The marquee ballot box showdown this year may very well take place in Virginia rather than Kentucky, Louisiana or Mississippi, the three states with high-profile off-year gubernatorial elections.
Virginia is holding pivotal contests for legislative control in November, and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin hopes to boot Democrats from their last stronghold in Richmond, where Democrats hold a slim majority in the state Senate. If Youngkin is successful, the governor would be able push forward a conservative agenda in a state that has been trending blue over the past two decades.
If Republicans succeed, it could boost Youngkin — a rising star in the GOP — toward a potential White House run, perhaps even next year. Just as importantly, the results in Virginia would be seen by the GOP as a bellwether ahead of next year’s presidential election, and the battles for control of the Senate and House.
“The most important election in the nation, I believe, is Virginia this year,” Youngkin told Fox News Digital in a recent interview. “We are laser focused on holding our House, winning our Senate.”
If Republicans succeed in Virginia, it would cap a remarkable electoral comeback.
When former President Barack Obama carried Virginia in the 2008 presidential election, it snapped a streak of 10 straight GOP victories in the Commonwealth in White House contests dating back to 1968. It’s the Democrats who are now enjoying a winning streak, capped by President Biden’s 10-point defeat of former President Donald Trump in Virginia in 2020.
Democrats have also won six straight Senate elections dating back to 2006.
But Youngkin, who was a first-time candidate hailed from the GOP’s business wing, breathed life back into the Virginia GOP with his 2021 upset of former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Republicans also swept statewide contests for lieutenant governor and attorney general, and won back the state’s House of Delegates.
And Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign, which made parental rights in their children’s education a centerpiece of his bid, instantly served as a road map for Republicans going forward.
“In 2021, Glenn Youngkin latched onto key bread and butter issues that matter to people in their daily lives,” Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told Fox News. “The whole play on the education issue, that parental rights are absolutely key, worked very well in swing areas of the state — particularly suburbs and exurbs — that had been trending Democratic.”
The GOP success in Virginia in 2021 wasn’t replicated in last year’s midterms. What many expected to be a red wave in 2022 turned out to be a trickle in races across the country, which was certainly the case in the commonwealth.
In the battle for Congress, Republicans flipped their easiest House target in Virginia, but fell short of expectations as Democrats successfully defended two other contested congressional seats.
Looking ahead to November’s elections, Democrats in Virginia have been sounding the alarm that their national party hasn’t been doing enough to blunt Youngkin and his GOP allies, who have been building formidable war chests.
Should Republicans win back the state Senate majority and secure total control of Virginia’s government, Youngkin’s to-do list includes passing a controversial 15-week ban on abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest and saving the life of the mother.
Democrats have been spotlighting the issue, which has helped them at the ballot box in elections across the country since last year’s blockbuster move by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the decades old landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide.
“The Senate blue brick wall was the only thing that stopped us [in] the last two years from banning abortion in Virginia. We cannot turn the whole state government over to the MAGA party,” Virginia Democratic Party chair Susan Swecker emphasized in a recent statement.
Rozell says that in last year’s midterms in Virginia, “the abortion issue, more than anything, gave a lot of firepower to the Democratic grassroots and brought out younger voters.”
Looking ahead to November, Rozell believes that abortion “is the key issue for Democrats… there’s a lot of energy there. Much of that is due to the perception that what has happened in a number of other states might be coming to Virginia.”
Rozell says this year’s elections in Virginia “can offer some important previews into dynamics that will animate 2024.”
“In a purple state with vast, reliably Republican rural districts, Democratic-voting cities and close suburbs and sprawling exurbs that tend to be a moderate mix, nationalized issues such as abortion, guns, LGBTQ+ concerns, race as well as public school curricula and library censorship issues hold major importance,” he writes in an upcoming column. “Those are already prominent among 2024 congressional campaign issues in addition to the economy, national security and immigration.”
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