What to watch as voters flock to the polls on Election Day 2023

November 8, 2023

Spare a thought for odd-numbered election years. The even-numbered cycles invariably dominate public attention—and for good reason—but there are all kinds of important, marquee contests in “off-year” elections that have dramatic impacts on governing and public policy, writes Steve Benen, producer of “The Rachel Maddow Show” and Maddowblog editor for MSNBC.

On Tuesday, November 7, for example, voters nationwide headed to the polls—and there were particularly competitive races that will give signals about what voters are thinking and where the national political environment stands ahead of 2024.

In Kentucky, voters will decide what is arguably the nation’s most closely watched contest: a gubernatorial race pitting Democratic Governor Andy Beshear against Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron. The incumbent is popular and well-liked, but the Bluegrass State is undeniably “red,” and polls suggest the race is a toss-up.

Similarly, in Mississippi, a gubernatorial contest has proven to be far more competitive than many national observers expected. Republican Governor Tate Reeves faced a tough challenge on Tuesday from Brandon Presley, a public service commissioner. The Democrat has run a very strong campaign, laying out an ambitious and popular agenda focused on health care and taxes. Meanwhile, the controversial GOP incumbent—Reeves has been caught up in a corruption investigation over misuse of federal welfare funds from his tenure as lieutenant governor— has spent months reminding Mississippi voters that he’s a Republican in a “red” state, hoping that will be enough.

In Virginia, Republicans already hold the governor’s office and State House, and the party hopes to complete the trifecta by taking control of the State Senate. If they succeed, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin will work with allied lawmakers to impose an abortion ban in the commonwealth.

Abortion is on the ballot in a far more direct way in Ohio, where voters will weigh in on Issue 1, a proposed state Constitutional amendment to protect reproductive rights. Ohioans will also decide the fate of Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio.

There are currently two vacancies in the U.S. House—and one of them was scheduled to be filled by voters on Tuesday. In Rhode Island, Democrat Gabe Amo and Republican Gerry Leonard are competing in the 1st district, hoping to succeed former Democratic Representative David Cicilline who gave up his seat in May. If Amo prevails—and by most measures, he’s the favorite—he’ll be Rhode Island’s first Black representative in Congress.

In New Jersey, Republicans haven’t held a majority in either the State House or the State Senate in more than two decades. The GOP hopes to change that today, with a special emphasis on the upper chamber.

Finally, Benen says, in Pennsylvania, voters will fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Democrats will maintain a majority regardless of the outcome, but Republicans hope to narrow the gap from a 5-2 majority to a 4-3 majority.

Research contact: @MSNBC