With less than six months to go until the first vote of the GOP primaries and just over a year until the general election, many politicians and pundits are already turning their attention to next November. But in the midst of all the 2024 chatter, many political pundits, media voices, and even American voters have overlooked the handful of crucial races taking place this fall. Here are three of the most important state-level races of 2023—and what they could mean for 2024 and beyond.
Kentucky Gubernatorial Race
In the Bluegrass State this fall, incumbent Democrat Governor Andy Beshear will face off against Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron—a conservative favorite hailed as a rising star in the Republican Party.
Though Kentucky is typically a deep red state (Trump carried it by more than 25 points in 2020) Beshear has enjoyed one of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the nation. His ability to sell himself as a moderate despite advancing a number of radical policies like strict COVID-19 lockdowns (which the Kentucky Supreme Court had to strike down) and vetoing a ban on sex change surgeries for minors has won him significant support within his state and throughout the country. In fact, Beshear recently ranked as the most popular Democrat governor in the nation with Republican voters.
Cameron—the first black American to be elected to statewide office in the history of Kentucky and the Bluegrass State’s first Republican Attorney General since 1948—rose to national prominence during the summer 2020 riots, where he found himself at the center of the Breonna Taylor case. While other state officials throughout the country had caved to far-left street activists, Cameron stood strong for the rule of law, refusing to bring unwarranted charges against the police officers involved with Taylor’s death.
Cameron also delivered a riveting speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, and has since further bolstered his profile as a conservative up-and-comer, going on to win a tough GOP primary battle (thanks in part to former President Donald Trump’s endorsement) to secure the gubernatorial nomination last spring.
The latest polling has Beshear up by eight points over Cameron – meaning that Cameron has some serious, but not impossible, work to do to close the gap. Cameron’s most important task over the next two months will be hammering Beshear’s under-the-radar extremist record. He will also need to lean heavily on his proud embrace of the Trump agenda in a resoundingly pro-Trump state.
If Cameron manages to pull off a victory, it could solidify his status as a major force in Republican politics for years to come.
Virginia Legislative Races
Two years after Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in an upset—the first statewide Republican victory in the Old Dominion in more than a decade—all 40 state Senate seats, as well as all 100 seats in the House of Delegates, are up for election in Virginia.
Currently, Democrats hold a slim 22-18 majority in the state Senate while Republicans narrowly control the House. Since Youngkin’s 2021 victory, Virginia Senate Democrats have successfully blocked several components of Youngkin’s legislative agenda, including more extensive tax cuts, parental rights legislation, and tougher penalties for fentanyl dealers.
Republicans are making Democrat obstruction of these policies and other popular proposals the major theme of their effort to hold the House of Delegates and retake the Virginia Senate. Democrats, meanwhile, are attempting to turn the election into a referendum on Youngkin’s proposed abortion plan, which is to restrict the practice after 15 weeks of gestation with exceptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is at stake.
One thing worth paying close attention to is the impact of Youngkin’s “Secure Your Vote” initiative – a major effort to create a GOP early voting infrastructure in the commonwealth. Youngkin and Virginia Republicans have poured significant resources into the campaign, and they need it to pay off. As AMAC Newsline has previously reported, Youngkin and his team believe the initiative will offset the advantage Democrats have had thanks to early and mail-in voting. They’re betting that there are a significant number of Republican-inclined voters out there who might not go to the polls on Election Day, but who will vote early or by mail – a bet that has so far paid off for Democrats.
A Republican sweep of the Virginia legislature this November could indicate that the GOP may have found a repeatable winning formula in a state that was once thought to be trending permanently blue. It would likely also further bolster Youngkin’s conservative record during his final two years in office as he continues to contemplate his political future.
Louisiana Gubernatorial Race
Another opportunity for a Republican gubernatorial pickup this fall is in deep red Louisiana, where Democrat Governor John Bel Edwards cannot run again due to term limits.
Although several Republicans have jumped into the race, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry—who has earned the endorsement of former President Donald Trump—has emerged as a clear frontrunner. Landry gained national attention last year when he, along with then-Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, requested that the Louisiana District Court compel the DOJ to “turn over communications between high-ranking Biden Administration officials from the White House, Department of State, FBI and others and major social media companies”—a major step in the fight against left-wing censorship.
Meanwhile, Shawn Wilson, the state’s former Secretary of Transportation, is the only Democrat in the race—and faces an uphill battle this fall.
Unlike other states, Louisiana uses a jungle primary system, in which every candidate, regardless of party, appears on the same ballot. The winning candidate needs to achieve an outright majority to win the election. If no candidate reaches a majority, the top two primary candidates then advance to a general election. This year, the jungle primary will be held on October 14, with a general election date set for November 18.
With a Landry victory this fall, conservatives in the Pelican State will almost surely achieve unified Republican government, further solidifying the state’s reputation as a conservative stronghold.
Other elections this fall include the Mississippi gubernatorial race—where incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves is expected to easily win reelection—and a ballot measure in Ohio, where voters will decide whether their state constitution should codify a right to abortion.
As voters continue to monitor the presidential primaries and prepare for what promises to be a high-stakes 2024 race, they should not lose sight of elections taking place this year, which could yield significant consequences for our nation and our future.
Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.
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