The Virginia state Legislature is on the ballot Tuesday, and the outcome could be decisive for abortion rights and offer a bellwether for President Biden in the battleground state.
All 140 seats in Virginia’s General Assembly are on the ballot Nov. 7 in the first election since a new electoral map was approved by the state’s Supreme Court in Dec. 2021. The redistricting measures prompted many incumbents to either resign or retire. Some faced primary challengers, opening the door to new recruits for both parties.
Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the House of Delegates. Democrats currently hold the majority in the Senate, 22-17, with one seat vacated by a Republican.
There are several key races including Senate District 31, a suburban swing district that was the birthplace of the parental rights movement that Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned on in 2021. That race, between Democrat Russet Perry and Republican Juan Pablo Segura, is one of the most expensive competitions this cycle, with both sides raising nearly $3 million each, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
The Senate race in District 16 between incumbent Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant and challenger Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg is another key race in the Richmond suburbs. Sen. Dunnavant — a former ob-gyn — is running on her experience as a practitioner in a contest that is heavily focused on abortion.
The closely-watched House of Delegate races include Districts 21, 22, and 97 where abortion is also on the ballot as Republicans try to change the narrative around the hot-button issue.
Early voting began on Nov. 4, and all signs show that the race is deadlocked. A survey conducted by the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington found Virginia voters are evenly split in their approach to the midterms. Among likely voters, Democrats and Republicans were evenly split at 42% each.
In a final push ahead of Election Day, Mr. Biden weighed in on the contest Saturday – endorsing 23 battleground candidates and sending out fundraising emails. It was the first time Mr. Biden raised money for candidates in Virginia in the 2023 election cycle.
“Governor Glenn Youngkin and extreme Republicans have made it clear that they’re trying to take our country back on issues like choice,” Mr. Biden wrote in the fundraising email.
Abortion rights are top of mind for Virginia voters, as Democrats argue Youngkin could enact an abortion ban if Republicans were to take control of the legislature.
Virginia is the last state in the South without new abortion restrictions after Roe vs. Wade was overturned in 2022. According to a Washington Post poll, 60% of registered voters say abortion is “very important” to their vote this year – a 14-point increase since 2019.
After Republicans were stymied in 2022 midterms on abortion, Gov. Youngkin has tried to change the narrative surrounding the hot-button issue.
Gov. Youngkin’s PAC Spirit of Virginia released a 30-second ad in October focused on abortion, saying his proposal is not a “ban” but rather a “limit” on the procedure after 15-weeks. On CBS News’ “Face the Nation” last year, he also referred to his proposed ban as a 15-week “pain threshold” bill that would make exceptions in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“The key question that will come out of Virginia’s legislative elections is, can Republicans limit the political damage on abortion, by talking about a 15-week ban instead of being pro-life?” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “Democrats have been talking about abortion frequently, it’s been a political winner for them across the country. And Republicans have tried to focus on something else, anything else,” he added.
The first-time governor’s conservative goals are also on the line this Election Day. If he is successful in sweeping the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Youngkin will push his abortion proposal, along with a new education agenda.
Gov. Youngkin also used his role as the state’s GOP party leader to push new initiatives for early voting. In June, he launched “Secure your Vote,” a strategy to encourage early voting from Republicans who typically tend to vote in person and on Election Day.
In 2021, Republicans were able to win control of the governor’s mansion and the GOP also barely won the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives the following year, flipping it from Democratic control. In 2019, Virginia Democrats swept the House of Delegates and Senate in Virginia, and with a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, the party controlled both the legislative and executive branches of state government for the first time since 1994, paving the way for Joe Biden’s presidential win in the state in 2020.