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 A voter casts their ballot in the Kentucky Primary Elections at polling place in the Simpsonville Community Gym on May 16, 2023 in Simpsonville, Ky.
A voter casts their ballot in the Kentucky Primary Elections at polling place in the Simpsonville Community Gym on May 16, 2023 in Simpsonville, Ky.Jon Cherry / Getty Images

Three things to watch in Tuesday's elections

Key races in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Florida on Tuesday will shed new light on national political trends and the state of both parties ahead of 2024.

By and

Tuesday is the biggest primary day of 2023, with key nominating contests in Kentucky and Philadelphia, as well as a mayoral runoff in Florida, that will provide clues about where both parties are headed next year.

Here are three things to watch in Tuesday's biggest contests — and what they could mean going forward:

1. GOP picks challenger to face a resilient red-state Democratic governor

Kentucky’s hotly contested GOP primary for governor may be the most important one on the political calendar in 2023, because it draws the battle lines for what promises to be the most competitive governor’s race of the year.

State Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Kelly Craft, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during former President Donald Trump's administration, have emerged as the frontrunners in the GOP primary. The winner will face a tough task: Completing the Republican takeover of Kentucky in recent years by taking on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who has remained popular despite the state's increasingly red hue.

Cameron has Trump's endorsement, and he has deep ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (although McConnell has not explicitly endorsed Cameron).

Craft, who has loaned her campaign more than $7 million, has endorsements including House Oversight Chairman Rep. James Comer, Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. On Monday, Craft also picked up a last-minute endorsement from Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Cameron has sought to play up his endorsement from Trump and his work as attorney general to run a pretty conventional Republican campaign. Craft, meanwhile, has embraced more of a combative strategy focusing on controversial and attention-grabbing issues. That includes attacking “woke” bureaucrats she’s accused of pushing liberal indoctrination in schools and criticizing Cameron for not pushing back on the Justice Department’s “pattern or practice” investigation into Louisville police amid fallout from the Breonna Taylor shooting

Two statewide elected officials are also running, though they have gotten less attention: state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and state Auditor Mike Harmon.

Craft and an aligned super PAC, Commonwealth PAC, have spent a combined $8.1 million on ads through the Tuesday primary, per the ad tracking firm AdImpact. Cameron and his aligned super PAC, Bluegrass Freedom Action, have spent a combined $3.8 million on ads. Quarles has spent $904,000 while Deters has spent $309,000.

2. Democrats pick the likely next mayor of Philadelphia

Current Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney cannot run for re-election due to term limits, so voters will choose their nominees to compete in November to become the city’s 100th mayor. And in deep-blue Philadelphia, that means the Democratic primary is the key election.

Like other recent big city elections, crime has dominated the race.

A crowded field of nine candidates is competing in the Democratic primary, with the top contenders including former city councilwoman Cherelle Parker; former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart; former city councilman and real estate developer Allan Domb; grocery store CEO Jeff Brown; and former city councilmember Helen Gym. 

Gym has racked up support from high-profile progressive leaders. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., will both be heading to Philadelphia for a rally on Sunday to boost Gym before the primary. She also has endorsements from other progressive lawmakers including Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Greg Casar of Texas. 

But two House Democrats who represent significant parts of Philadelphia — Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle — have endorsed Parker, who also served in the state House. And Rhynhart has endorsements from three former Philadelphia mayors: Michael Nutter, John Street and Ed Rendell, who also served as governor.

Like other recent big-city elections, crime has dominated the race.

Parker and Gym have been among the top fundraising candidates, but Domb and Brown have poured their own money into their campaigns. They’ve been able to blanket the airwaves with campaign ads, per AdImpact. Domb has vastly outspent his opponents (a total of $8.7 million), with one of his recent spots highlighting his work supporting a school boxing program. 

3. Republicans fight to hold their biggest big-city mayorship — in a key presidential swing county

Jacksonville’s mayoral runoff between Democrat Donna Deegan and Republican Daniel Davis may be flying under the radar, but it’s expected to be a tight race in a key swing area in red-leaning Florida.

It's the largest U.S. city by population with a GOP mayor: term-limited Republican Lenny Curry. If Republicans lose, that crown goes to Fort Worth, a city virtually identical in size, per 2021 Census population estimates. 

Deegan, who was one of two Democrats on the ballot, was the top vote-getter during the first round of voting in March, winning 39%. Davis won 25% of the vote, with the GOP vote split between Davis and three other Republican candidates.

Overall, the two Democrats won 48% of the vote while the GOP candidates won 51% back in March.

As recently as 2000, half of the biggest cities in America had Republican mayors, according to Politico. But the cities — and the two political parties — have changed a lot since then, even in the big Sun Belt metros where urban Republicans still hold some sway.