5 under-the-radar races to watch this year

While all eyes are on the 2024 presidential race, several consequential elections are also taking place in the coming days and months.

In Rhode Island, 13 Democrats are competing against each other for the opportunity to represent a House district. A special election for the Pennsylvania state House will determine partisan balance of the state’s lower chamber. And elections for the Virginia General Assembly will have enormous implications for Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) political future.

These are just a few of the colorful elections taking place soon that could offer glimpses into voters’ attitudes ahead of the 2024 election. While several of the races are taking place during the standard November election timeline, a few are taking place this coming Tuesday, a day after Labor Day, which would impact voter turnout in those races.

Here’s a look at five under-the-radar races to watch for this fall:

Sept. 5: Rhode Island special Democratic House primary

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos gives her victory speech during an election night gathering
Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos gives her victory speech during an election night gathering

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos gives her victory speech during an election night gathering of Rhode Island Democratic candidates and supporters, Tuesday Nov. 8, 2022, in Providence.

Thirteen Democrats are running to fill the remainder of former Rep. David Cicilline’s (D-R.I.) following his resignation earlier this year to head the Rhode Island Foundation.

Among those running include Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, former state legislator Aaron Regunberg and Gabe Amo, who most recently served as a special assistant to President Biden and deputy director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Those three are being backed by different cohorts within the Democratic Party. Bold PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; the centrist New Democrat Coalition Action Fund; and Emily’s List are backing Matos. Meanwhile, Regunberg has received endorsements from progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), in addition to the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC and former White House chief of staff Ron Klain are among some of Amo’s backers.

Recent polling has been scarce, but internal polling publicized by Amo’s campaign and taken in mid-August found the former Biden White House senior aide close to 10 points behind Regunberg, according to The Boston Globe. Roughly 28 percent of respondents chose Regunberg, followed by Amo in second at 19 percent and Matos and state Sen. Sandra Cano at roughly 11 percent each.

The news outlet noted that neither a margin of error nor methodology of the poll were provided by the campaign.

Though there are two Republicans also running, the seat leans heavily Democratic, meaning that whoever wins the primary Tuesday is poised to be the victor in the November general election.

Sept. 5: Utah special GOP House primary

Celeste Maloy speaks during the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary debate for outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart’s seat, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Farmington, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah Republicans will head to the polls Tuesday to weigh in on which three GOP candidates should replace Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Stewart announced in late May that he was resigning from his seat, citing his wife’s health as a primary reason.

Former state legislator and Senate challenger Becky Edwards; entrepreneur and former Utah GOP Chairman Bruce Hough; and Stewart’s former chief legal counsel Celeste Maloy are all running to serve the remainder of Stewart’s term. Stewart and former Rep. Bob Bishop (R-Utah) have both endorsed Maloy, and she was voted in June as the GOP pick at the Republican convention.

Republicans who do not win the GOP convention can still run if they meet a signature threshold.

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Maloy’s voter status generated some controversy after winning the convention because, when she launched her run, she wasn’t a registered GOP voter. She lived in Virginia to work for Stewart and did not vote in either of the last two election cycles, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“I didn’t want my absentee ballot from out of state to get flagged as a fraudulent vote. I didn’t want my boss to be answering any questions about my vote,” Maloy told KSL NewsRadio in June, discussing the lapse in her voting record.

An effort to have her taken off the primary ballot was ultimately tossed out by a judge.

poll released by Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics in late August found Edwards in the lead at 32 percent among Republicans in the district, followed by Hough at 11 percent and Maloy at 9 percent. But it also found that a whopping 47 percent were unsure of whom they’re voting for.

State Sen. Kathleen Riebe (D) was tapped by Democratic delegates in the state as their pick to replace Stewart. The district leans heavily Republican, meaning that the winner of the GOP primary Tuesday is seen as the heavy favorite to win in November.

Sept. 19: Pennsylvania state House special election

Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, presides over the state House of Representatives at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, June 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Democrats are bracing for another special election in the Pennsylvania state House, which will determine the partisan tilt of the lower chamber.

The match-up for the 21st House District in the state is between Erin Connolly Autenreith, a realtor who’s also chairwoman of the Shaler Republican Committee, and Democrat Lindsay Powell, the director of workforce strategies at InnovatePGH. Former state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D) vacated her seat to run for Allegheny County executive.

With Innamorato’s decision to resign, it brings back the partisan tilt in the state House to 101-101, meaning whoever wins the state House special election later in September will determine whether it remains within Democratic control or flips red.

Earlier this spring, Democrats won a special election in the Pennsylvania state House for the 163rd House District following the resignation of state Rep. Michael Zabel (D). Zabel’s resignation brought partisan control of the state House to an even split between the parties.

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star noted that the 21st House district leans Democratic.

Nov. 7: Pennsylvania Supreme Court election

This photo provided by Administrative office of Pennsylvania Courts shows Max Baer, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Administrative office of Pennsylvania Courts via AP)

A state Supreme Court race this November could put Republicans one step closer toward clinching a majority on the high court in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania appellate court Judge Daniel McCaffery (D) and Montgomery County Judge Carolyn Carluccio (R) both won their respective primaries in May to fill a vacant seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after the late Chief Supreme Court Justice Max Baer (D) died last fall. Baer’s death brought the high court back to a 4-2 split, with Democrats in the majority.

Though Democrats will still retain a majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regardless of who wins the November election, a win for Carluccio will bring Republicans closer to flipping partisan control of the court.

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Issues of abortion and democracy have created renewed importance over the role of state Supreme Court races. The issue of abortion is already becoming a focal point in this particular election — one that Democrats are using to galvanize their base again heading into the 2024 elections, though abortion is legal through 23 weeks in the state.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court election is also seen as critical given it defeated an attempt in 2020 to overturn the election results that cycle.

Nov. 7: Virginia General Assembly elections

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – JUNE 15: (L-R) Amazon Vice President of World Wide Economic Development Holly Sullivan walks with Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and his wife Suzanne Youngkin as they tour Amazon HQ2 during their grand opening ceremony on June 15, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. The first phase of HQ2 will have space for 14,000 Amazon employees and includes a 2.5 acre public park. Phase two of the development is delayed and there is no timeline for its completion. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Virginia is set to hold elections for its General Assembly in November, with Democrats currently holding the majority in the state Senate 22-18, while Republicans control the House of Delegates at 49-46.

All 10 of Youngkin’s endorsed candidates clinched their respective Republican primaries in June, but his endorsements will be put to the test in November. Youngkin has also partnered with several GOP groups to encourage Republicans to vote early — a strategy that members of the party have in the past been reluctant to embrace but see as increasingly important for keeping elections competitive.

The elections are not only critical for determining whether Youngkin will have an avenue for trying to advance some of his legislative priorities, but could also have implications for his future political prospects as someone whom some Republicans want to see run as president.

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