Virginia Democrats sweep legislative elections after campaigning on abortion rights

Nov 6, 2023, 10:19 PM | Updated: Nov 7, 2023, 11:42 pm

FILE - Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the crowd during an early voting rally, Sep. 21, 2023...

FILE - Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the crowd during an early voting rally, Sep. 21, 2023, in Petersburg, Va. Virginia's closely watched legislative campaign cycle closes out Tuesday, Nov. 7, as voters decide whether to empower Republicans with full state government control or let Democrats keep serving as a bulwark against Youngkin's agenda. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — 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 Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his fellow Republicans, who exerted a great deal of energy, money and political capital on their effort to secure a GOP trifecta.

“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.

Virginia was 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 expensive, hard-fought legislative races, as both parties closely monitored 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.

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 in Virginia — along with a win for abortion rights supporters on an Ohio ballot measure and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s reelection in Kentucky — will 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.

“This is a huge sign of Democrats’ continued momentum heading into 2024. With so much on the line, voters showed up at the ballot box and sent the GOP a stark warning — betting big on the MAGA agenda doesn’t fly with everyday Americans, and it will cost them once again in 2024,” Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said of Virginia’s results in a statement.

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 and continues to be mentioned as a possible presidential contender, 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.

All the legislative candidates ran for the first time this year under new maps created during the latest redistricting process, which drove a wave of retirements and created a more open environment. Democrats’ path to victory in both chambers ran through mostly suburban swing districts.

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.

The Senate Republican caucus issued a statement acknowledging their losses and congratulating their new members, including Emily Brewer, a member of the House of Delegates who defeated another House member, Democrat Clint Jenkins.

The “returning Senators and Senators-elect stand ready to promote our positive agenda of fighting inflation, lowering taxes, supporting law enforcement, and getting energy prices under control,” Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan McDougle said in a statement. “We will also stand strong against the Democrats’ extreme progressive agenda.”

In the House, military veteran Michael Feggans won a key victory for Democrats, ousting incumbent Karen Greenhalgh in Virginia Beach. Joshua Cole defeated Republican Lee Peters in another competitive House matchup based in Stafford County.

House Democratic Leader Don Scott, who appears poised to become the first Black speaker of the House, said in a statement that Wednesday will mark the “first day of a new Virginia.”

“The work begins to protect and defend the rights and freedoms of hardworking Virginia families and make this economy work for everybody,” Scott said.

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. Incomplete returns showed Owen leading in a tight race.


Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie in Henrico County contributed to this report, along with AP writer Ben Finley in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and AP writer Matthew Barakat in Falls Church.

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Virginia Democrats sweep legislative elections after campaigning on abortion rights