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Off-year primary elections are like the deep tracks of American politics. Not a lot of people might be paying attention, but there are some interesting things going on for those who do.
This year, as both parties struggle to settle on a path to the future, is no exception.
In Kentucky, the reddest state with a Democratic governor, Republicans have a serious choice to make.
In the biggest city with a Republican mayor, Democrats will see if they can regain some ground in Florida.
In Pennsylvania, a special election could give control of the state House of Representatives back to Republicans.
In Philadelphia, progressives are hoping to create a national star.
I talked to CNN’s deputy political director Terence Burlij about why people in the rest of the country should be paying any attention to these races, and I’ve slotted his notes in with some background about each race below.
Divided government is a complicated thing in the current political climate. Blue states that have a history of rewarding local Republicans with the governor’s mansion in recent years largely cleared the decks in the 2022 midterm election and put new Democrats in office in Massachusetts and Maryland.
Only in Vermont, Virginia and Nevada do Republican governors contend with a Democratic or divided state legislature.
There are a few more Democratic governors in red or purple states – Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana and Wisconsin.
Kentucky is the only state on that list holding a governor’s race this year, and Republicans are set to choose their candidate to take on Gov. Andy Beshear.
Their options – choose an establishment candidate or one tied to former President Donald Trump – mirror those of the party writ large as it looks ahead to the 2024 general election.
Kentucky Republicans can choose between the state attorney general, Daniel Cameron, a former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell who is considered the frontrunner, or Kelly Craft, the wealthy former US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump. Read the full report from CNN’s Eric Bradner, which also looks at some of the other candidates in the race.
The larger significance, according to Burlij: In Kentucky, the GOP gubernatorial primary serves as a fresh test of former President Donald Trump’s sway with Republican voters following last year’s disappointing midterm results. While Cameron is running with Trump’s endorsement, Craft has centered her candidacy on the culture wars – making the choice for GOP voters one between the former president’s preferred choice and one who is embracing his political style. The potential wild card is state agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles, who has focused on rural parts of the state.
CNN’s Fredreka Schouten writes there is a similar dynamic at play in the Republican primary for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a race that would normally be off the national radar.
Philadelphia hasn’t had anything but a Democratic mayor for decades.
That’s probably not going to change this year; the winner of Tuesday’s primary is likely to emerge as the city’s mayor after the general election in November.
But the direction of the primary is important for Democrats as they fight the national narrative, pushed by Republicans, that large American cities are becoming overrun with crime.
There’s a crowded field of candidates running in the primary. Former city council member Helen Gym has the backing of national progressive figures and would be the city’s first Asian American leader. Another former city council member, Cherelle Parker, who has the backing of influential labor groups, would be the city’s first Black woman to serve as mayor.
It’s notable that even a progressive like Gym is promising to add police to address gun violence and crime prevention. Read the full report from CNN’s Gregory Krieg.
The larger significance, according to Burlij: The Democratic mayoral primary in Philadelphia speaks to the ideological divide within the party, with national progressives lining up behind Helen Gym, hoping to notch another victory following wins by Karen Bass in Los Angeles and Brandon Johnson in Chicago. Looking forward to 2024, (President Joe) Biden will need an energized electorate in the city to boost turnout and his chances of keeping Pennsylvania in the Democratic column.
There are also other elections happening around the country. Here are some to watch:
Democrats have only officially had control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since they swept three special elections in February and confirmed a one-seat edge in the chamber. Republicans could retake control after special elections Tuesday.
One of the seats up for grabs is currently held by Democrats, and if Republican Katie Ford can defeat Democrat Heather Boyd, Republicans would have more power to stand against the Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro and to influence election policy in the key state heading into 2024.
Even Biden took notice, offering an endorsement of Boyd this week.
Democrats generally hold an advantage in US cities, particularly large ones. The largest US city with a Republican mayor is Jacksonville, Florida.
While local city politics are often a very different thing than national or state politics, Democrats in Florida, still recovering from a statewide thumping in 2022, are looking to regain their footing in Jacksonville, where the Republican Mayor Lenny Curry was prevented by term limits from running again.
A Democrat, Donna Deegan, is a former news anchor, and a Republican, Daniel Davis, a former city council member and the CEO of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, qualified for Tuesday’s runoff election in a race that has turned on policing and crime.