Abortion will once again be on the ballot on Tuesday, as Ohio residents vote on whether to guarantee abortion rights and Virginia voters decide whether to give Republicans the power to impose new limits on the procedure.
With the first presidential nominating contest in Iowa less than 10 weeks away, national Republicans and Democrats are closely watching Tuesday’s races for clues about where the U.S. electorate stands ahead of the 2024 campaign for both the White House and Congress. For Democrats, the elections in Ohio and Virginia will assess whether abortion remains as politically potent as it was in the 2022 midterm elections, when voter anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate a nationwide right helped the party avoid a Republican landslide.
For Republicans, the two states provide strategic testing grounds after the party struggled to identify a winning message on the subject last year. Elsewhere on Tuesday, Kentucky and Mississippi will elect governors, while voters across the country will choose mayors and other local elected officials.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, one of a handful of Democrats to lead a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, is defying his home state’s conservative lean once again in his re-election campaign. Beshear faces Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who would be Kentucky’s first Black governor. Despite his party affiliation, Beshear enjoys strong approval ratings after leading the state through the coronavirus pandemic and a series of natural disasters while overseeing economic growth.
In Mississippi, Republican Governor Tate Reeves is seeking another four-year term. His Democratic challenger, Brandon Presley, a former mayor and the second cousin of singer Elvis Presley, has outraised Reeves, but he faces an uphill climb in a state that voted for Trump over Democratic President Joe Biden by more than 16 percentage points in 2020.
Ohio is the latest abortion battleground, nearly a year and a half since the Supreme Court decision. Last year, abortion rights advocacy groups scored a series of victories by placing abortion-related referendums on the ballot, including in conservative states.
They have doubled down on that strategy. In addition to Tuesday’s amendment in Ohio that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, similar ballot measures are advancing in several states for 2024, including swing states Arizona and Florida. Anti-abortion forces have campaigned against the Ohio amendment as too extreme, while abortion rights groups have warned that rejecting it would pave the way for a stringent ban to take effect.
Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature previously approved a six-week limit, but the law is on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge before the conservative state Supreme Court. Voters in August rejected a separate referendum, backed by Republicans, that would have raised the threshold to approve constitutional amendments – including Tuesday’s ballot question – from 50% to 60%.
In Virginia, all 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates are on the ballot. Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate, while Republicans have a narrow edge in the House. Democrats have sought to make abortion the top issue, warning that a Republican victory would lead to a ban. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has said he will pursue a 15-week abortion limit if Republicans take control of the legislature, a move he has characterized as a reasonable compromise that could offer a blueprint for Republicans in 2024.
Republicans have focused on public safety, running advertisements claiming that Democrats would cut police funding and go easy on criminals. Some 40% of respondents in a September Reuters/Ipsos poll said Republicans have the best approach to addressing crime, compared to 32% who picked Democrats on the issue. A Republican sweep would boost Youngkin’s rising national profile; his political action committee has invested millions of dollars in the legislative races. Some Republicans wary of Trump have floated Youngkin as a potential late entry to the 2024 presidential race, though the governor has said he has no plans for a White House run.
Biden added his weight to the race last week, issuing endorsements for 16 Democrats running in competitive races for the state House and seven in the Senate, while sending out a fundraising plea to supporters.