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What to Watch: Clues about voter sentiment could emerge from Kentucky, Pennsylvania primaries

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Off-year elections on Tuesday 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 governor’s race is a table-setter for what should be a bruising general election contest. Republican voters will settle on a nominee to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who has enjoyed high approval ratings but will have to fend off a GOP challenge in a state Republicans usually dominate. Two candidates with ties to former President Donald Trump are contenders in a 12-candidate field.

A special legislative race in the Philadelphia suburbs could determine whether Democrats retain a one-vote majority in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, and the outcome could demonstrate how voters are feeling in a crucial region of a swing presidential state. Both parties will choose nominees for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Philadelphia voters will cast ballots in mayoral primaries.

What to watch in Tuesday’s primaries:

KENTUCKY REPUBLICANS PICK A CHALLENGER FOR POPULAR DEMOCRAT

A fierce Republican primary for governor comes to a head in red-leaning Kentucky, where a flurry of attacks has overshadowed candidates’ plans for governing.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron turned away from a bid for reelection to run for governor, a race many Republicans think is ripe for the taking, but the primary campaign has been unexpectedly feisty. Cameron snagged the campaign’s biggest endorsement from Trump and touted his legal fights defending Kentucky’s anti-abortion laws, all the while challenging policy decisions by Beshear and working to tie him to President Joe Biden’s administration.

With a primary win, Cameron would become the state’s first Black nominee for governor by either major political party.

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

The campaign escalated into a slugfest between the Craft and Cameron camps. A pro-Craft group ridiculed Cameron as an “establishment teddy bear.” Cameron backers criticized Craft’s tenure as ambassador.

Another GOP gubernatorial contender, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, stayed out of the fray, hoping to win over Republican voters turned off by the attacks.

As the campaign entered the stretch run, Craft had loaned her campaign more than $9 million. She was on the air for months before Cameron and Quarles ran TV ads. Cameron got a boost from a well-financed outside group.

Beshear, expected to cruise through the primary over two nominal opponents, looks to draw on his family’s political brand to counter the state’s GOP tilt. He was attorney general four years ago when he defeated then-Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Before Bevin’s single term, Steve Beshear, the current governor’s father, served two terms as governor.

Andy Beshear has presided over record economic growth. His term also has been marked by a series of crises — the pandemic, tornadoes, flooding and a mass shooting that killed one of his closest friends. He has received consistently high voter approval ratings, in part by settling into a role as the state’s consoler in chief.

INCUMBENT SECRETARY OF STATE FACES REMATCH WITH ELECTION DENIER

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

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

Other statewide offices also are on the ballot.

PENNSYLVANIA HOUSE ON THE LINE

Special legislative elections could determine if Democrats remain in 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 Philadelphia’s suburbs left vacant by a Democrat who resigned. 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, gun rights and election law to the coming year’s budget, which will be lawmakers’ focus through June.

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR

In heavily Democratic Philadelphia, voters will likely choose the next mayor of the nation’s sixth most-populous city from a crowded field of candidates in Tuesday’s primary. The election comes as the city faces upticks in gun violence and safety concerns.

Five frontrunner candidates including former city council members, former city officials and a grocery store franchiser, have sought to differentiate themselves in a tight contest.

They are vying to replace Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat who is term-limited. The winner will go up against the lone Republican candidate, David Oh, a former city councilmember, in November.

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

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