While most elections across the nation take place next year, there are a few big ones in 2023. Tuesday brought primary elections across the country — from a governor’s race in Kentucky to a mayoral race in Philadelphia — setting the stage for November elections that could point to trends for the 2024 presidential race. Here are five early takeaways; the Philadelphia mayoral race is still being counted.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron is the rare Republican these days who has support from sometimes warring factions in the Republican Party — he’s got close ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and former president Donald Trump endorsed him.
Cameron is a polished politician and the state’s first Black attorney general, and now he’s the first Black person to win a major-party nomination for governor in Kentucky. He gained national prominence after a well-received speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, in which he made a pitch for unity.
On Tuesday, Cameron bested a field of a dozen candidates, including an ultrawealthy former U.N. ambassador under Trump, Kelly Craft. Craft trafficked mostly in right-wing culture wars, like attacking “woke” ideology in schools and assailing transgender students. At the last minute, she got an endorsement from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). (It’s hard to say this was a proxy battle between Trump and DeSantis, though, given that DeSantis’s endorsement came the night before the primary.)
Kentucky Republicans stuck with a more traditional conservative over a DeSantis-esque culture warrior to try to take on one of the biggest names in Kentucky politics, Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who is up for reelection in November.
Trying to kick out a sitting governor — especially a popular one like Beshear — is one of the hardest things to do in politics. But Republicans have a real shot after capturing the state legislature in the Trump era.
Outside Philadelphia was a special election for a state House seat that held the fate of Democratic control in the legislature — and potentially the fate of abortion rights in Pennsylvania. Two women were running to replace a Democratic state lawmaker who resigned over sexual harassment allegations. Democrats successfully nationalized this race — President Biden got involved and endorsed Democrat Heather Boyd, who beat Republican Katie Ford.
With Boyd’s win, Democrats will hold on to their first majority in the Pennsylvania House in 12 years. Losing this election would have given Republicans back the majority, and with it the ability to put before voters a constitutional amendment to limit abortion rights in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania will remain just one of two state legislatures in the nation with split control between chambers — Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate.
In Kentucky, Secretary of State Michael Adams fended off not one but two election-denier challengers in his Republican primary. Adams has received bipartisan praise for running fair elections, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. He has spoken forcefully against election deniers, calling the trend “demagoguery.” “I think they just want to watch the world burn,” he has said. One of his challengers, Stephen Knipper, had the support of national election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell. But Knipper didn’t come close to knocking out the secretary of state.
In two other mayoral elections on Tuesday, Republicans lost. In Florida, Democrats flipped the mayor’s office in Jacksonville, which up until now had been one of the biggest cities with a Republican mayor. And in deeply conservative Colorado Springs, an independent beat a Republican in a runoff for an open seat.
Philadelphia has had 99 mayors — all of them men. That is likely to change soon since Democrats in the city nominated Cherelle Parker to be mayor. (Tuesday’s primary was the de facto election for mayor of Philadelphia, given Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1.) Philadelphia is one of the last major U.S. cities not to have had a woman lead it.
Parker also stood out for her tough-on-crime approach. Philadelphia is crippled by gun violence. In a recent survey, two out of three residents reported hearing gun shots over the past year. Noticeably absent from the city’s Democratic mayoral primary was any talk of defunding police departments to fight crime. Parker at times sounded more like a Republican than a Democrat on public safety. She said she would bring back the controversial stop-and-frisk policy and has proposed putting hundreds more police officers on the streets.
Another surprising race on Tuesday, in Pittsburgh, was dominated by criminal justice reform. Voters kicked out the longtime Allegheny County district attorney, Stephen Zappala (D), who has faced growing criticism for lopsided Black incarceration rates under his watch. He lost to challenger Matt Dugan, though the two could face a rematch in November as Zappala considers a write-in bid as a Republican.