Virginia Electorate to Determine Control of Legislature Amidst Intense Debate Over Abortion Rights

by Sophia Chen
focus keyword Virginia legislative elections

As Virginia’s legislative campaign season draws to a close this Tuesday, the electorate faces a pivotal decision: grant the Republicans total control of state government or allow the Democrats to continue countering Governor Glenn Youngkin’s legislative push.

This year’s legislative elections in Virginia, one of only four states conducting them, will be under national observation, serving as a potential precursor for the 2024 presidential race dynamics.

With the state’s entire 140-seat General Assembly up for election in what has been an expensive and fiercely fought campaign year, the fate of the currently divided legislative control is expected to hinge on a handful of districts in areas such as Hampton Roads, suburban Richmond, and northern Virginia. The economy, environmental policy, public safety, and education have all been key talking points for candidates, yet the debate over abortion rights has surged to the forefront, especially as Virginia remains the last southern state without new restrictions post the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

“These elections stand as the most consequential in the nation, reflecting the gravity of issues that Virginians are wrestling with, ones that will resonate deeply with the American populace in the coming year,” stated Governor Youngkin in a recent appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Ahead of Virginia’s critical elections, Governor Youngkin clashes with the NAACP over the issue of voting rights for felons.
Live Election 2023 | Current updates on races in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky.
In the capital of Virginia, voters reconsider the proposition of authorizing a casino.

Both political parties intensified their efforts to mobilize voters on the last day before the election, with Democrats enlisting figures such as Maryland Governor Wes Moore, David Hogg, a survivor of a mass shooting at a Florida high school, and former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who made a joint appearance with Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas in northern Virginia.

President Joe Biden, who previously won Virginia by a 10-point margin and opposed Youngkin in the 2021 campaign, was not present, although he endorsed candidates and issued a fundraising plea via email.

The Republican candidates are seeking to capitalize on the Democratic president’s low approval ratings, which currently lag behind Governor Youngkin’s.

Governor Youngkin led the Republican campaign initiatives, joining candidates across competitive districts on a bus tour designed to bolster early voting and overcome the GOP’s historical skepticism of the practice.

Among early voters, abortion rights have emerged as a top concern. Governor Youngkin has vowed to push for a 15-week abortion ban, with certain exceptions, should he have the opportunity.

James Burkhardt, a 37-year-old software engineer from Henrico County, was among the early voters, casting his ballot in support of Democrats Del. Rodney Willett and Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg due to their stance on abortion rights. Willett faces off against Republican Riley Shaia, while VanValkenburg challenges Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, an OB-GYN who has voiced her support for restricted access to abortion after 15 weeks under specific circumstances.

Burkhardt expressed bewilderment at Dunnavant’s stance on abortion, given her medical profession, stating, “It’s incomprehensible that she would support legislation that curtails a woman’s autonomy over her pregnancy decisions at any stage.”

Conversely, some voters find Youngkin’s abortion stance to be moderate. Scott McKenzie, a 78-year-old retiree, cast his early vote for Republicans in Virginia Beach, approving of a 15-week abortion ban with exceptions, aligning with Youngkin’s viewpoint.

Key legislative matchups include a highly contested Senate race in Tidewater between Democratic incumbent Monty Mason and former sheriff Danny Diggs, a Republican, marked by particularly acrimonious television campaigns.

In the Washington, D.C. outskirts, a tight Senate contest features Democratic ex-Marine Joel Griffin against GOP Del. Tara Durant, with independent Monica Gary, known for her past electoral successes, also in the fray.

A race to watch in suburban Richmond involves Democrat Susanna Gibson continuing her campaign against Republican David Owen despite a scandal, leading to dwindled support from some within her party.

House races in other competitive districts are also unfolding across Hampton Roads, the D.C. exurban corridor along Interstate 95, and areas south of Richmond.

With new legislative maps in play, Republicans acknowledge the challenge of taking over the Senate compared to maintaining their narrow House majority. Democrats currently have a slight edge in the Senate.

Virginia’s ballot will also feature local school board and prosecutor positions, as well as a referendum in Richmond on a potential casino.

Voting hours are set from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, with provisions for same-day voter registration.

Denise Lavoie and Ben Finley of Big Big News contributed to this story from Henrico County and Virginia Beach, respectively.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about focus keyword Virginia legislative elections

What is at stake in the Virginia legislative elections?

The Virginia legislative elections will determine whether Republicans will gain full control of the state government or Democrats will remain as a check against Governor Youngkin’s agenda. Control of the General Assembly is up for grabs, with the balance of power potentially being decided in a few key districts. These elections are seen as a significant indicator for the 2024 presidential cycle.

Which issues are dominating the Virginia elections?

While candidates are discussing the economy, environment, public safety, and education, the most fiercely debated issue is abortion rights. This follows the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, with Virginia being the last southern state to not implement new restrictions on abortion.

Who are some of the political figures that have participated in Virginia’s election cycle?

Democrats have rallied with Maryland Governor Wes Moore, activist David Hogg, and former U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi. President Biden has contributed through endorsements and a fundraising email. Governor Youngkin has been actively campaigning for Republican candidates.

How are abortion rights influencing voter decisions in Virginia?

Abortion rights are a major concern for Virginia voters, particularly after Governor Youngkin’s pledge to seek a 15-week abortion ban with certain exceptions. This has caused voters like James Burkhardt to support Democrats who are pro-abortion rights, and others like Scott McKenzie to side with Republicans who are for the ban with exceptions.

Are there any controversial candidates in the Virginia elections?

Yes, in suburban Richmond, Democrat Susanna Gibson has continued her campaign despite controversy over personal conduct, and in other districts, candidates are dealing with fierce opposition and highly competitive races.

What is unique about the 2023 Virginia legislative elections?

This election cycle is conducted under new legislative maps, and it is one of only four states holding legislative elections in 2023. It’s also noteworthy for the national scrutiny it is receiving as an indicator for the 2024 presidential elections.

When are the polling hours for the Virginia elections?

Polls in Virginia are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, with provisions allowing for same-day voter registration.

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Sandra Smith November 7, 2023 - 7:13 pm

Dems are pulling out all the stops with the big names huh, Moore, Hogg, Pelosi… Biden’s a no-show though – makes you think if that’s a strategic move or not

Tom Harding November 8, 2023 - 3:02 am

Virginia’s on the edge with this abortion debate man, Youngkin’s move on the 15-week ban’s got people stirred up, let’s see how this plays out at the polls

Jenny Clark November 8, 2023 - 3:28 am

Can we just talk about how this is the first time these new maps are being used? I bet that’s gonna throw in some curveballs in these races

Dave Roberts November 8, 2023 - 1:37 pm

heard about that Gibson scandal, politics is wild these days, nothing’s off the table anymore it seems

Mike Johnson November 8, 2023 - 3:39 pm

gotta say its pretty intense in Virginia right now, the whole country’s watching these elections like hawks, wonder if this really spells out whats gonna happen in 2024?


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