The Niigata governor's race kicked off Thursday with the future of the prefecture's nuclear power plants taking center stage ahead of the June 10 election. The vote is also seen as a test for how voters view the various scandals surrounding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Three candidates are running for election: Hideyo Hanazumi, 60, a former Niigata vice governor who is backed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito; his main rival, Chikako Ikeda, 57, a former prefectural assembly member who is supported by all of the major opposition parties, and a third candidate, 40-year-old Satoshi Annaka.

The election was called following Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama's resignation in April after he admitted to sexual relationships with several women, including a university student to whom he gave gifts and money.