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What to watch: Clues about voter sentiment could emerge from the Kentucky and Pennsylvania primaries



Tuesday’s off-year elections in Kentucky and Pennsylvania could send early signals about the mood of voters ahead of next year’s races for the White House and Congress.

The Kentucky gubernatorial race is a starting point for what should be a tough general election contest. Republican voters will decide on a candidate to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who has enjoyed high approval ratings but will have to fend off a Republican challenge in a state generally dominated by Republicans. Two candidates with ties to former President Donald Trump are contenders in a field of 12 candidates.

A special legislative race in suburban Philadelphia could determine whether Democrats retain a one-vote majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and the result could show how voters feel in a crucial region of a swing presidential state. Both parties will choose candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Philadelphia voters will cast their ballots in the mayoral primary.

What to watch in Tuesday’s primaries:

KENTUCKY REPUBLICANS ELECT CHALLENGE FOR PEOPLE’S DEMOCRAT

A fierce Republican gubernatorial primary comes to a head in Kentucky, where a series of attacks has overshadowed the candidates’ plans for government.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron has turned down a re-election bid to run for governor, a race many Republicans believe he is ready to take, but the primary campaign has been unexpectedly spirited. Cameron gained the most support from the Trump campaign and promoted his legal fights defending Kentucky’s anti-abortion laws, while challenging Beshear’s policy decisions and working to link him to President Joe Biden’s administration.

With a victory in the primary, Cameron would become the state’s first black candidate for governor for any of the major political parties.

His main rival, Kelly Craft, mounted an aggressive campaign backed by his family fortune. Craft pointed to her experience as an ambassador to Canada and then to the United Nations during the Trump presidency. She touts her ties to government and business leaders, which she says would benefit Kentucky.

The campaign turned into a feud between the Craft and Cameron camps. A pro-Craft group derided Cameron as an “establishment teddy bear”. Cameron’s supporters criticized Craft’s tenure as ambassador.

Another Republican candidate for governor, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, stayed on the sidelines, hoping to win over Republican voters discouraged by the attacks.

By the time the campaign entered its final leg, Craft had loaned his campaign more than $9 million. It was on the air for months before Cameron and Quarles ran TV spots. Cameron got a boost from a well-funded outside group.

Beshear, who is expected to out-run two nominal opponents in the primary, is seeking to harness his family’s political brand to counter the state’s Republican lean. He was attorney general four years ago when he defeated then-Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Prior to Bevin’s single term, Steve Beshear, the father of the current governor, served two terms as governor.

Andy Beshear has presided over record economic growth. His tenure was also marked by a series of crises: the pandemic, tornadoes, floods and a mass shooting that killed one of his closest friends. He has received consistently high voter approval ratings, in part by establishing himself in a role as the state’s chief comforter.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE IN CHARGE FACES A REUNITE WITH ELECTION DENIALER

Republican incumbent Michael Adams will face two challengers in the Republican primary for Kentucky secretary of state, including a former opponent who has raised his profile by denying the Democrats’ election victories.

Adams, a lawyer, has worked with Beshear across party lines on election reform and soundly defeated challenger Steve Knipper in the Republican primary four years ago. Knipper is back for another race along with a third Republican, Allen Maricle, a former state representative and television executive. The winner will face Democrat Buddy Wheatley, a former lawmaker who narrowly lost for re-election.

Other state offices are also on the ballot.

PENNSYLVANIA HOUSE ON THE LINE

Special midterm elections could determine whether Democrats retain control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

They won a one-seat majority in November after 12 years. On Tuesday, voters will fill two empty seats, with most of the attention focused on a seat in suburban Philadelphia vacated by a resigning Democrat. The contest pits Democrat Heather Boyd, a former legislative and congressional aide, against Republican Katie Ford, a military veteran, school volunteer and behavioral therapist.

Control of the House will affect how partisan measures are handled, from abortion rights, the right to bear arms and election law to next year’s budget, which will be the focus of lawmakers through June.

MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA

In heavily Democratic Philadelphia, voters are likely to pick the next mayor of the nation’s sixth-most populous city from a packed field of candidates in Tuesday’s primary. The election comes as the city faces increases in gun violence and security concerns.

Five front-runners, including former city councilmembers, former city officials and a grocery store franchisor, have sought to differentiate themselves in a tight competition.

They are running to replace Mayor Jim Kenney, a term-limited Democrat. The winner will face the only Republican candidate, David Oh, a former city councilman, in November.

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Associated Press writers Marc Levy, Brooke Schultz and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania contributed to this report.

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