself defeated by Reeves in 2019. The incumbent governor will likely be elected to a second term despite voter dissatisfaction. Still, discount Presley at your own peril: he has run an energetic campaign, visiting every county of the state and keeping the race close in some polling. The fact that Presley is perceived as having a shot at victory, however small, is a testament to his appeal.
State legislative elections
Republicans notched a major win two years ago this week in Virginia, when Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial election, and Republicans won a majority in the lower house of the Virginia legislature, the House of Delegates. The victories were a dearly-needed morale boost following their loss of the presidential election and the Senate the previous year and served as a rebuke of the economy and foreign policy of President Biden’s inaugural year. However, things have changed almost three years into the Biden administration. The Dobbs decision pulled moderate independents, who are plentiful in the D.C., Richmond, and Hampton Roads metropolitan areas, away from the right and back towards the Democratic column nationwide. The Virginia legislative races will be 2023’s best barometer of where they stand currently, as Biden remains underwater in approval ratings amid a divisive foreign conflict.
While the Virginia Senate is quite firmly expected to elect a Democratic majority, as they had done in 2021, the House of Delegates is something of a tossup, perhaps one with a Democratic tilt. One of the races that will decide control of this chamber is that of the 82nd district, containing Petersburg, where abortion rights have factored as a prominent factor in the campaign. Kimberly Pope Adams (D) has run on opposing Governor Youngkin’s efforts to curtail abortion rights for the first fifteen weeks, while her opponent Kim Taylor (R), the incumbent, has supported the governor’s proposals. The district is one of several that backed both Biden in 2020 and Youngkin in 2021. Elsewhere, there is the race in the 30th district, where Rob Banse (D), a retired Episcopal priest, faces local politician Geary Higgins (R) in a competitive Northern Virginia district just beyond the Democratic strongholds of Alexandria and Fairfax. Higgins had previously offered support to “Stop the Steal” rallies that sought to overturn the 2020 election, and his hardline conservative views have undermined his considerable administrative credentials.
One of the more bizarre races is in the 57th district in the Richmond suburbs, where pornographic material of Democratic nominee Susanna Gibson and her husband was discovered online. The revelations upended the race and emboldened Republicans, who proceeded to throw away much of this newfound advantage by launching mailers containing sexually explicit imagery to households in the district. While Biden won the 57th with a five-point margin, today, the district is a pure tossup.
While New Jersey’s legislature will undoubtedly retain its Democratic majority tonight, the race in the 3rd legislative district has still attracted nationwide attention. Incumbent senator Ed Durr (R), who in 2021 prevailed over then-Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) in what was considered a monumental upset, is facing a stiff challenge from state assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D). Durr, a former truck driver who spent practically nothing on his first-ever race, has adopted strongly conservative positions upon taking office. Burzichelli, aided by massive external investment from Sweeney’s vengeance-seeking political machine, has sought to portray Durr as an abortion extremist out of step with the needs of his district (Durr supports a six-week legislative ban). Durr is a bare favorite, if only due to the district’s partisan lean (Trump +2.7), although Burzichelli is thought to inspire support owing to his lifelong loyalty to the region.
Portland, Maine mayoral race
The incumbent mayor of Maine’s largest city, Kate Snyder, has opted not to seek reelection after serving a single term. She was elected in 2019 as a moderate, pro-business Democrat (though the elections are officially nonpartisan), defeating progressive mayor Ethan Strimling and moderate attorney Spencer Thibodeau after a round of instant-runoff voting. Snyder governed as she campaigned, sometimes clashing with the city’s substantial progressive presence but mostly taking on a low-key role in city leadership.
The chief contenders in the race to succeed Snyder are all current city councilors. Leading the pack is Mark Dion, a moderate whose extensive public service career (previously having served as a state senator and law enforcement official) gives him a prominent profile bolstered by Snyder’s endorsement. There is Pious Ali, an immigrant from Ghana who has run a left-wing campaign backed by progressives, including former mayor Strimling. Andrew Zarro, a coffee shop owner by trade, has also run a viable campaign focused on easing the costly burdens of living and running a small business in the city. Former city councilor Justin Costa and political neophyte Dylan Pugh are also running.
The major issue in this election has been, overwhelmingly, the dual escalating homelessness and cost-of-living crisis in Portland over the past decade. Dion has advocated accelerating and reforming zoning processes to make the city more attractive for developers, while Ali recommends restricting Airbnb rentals and instituting rent control policies. Zarro has campaigned on building transitional housing services for the homeless. The election does not have a clear favorite, and the race may go to several rounds of ranked-choice voting.
Aurora, Colorado mayoral race
In Aurora, Colorado, a populous Denver suburb, Mayor Mike Coffman (R) faces a heightened challenge from City Councilor Juan Marcano (D). As with many municipal races in the past decade, this race has hinged on crime prevention and responses. Coffman, a Republican and former six-term U.S. Representative, has run the city with a ‘law and order’ approach to issues of homelessness and crime, pushing through a ban on urban camping. Marcano is a progressive Democrat and former member of the Democratic Socialists of America, running on increasing access to affordable housing and reducing racial bias in the Aurora police force, who were found responsible in 2019 for the death of Elijah McClain.
Houston, Texas mayoral race
The two leading candidates in the open race to become mayor of the nation’s fourth-most populous city are Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D), who has served in the House for nearly three decades, and State Senator John Whitmire (D). Jackson Lee has run hard on her national partisan credentials, while Whitmire has taken a relatively conservative tack, drawing on his close allegiance with public sector law enforcement unions in the city. The field is crowded, featuring 17 candidates overall, but Jackson Lee and Whitmire are considered inevitable runoff contenders (if neither notches an outright majority). Current polling suggests a marginal edge for Whitmire in the first round and a larger edge in a potential runoff.
Indianapolis, Indiana mayoral race
In this major Midwestern city, wealthy businessman Jefferson Shreve (R) has challenged incumbent mayor Joe Hogsett (D). Hogsett, who led the city throughout COVID and the racial justice protests of 2020, has been criticized from the right for doing too little to reduce crime in the city. To this end, Shreve has taken unexpectedly restrictive stances on gun control, mirroring those of his Democratic opponent. Shreve’s deep pockets have kept him competitive even as the single public poll suggests a not-insignificant Hogsett lead. While a rare blue bastion in a safely Republican state, Indianapolis has been liable to elect moderate Republicans in prior races, and a Shreve victory would present Republicans with a blueprint to win in cities that they have long since written off.
Allegheny County Executive
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, home to Pittsburgh, is faced with a pitched battle between two competing urban visions. Sara Innamorato (D), a rising star on the left backed by Senator Bernie Sanders and the city’s powerful union presence, aims to address quality-of-life and cost-of-living issues. She faces an idiosyncratic opponent in Joe Rockey (R), a banker who has avoided culture war issues and appears interested mostly in improving economic conditions within the county and recurring national issues such as crime and homelessness. Rockey has refused to be associated with former president Donald Trump, instead picking up an endorsement from Forward Party founder and former presidential contender Andrew Yang. Allegheny County is strongly Democratic in most races, but Rockey hopes to exploit what he perceives as independent dissatisfaction with progressive programs.
Ohio ballot questions
In Ohio, voters will determine whether to codify full contraceptive rights in the state constitution (Issue 1) and whether to legalize marijuana for recreational usage (Issue 2). While the state has taken a more conservative bent in recent years, polling suggests that a broad swath of Ohio voters will back both initiatives.
In Maine, polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Students attending UMaine can register to vote same-day at their nearest polling station, whether or not their permanent residence is in Maine. This applies to both on- and off-campus students.
On the UMaine campus, voting will be held at the Collins Center for the Arts. If you are not yet registered to vote in Maine, you can bring your MaineCard or another valid form of photo identification alongside a piece of mail displaying your address in order to register.