2023 is an off-year for American elections—there certainly is not anything as high stakes as during a midterm or presidential election year. However, there are still many elections that we at DecisionDeskHQ will be closely watching this year, including three governor’s offices, a couple of heavily contested state legislative chambers, and mayoral elections in some of America’s largest cities.
Kentucky: Incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear is running for re-election
In 2019, moderate Democrat and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear shocked political observers by upsetting Incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin, despite the state’s deeply Republican partisan lean. Bevin was extremely unpopular, with his most notable awkward moments ranging from waging war with teacher’s unions to blaming zombie television shows for the Parkland mass shooting. Despite being ranked as the least popular governor in the country by Morning Consult’s 2019 gubernatorial approval ratings, he came within 0.4% of defeating Beshear. Beshear dominated Bevin in the Louisville and Lexington metro areas and especially overperformed Clinton’s 2016 performance in the Cinncinatti suburbs and ancestrally Democratic eastern coal country. Despite Beshear’s superb first term (and his title as the most popular Democratic Governor in the country), Republicans feel that they have found a candidate who can flip the seat in a crowded field of primary contestants, sitting Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Cameron received an endorsement from former President Donal Trump and is heavily favored in the May 16th Kentucky Republican Primary, opposed primarily by former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft. November’s general election will again be a battle between local and national issues. Beshear hopes to weather President Donald Trump’s involvement in the race and keep it focused on Kentucky. Most political observers consider this race roughly a tossup and expect it to be exceptionally close this November.
Lousiana: Incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards is term-limited
With conservative Democratic John Bel Edwards unable to run for re-election, the Louisiana Governor’s office is Republican’s best flip opportunity in 2023. As Democrats have an exceptionally weak bench in the deep red state, most media attention has focused on the Republican primary field. Both of Lousiana’s sitting Senators—John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy—publically flirted with a run for the Governor’s office before declining to seek the job. Cassidy is widely considered a sitting duck in his 2026 Senate re-election campaign after his surprise 2021 vote in favor of removing Donald Trump from office, while Kennedy is an extremely popular figure within the state. Kennedy only recently announced he would pass on running for Governor, freezing the field in the few months before his decision. The current frontrunner is Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who quickly won the endorsement of the Louisiana Republican Party. Other Republicans considering seeking the Governor’s office criticized this early endorsement, accusing them of “preempting the Democratic process.” Still, he could potentially face a challenge from LA-06 Congressman Garret Graves. If not, Landry will waltz into the November 18th general election or even win an outright majority of the vote in the October 14 Jungle Primary.
Mississippi: Incumbent Republican Tate Reeves is running for re-election
While Republicans are hoping to flip Governor office’s in the deep red states of Kentucky and Louisiana, they will play defense in Mississippi. Governor Tate Reeves will run for another term and hopes he will face less resistance than he did four years ago. Reeves only defeated Democrat Jim Hood by an extremely underwhelming ~5% margin in 2019, running well behind Trump’s 2016 campaign in Hood’s home of northeast Mississippi and in traditionally conservative Jackson suburbs. Most expected Reeves to cruise to re-election, but he will face a serious Democratic challenge from Brandon Presley. Presley is a moderate Democrat from the northeastern portion of the state, serving as a member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission since 2008. With Reeves suffering from a surprisingly poor approval rating, it is wrong to take this race off the board. But given Mississippi’s harsh Republican lean and extremely inelastic and racially polarized voting tendencies, Reeves is heavily favored for re-election. We will closely be watching polling to see if this race is truly competitive and whether the DGA will invest substantially in Presley.
State Legislative Chambers
Virginia House of Delegates: Democrats Look to Recover from 2021 Disaster
Although Democrats controlled a 55-45 majority in the Virginia House of Delegates heading into the 2021 election, Republicans flipped 7 seats and control of the chamber behind the coattails of Glenn Youngkin’s successful gubernatorial campaign. If Democrats win every seat Biden won by at least 7% in 2020, they will flip the chamber. And if Republicans fail to win a single seat that carried Biden against Trump, Democrats will rebuild a strong 56-44 majority in the chamber. Given that the 2023 turnout environment should be far better for Democrats than the debacle in 2021, Democrats are generally expected to flip the chamber and build opposition to Youngkin’s agenda in the VA State Legislature.
Virginia State Senate: Democrats Hope to Hold a Narrow Majority in the Chamber
Every seat in the Virginia State Senate is also up for election in 2023, as Republicans hope to build on their gains from 2019 and seriously contest the Democratic control of the State Senate. Because of arbitrary variation in Virginia’s independent redistricting process and incumbency advantages, Democrats are likelier to keep control of the State Senate than flip control of the House of Delegates. Democrats are heavy favorites in 19 of the chamber’s 40 seats and only need to win 2 of 7 other seats to claim a clear majority in the State Senate. Democrats hope that Biden+13 District 16 will be the first of these two seats, as two-term Republican Incumbent Siobhan Dunnavant finds herself running for re-election on tougher turf in suburban Richmond. If Dunnavant goes down, Republicans will have a near-impossible task of sweeping the other 6 competitive seats, and Democrats will be on the brink of winning the chamber.
Wisconsin State Supreme Court: Democrats Can Flip Control of the WI Supreme Court
The first pivotal election in 2022 will take place on April 4th and decide control of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Although conservatives currently hold a pivotal 4-3 majority on the Court, a conservative member is retiring at the end of her second ten-year term this spring. Although Supreme Court elections in Wisconsin are technically non-partisan, a primary on February 21st will likely narrow down the field to just one “liberal” judge and one “conservative” judge for the April 4th general election. This election will decide partisan control of the state court until at least 2025 and could weigh into various important issues such as abortion rights and congressional gerrymandering. Given the high salience of abortion in battleground states and the pro-choice views of Wisconsin voters, Democrats are favored in this election.
Chicago Mayoral Election: Incumbent Democrat Lori Lightfoot is running for re-election
Lori Lightfoot is facing a crowded field of left-wing challengers who hope to become the next mayor of Chicago. The contenders for the position are generally devoid of political agreements in the realm of national-level politics and are running on their experience and against Lightfoot’s record as mayor. The first round election will be held on February 28th, and if no one candidate wins a majority of the vote (which is likely), then a runoff will be held on April 4th. Lightfoot’s most serious competitor is Congressman Chuy Garcia, who currently represents a Hispanic COI (IL-04) known informally as the “earmuff district.” The race recently turned personal with Lightfoot airing television ads attempting to connect Garcia to the now-indicted former cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman Fried, who spent over $150,000 on pro-Garcia mailers in his new district. Bankman-Fried offered similar aid to many Democratic congressmen. Garcia has denied ever meeting Bankman-Fried and any allegations of wrongdoing or corruption.