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Election Day 2023 has finally arrived. Here’s a look at what’s at stake in states and races around the country this year and what the outcomes in these states could mean for the presidential election and others this time next year.
The Virginia State House and Senate: Abortion, crime and turnout decide Youngkin’s future
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia is ground-zero of the 2023 elections. Going into Election Day, Democrats control the Senate 22-4, and Republicans hold the State House, 48-46 (with six vacancies).
Youngkin won election two years ago largely by keeping the race local (i.e. parental rights in school, grocery store bills) and dodging national issues (i.e. former President Donald Trump), but has overseen divided government his whole tenure, hamstringing his most ambitious policy goals. His 2021 victory caught the attention of Republican mega-donors, who are long weary of the former president’s hold on the Grand Old Party, but “The Virginia Model” –and Youngkin’s political future–will be put to the test Tuesday.
Democrats across the country have worked to make abortion the top issue on ballots, and Virginia is no different. Youngkin has proposed a moderate 15-week ban (putting his state behind Germany and Italy’s 12-week bans, for example, and France and Spain’s 14-week bans), but needs Republicans to hold the House and take the Senate to achieve it. Understanding the stakes, he’s tried to shift Republicans toward early voting, and poured millions of his national fundraising into the races.
Democrats have poured millions into defining the Republicans as abortion extremists, and internal polling shows their messaging has been very successful. Virginia Republican candidates, for their part, are accusing their opponents of being soft on crime and hostile to parental rights in education. In a rare move, the Catholic bishops of Arlington and Richmond weighed in, reminding the faithful that “not all issues have equal moral weight,” and fighting abortion is the “preeminent priority.”
If Republicans win, it will signal the limits abortion politics have on a state with a deeply popular pro-life governor, and place Youngkin on deck for presidential politics. If Republicans lose, “the Virginia model” may be dismissed as a blip–and a lot of Never-Trump GOP mega-donors will have one less Hail Mary to throw in 2024. Additionally, professional Republicans already skittish over abortion politics will begin to panic.
The Kentucky Governor’s Manse: Old names, up-and-comers (and yes, abortion and Trump)
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is in a tight race against his Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a 37-year-old who would be the first Black governor of the Bluegrass State.
Beshear’s rise in Kentucky politics has benefitted from a number of distinct advantages. First, his name: His father, Steve Beshear, was a figure in statewide politics since 1980, and a former two-term governor. The name, however, is somewhat a remnant of a time when Democrats were a far-stronger force in Kentucky (and the South more broadly). Still, it helped him win in 2019 running as a centrist Democrat against Republican Matt Bevin, who may have been the least popular governor in modern Kentucky history.
Cameron has been highly critical of Beshear’s COVID record, which included shutting down churches and schools, and has worked to tarnish Beshear’s image as a moderate, pointing to his veto of a bill that would have banned medical transitions for children. This strategy has closed the gap between the two, dropping Beshear’s lead from six points a month ago, to neck-and-neck going into Election Day.
Beshear has painted Cameron as a “MAGA extremist,” tying him to his most prominent backer, former President Donald Trump, and has worked to make abortion a central issue of the campaign. Beshear unsuccessfully vetoed Kentucky’s six-week abortion law, which Cameron has defended. Trump won Kentucky in 2020 by 25.9 points.
The winner will have to win by more than half a point, or a 2021 law would trigger an automatic recount. Beshear beat Bevin in 2019 by only .4 points.
Ohio: Abortion, sex-changes for minors, parental rights, and the Democrats favorite marijuana trick
Less than a quarter of Ohioans support abortion up until birth, but that might not translate to the ballot box, where Buckeye voters will be asked to vote for an initiative that would amend the state constitution to allow women to abort their children, effectively until birth.
While “Issue 1” leans heavily on the language of civil rights, the devil is in the details. The proposed language, for example, would only allow abortion of a fetus considered “non-viable,” or unable to survive outside the womb, but blocks the state from weighing in on the age of viability, empowering only the doctor to make that call “on a case-by-case basis.”
Additionally, the law allows exceptions not only for “life of the mother,” but for her health, without any restrictions or even definitions around what constitutes “health” (i.e., mental health).
The amendment would also block parents from having any say over their children’s decisions on abortion, as well as on irreversible sex-change therapies. “It’s the Second Amendment for abortion and sex change,” American Principles Project President Terry Schilling said.
National pro-abortion groups recognize the proposal as among the country’s most extreme pro-abortion measures, and have poured millions in donations toward its passage. And while it’s an off-year election, activists have also worked to gin up left-wing participation by placing legal marijuana on the ballot as well. Adding marijuana legalization during contentious elections was a tactic pioneered in Colorado, but one since repeated all over the country.
School Boards: The sequel.
School board elections were once considered apolitical, but that changed in 2020. Remote classes put cameras into classrooms at a time when white-collar parents were also working from home, giving them an unprecedented look into their children’s days.
In addition to COVID school-closure and masking policies, cameras gave parents a front-row seat to Critical Race Theory and “Diversity Equity and Inclusion” syllabi.
Mixed-gender bathrooms and pornography in school libraries were added to the mix, and before long parents were showing up at school board meetings and demanding answers.
Loudoun County in northern Virginia became emblematic of the national issue after parent Scott Smith was arrested at a school board meeting for angrily demanding answers on a male student dressed as a girl who raped his 15-year-old daughter in the girls’ bathroom.
While more details continue to emerge on a cover-up of the rapes and sexual assaults, an attorney for the same Department of Justice that investigated angry parents is running for the at-large school board position, proudly touting her left-wing politics. Her opponent, Michael Rivera, is a detective in the county sheriff’s office. Last week, over a hundred students marched out in protest at the school’s continuing transgender policies.
Loudoun County is far from alone. Pennsylvania’s third-largest school district, Central Bucks, saw numerous Republicans win school board seats in opposition to Covid policies. This Tuesday, Democrat opponents are hoping to unseat them over LGBT social issues, citing their opposition to mixed-sex bathrooms and gay activism in elementary school classrooms.
One hundred miles to the west, Central York School District’s elections are still tense, with candidates fighting over curriculums years after fights first erupted over pornographic children’s books in the library.
In Blue Valley, Kansas, candidates have split into slates, with one side saying the school’s policies are radical and need changing–and the other saying concerns are overwrought. Across Ohio, mask mandates and Critical Race Theory might as well be on the school board ballots. Across the country, similar battles are playing out. The question for voters Tuesday, is will the parental revolution continue, or are voters sick of the conflict it causes?