Virginia Democrats sweep legislative elections after campaigning on abortion rights

RICHMOND: Virginia Democrats who campaigned on protecting abortion rights swept Tuesday’s legislative elections, retaking full control of the General Assembly after two years of divided power.
The outcome is a sharp loss for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who exerted a great deal of energy, money and political capital on an effort to secure a GOP trifecta.
Virginia is one of just four states holding legislative races this year, and it’s something of a microcosm of other closely divided states that will be critical in next year’s presidential election. That has fueled outsized interest in the legislative races, as both parties are closely monitoring the results for signs about voter moods heading into the 2024 campaign.
With a full statehouse majority, Democrats will have even greater leeway to thwart Youngkin’s policy agenda, though they will have to work with him to advance their own.
Every General Assembly seat was on the ballot this year, with the most competitive seats based in Hampton Roads and the suburbs of Richmond and Washington. Democrats flipped the House of Delegates and held the majority they’ve had in the Senate since 2020.
Virginia Democrats largely centered their message to voters around pledges to protect abortion rights. Virginia is the only state in the South that has not enacted new restrictions on abortion since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. The results are certain to comfort the national party as President Joe Biden and other Democrats are expected to prioritize abortion rights in next year’s campaign to energize their voters.
Republicans campaigned on issues including lowering taxes, supporting parental involvement in schools, rolling back Democrat-sponsored clean energy mandates and improving public safety. On abortion, many GOP candidates in the most competitive swing districts coalesced around Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Virginia Democrats held their majority in the state Senate on Tuesday, but control of the House of Delegates remained unsettled late into the evening, with vote counting still underway in key races.
The Democrats’ victory in the upper chamber ended the prospect of a Republican trifecta that would have allowed Gov. Glenn Youngkin to swiftly move on conservative policy priorities – including a proposed 15-week abortion ban – that Senate Democrats have been able to stymie in his first two years in office. The chamber has been under Democratic control since 2020, and the party’s candidates ran campaigns this year emphasizing a pledge to protect abortion rights.
“It’s official: there will be absolutely no abortion ban legislation sent to Glenn Youngkin’s desk for the duration of his term in office, period, as we have thwarted MAGA Republicans’ attempt to take total control of our government and our bodies,” Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke said in a statement referencing Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Every General Assembly seat was on the ballot in this year’s hard-fought and extraordinarily expensive election cycle.
Virginia is one of just four states holding legislative races this year, and it’s something of a microcosm of other closely divided states that will be critical in next year’s presidential election. That fueled outsized interest in the races, as both parties closely monitored the results for signs about voter moods heading into the 2024 campaign.
Candidates made their case to voters this cycle on the economy, the environment, public safety and schools, but no issue was more hotly contested than abortion in the last state in the South without new restrictions since the end of Roe v. Wade.
The results could comfort the national party as President Joe Biden and other Democrats are expected to prioritize abortion rights in next year’s campaign to energize their voters.
“I think voters are without question rejecting Republicans and the idea of an abortion ban. The issue was definitely motivating,” said Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Republicans centered their messages around issues like lowering taxes, supporting parental involvement in schools, rolling back Democrat-sponsored clean energy mandates and improving public safety. On abortion, many GOP candidates in the most competitive swing districts coalesced around Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Youngkin, who predicted hours before the polls closed that Republicans would hold the House and flip the Senate, was asked how he would work with Democrats if his party fell short.
“I think there’s always a place for common sense, and we’ve been able to get things done” during the past two years of divided government, Youngkin said, before pivoting to a criticism of Democrats as lacking a vision for the future and being “the party of fear.”
Youngkin, who cannot seek a second consecutive term, did not immediately weigh in on the election results. But Dave Rexrode, the chairman of Youngkin’s political action committee, said on social media the group would fully assess where things stand Wednesday morning.
“We had hoped for a stronger outcome this evening but are proud of the effort all of our candidates put in to these extremely competitive districts,” Rexrode wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Democrats’ path to victory in the Senate ran through competitive swing districts in Hampton Roads, suburban Richmond and northern Virginia, the same geographic areas where the House’s balance of power will be decided.
In one Loudoun County-centered Senate seat, former prosecutor and CIA officer Russet Perry defeated entrepreneur Juan Pablo Segura. In Henrico County outside Richmond, public school teacher Schuyler VanValkenburg, a current member of the House, defeated GOP incumbent Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, an OB-GYN.
Another notable race was unfolding in Henrico County, where Democrat Susanna Gibson – who proceeded with her campaign after news broke that she had performed sex acts with her husband in live videos posted on a pornographic website – aimed to prevail over Republican David Owen even after some party support wilted away following the controversy. Early returns suggested a tight race.
The full slate of candidates ran for the first time this year under new maps created during the latest redistricting process. Flipping the Senate had been seen by most strategists in both parties as a tougher climb for Republicans than holding the House.
Also on the ballot were local school board and prosecutor races around the state, and a referendum in Richmond on whether to authorize a proposed casino.

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