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Voters are heading to the polls in several states across the US on Tuesday, in off-year elections that will be seen as an indicator of which way the political winds are blowing for President Joe Biden as he seeks re-election in 2024.
Contests include the governor’s race in Kentucky, where Democrat Andy Beshear is running for a second term in a red state where former president Donald Trump defeated Biden by a 26-point margin in 2020. Opinion polls show Beshear and his Republican opponent, Daniel Cameron, are tied.
Meanwhile, a battle for control of the state legislature in Virginia will deliver either a big win or a bitter defeat for its Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin.
The former Carlyle executive, who was elected governor with little political experience in 2021, has become a favourite for the Republican donor class, who have urged him to launch a late push to challenge Trump for the party’s presidential nomination.
The result in Ohio will also provide a litmus test for public sentiment on abortion, an issue that jump-started Democratic support in last year’s midterm elections after the overturning of Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court decision that enshrined the legal right to the procedure at the federal level.
Ohio has become increasingly Republican. Trump defeated Biden there by eight points in 2020, and last year Republican JD Vance defeated Democrat Tim Ryan by a six-point margin in a US Senate race.
But pro-choice campaigners say they are optimistic that a majority of voters in Ohio will back a ballot measure that would codify the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution.
Abortion may play a role in deciding the results in Virginia too, where Youngkin has tried to chart a more moderate path by promoting a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions. That contrasts with states such as Ohio, Iowa and Florida, where governors have signed into law so-called heartbeat bills that ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, when many women do not yet know they are pregnant.
The off-year elections come against a backdrop of worsening approval ratings and poll numbers for Biden as he gears up for a tough re-election contest in 2024.
With one year to go until the presidential vote, a New York Times/Siena College poll showed Biden losing to Trump in five of the six swing states that are likely to determine the outcome.
The numbers prompted hand-wringing among Democrats who have privately fretted about Biden’s age and apparent electoral weaknesses.
Despite his mounting legal troubles, Trump remains the undisputed frontrunner among the Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in a primary process that will start in earnest in January, with the Iowa caucuses.
Trump will again skip a televised debate with Republican candidates on Wednesday night, and instead hold a rally with supporters in Miami, Florida.