Pennsylvania is hosting primaries, too, including picking the likely next mayor of the nation’s sixth-largest city, Philadelphia. National figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have gotten involved in the race in hopes of securing another progressive mayoral win.
A special election for a Pennsylvania state House seat could shift the balance of the state’s legislature’s lower chamber. Democrats have been spending big to defend it, saying it would grant Republicans the ability to put an anti-abortion constitutional amendment on the ballot if they win. Republicans have said those characterizations are inaccurate.
And in Jacksonville, Fla. — that state’s most-populous and most politically competitive city — Republicans are defending their largest mayoralty anywhere in the country, while Democrats are trying to prove that a battleground area in otherwise-red-trending Florida is swinging their way.
Here are five things to watch on Tuesday as the results roll in:
A messy Kentucky primary to take on a popular Democratic incumbent
A brutal Republican primary comes to a close on Tuesday. Republicans are battling for the right to take on Beshear.
Cameron was seen as the early favorite in a packed field, earning Trump’s endorsement shortly after announcing. But Craft, a Republican megadonor who served as Trump’s final United Nations ambassador, jumped in the race and was able to close in on him after a slugfest.
“Daniel was far-and-away ahead,” said Scott Jennings, a prominent GOP consultant in the state who has remained neutral in the primary. “Between December and April, she really did almost reel him in.”
Craft has poured millions into her campaign, dumping in at least $9.3 million ahead of the primary. Craft and an allied super PAC — which received its biggest check from her husband, coal billionaire Joe Craft — pummeled Cameron relentlessly with TV ads calling him an “establishment teddy bear” and tying him to Beshear and President Joe Biden.
She leaned on an unconventional mix of allies — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made an eleventh-hour endorsement, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy were on hand in the final stretch — while taking the occasional jab at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Kentucky Republican and Cameron’s mentor. (McConnell, notably, did not endorse in the race between his protegé and Craft, a deep-pocketed donor who has supported both McConnell and the GOP at large in the past.)
But Cameron, a rising star in the state, was the early frontrunner for a reason. He frequently raised the support of scores of local law enforcement officials across the state. Cameron and his allied super PAC — largely funded by a prominent dark money group called The Concord Fund — started swinging back at Craft on the airwaves last month, a moment that Jennings said led Cameron to “stabilize” in the race. Cameron’s ads tagged her as being “ultra rich” and misleading Kentuckians about her commitment to the state.
While Cameron enters the primary as the frontrunner and Craft a clear second choice, Republicans in the state mention state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles as a potentially viable third candidate.
Turnout will likely be low: Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican who is facing a primary of his own, predicted to local media last week that as few as 10 percent of registered voters could participate in the primary — making the contest a bit of a wildcard.
Despite the red tilt of the state, the winner of this primary will be an underdog in November.
Beshear is a popular governor, especially for a Democrat in a state that Trump carried by nearly 26 points. He has navigated the state through a series of crises, like the pandemic, a high-profile mass shooting and several major natural disasters. He carried himself as a technocratic governor and transcended party labels. He’ll enter the race with a fully-stocked campaign warchest and with the full-throated support of the Democratic Governors Association.
— Zach Montellaro
Philly’s next mayor could notch another win for national progressives
Progressive Brandon Johnson triumphed over a tough-on-crime moderate in the Chicago mayor’s race in April. With the wind at their back, will liberals pull off a one-two punch in Philadelphia this week? National figures like Bernie Sanders and AOC certainly hope so.
Liberal leaders across the country have gone all in on Helen Gym, a former councilmember who is calling for a “Green New Deal” for local schools. She’s one of nine people who are vying for the Democratic nomination — which in this Democratic-dominated city all but guarantees a win in November.
The race is truly up for grabs. Gym and three more traditional or moderate Democrats, former Councilmember Cherelle Parker, former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and real estate developer Allan Domb, are at the top of the most recent poll. Businessperson Jeff Brown isn’t far behind them. Unlike in Chicago, Philadelphia Democrats will choose their nominee in a “first-past-the-post” primary — meaning the candidate with the most votes wins, even if that total is well short of 50 percent.
Crime has emerged as a major issue in the contest, with Parker and other candidates expressing openness to deploying the controversial police tactic known as “stop-and-frisk.” With three women leading the polls, Philly may also elect its first female mayor this year — the past 99 were men.
— Holly Otterbein
A special election for a Pennsylvania state House seat puts abortion on the ballot
Democrats lost control of the Pennsylvania state House in the 2010 Republican midterm wave, and it took them more than 12 years to get it back earlier this year.
But Democrats’ one-seat majority is again at risk with special elections Tuesday for two vacant seats, one formerly held by each party. If Republicans win both, they would retake the chamber after a less-than-six-month interregnum — and while they couldn’t overcome Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s veto on legislation, the state legislature could go around the governor to place an anti-abortion constitutional amendment on a future ballot.
On paper, the Philadelphia-area district Democrats are defending should be solidly blue: Before he resigned from office because of a sexual harassment scandal, Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel was easily reelected last year, 65 percent to 33 percent.
Whether it’s just due diligence, the lingering stench of Zabel’s scandal or a sign of a challenging political environment, Democrats have mounted a full-court press to keep the seat, spending nearly $1 million. The blitz includes direct-to-camera ads from Shapiro touting Democrat Heather Boyd “to keep abortion legal,” and an election-eve endorsement from President Joe Biden.
Republicans are operating mostly below the radar, but PA Rising, wealthy former Senate candidate Dave McCormick’s new PAC, helped raise $22,000 for GOP candidate Katie Ford and contributed $10,000 to Ford’s campaign.
A Boyd victory would keep the current dynamic: a Democratic governor and split control of the state legislature (Republicans still control the state Senate). But a Ford upset would give Republicans unified control of the state legislature as a counterweight to Shapiro.
— Steven Shepard
The battle over the GOP nomination for a swing-state Supreme Court seat
A judge who ruled against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election is running for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. National Republicans are trying to make sure she doesn’t make it past the primary.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary, an arm of the Republican State Leadership Committee has been running a $500,000-plus buy that hits Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough, who unsuccessfully ran for the state Supreme Court in 2021, just months after she ordered to halt the vote certification. The group is instead boosting her primary opponent, Montgomery Court of Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Carluccio, a top fundraiser who earned the support of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the bulk of McCullough’s fundraising came from the PAC of far-right Republican Doug Mastriano, who lost last year’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial race and is considering a bid for Senate in 2024.
“I’ve been threatened for my opinions from people around the country,” she said at a Mastriano rally earlier this year, where she touted her ruling against a mail-in voting law and being “the only judge in 2020 in the presidential election in the entire country to order the governor to stop certifying the election.” (Carluccio didn’t directly address a question from a local outlet asking if she thought the 2020 and 2022 elections were free and fair.)
Should McCullough win the GOP nomination, that “creates more of an opportunity for a Democratic candidate to create a clear contrast between their objectives … and what we might expect from someone who has advanced election conspiracies that have been proven to be false,” said Mark Nevins, a Democratic consultant in the state.
On the left, Superior Court Judges Deborah Kunselman and Daniel McCaffery, who has the endorsement of the state Democratic Party, as well as a fundraising advantage over Kunselman, are facing off.
Control of the court would still rest in a Democratic majority, even if a Republican wins in the fall. But a nomination for McCullough would be a sign of how deep the influence of Donald Trump’s election denialism has taken hold of the party. Still, the balance of the court will be up for grabs in 2025, when three Democratic judges’ terms are up. But those are retention races — just a yes-or-no vote on if a judge should continue serving — which are close to sure things for the incumbent.
“Republicans have to put forth their very best candidate for the fall election because control of the Supreme Court is absolutely dependent on this election,” said Charlie Gerow, a GOP strategist in the state.
— Madison Fernandez
A reset in Florida?
The race for mayor in Jacksonville, a city in northeast Florida that is home to nearly 1 million people, has turned into the first significant test for Democrats since former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried took over the helm of the state party earlier this year.
Jacksonville’s current mayor, Lenny Curry, is a former state GOP chair who is leaving office due to term limits. But the city — which is part of a consolidated government with Duval County — has been a battleground between the two parties in recent years.
Democratic nominee for governor Andrew Gillum won Duval County in 2018 — as did President Joe Biden two years later. But Gov. Ron DeSantis swung the county back into the GOP column overwhelmingly last November. If Democrats fare poorly here on Tuesday, it doesn’t bode well for them next November as Florida becomes an increasingly Republican state.
Donna Deegan and Daniel Davis were the top two candidates who emerged from a March primary. Deegan, a Democrat, is seeking to become the first female mayor in Jacksonville history. She’s a former television anchor who runs a breast cancer nonprofit foundation. Davis is a former Republican state legislator who has led the JAX Chamber since 2013 and has been endorsed by DeSantis.
Both parties have thrown time and money into the contest which has focused on the city’s crime rate and how the two candidates would handle issues such as policing, renovations to the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium and a decision to sell off the municipal utility.
An ad paid for by the Duval County Republican Party went after Deegan by pointing out that she attended Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Another ad featured the Duval County sheriff contending Deegan would back “radical” policies for law enforcement. Deegan has responded by calling the attacks smears and has questioned whether Davis would support holding onto the city’s electric utility.
Fried, the Democrats’ state party chair, said that Deegan “ran a terrific campaign talking about the issues. I feel very confident that the people of Jacksonville have voted for something new.”
Christian Ziegler, the state Republican chair, contended that the GOP voters would turn out in force to elect Davis. “Jacksonville is too great a city to be run by a liberal with no skills or experience running anything, let alone a city,” he said.
A new poll released Monday by St. Pete Polls found the race tight heading into Election Day with Deegan leading Davis 48 percent to 46 percent, which is within the poll’s 4.8 percent margin of error.
— Gary Fineout
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