Virginia elections in dead heat as candidates focus on abortion and crime

Virginia elections in dead heat as candidates focus on abortion and crime

October 10, 2023 03:00 AM

Virginia could serve as a 2024 bellwether on abortion because both legislative houses are up for grabs in November.

The Old Dominion is the last state in the South that does not restrict abortion to at least 15 weeks gestation, even as Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) and the slim Republican majority in the lower chamber have attempted such a limit.


A slim Democratic majority in the state Senate killed a proposed 15-week limit earlier this year, and Democrats running for both chambers across the state are making abortion the central issue of the campaign.

Democrats already flipped a state Senate seat earlier this year in a special election, where now-state Sen. Aaron Rouse campaigned heavily on abortion messaging and won a seat that represents Norfolk and Virginia Beach, where much of the commonwealth’s military lives.

“The reason we believe that seat flipped for us is because of the messaging on women’s reproductive rights,” Democratic state Sen. Mamie Locke, chairwoman of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, said. “I did door-knocking for that candidate, and much of what we heard is, ‘This candidate going to protect women’s right to choose?’”

According to the Washington Post, abortion is the No. 1 issue being pushed in ad buys across the state supporting Democratic candidates in both chambers, clocking in at $4.5 million.

A poll taken by the University of Mary Washington in late September found that preference for political control is essentially tied, with respondents preferring Democratic control at 40% and Republican control at 37%, with a 3% margin of error. When looking at likely voters, the preference is tied at 42%.

UMW politics professor Stephen Farnsworth said Virginia, once reliably purple but trending blue in recent years, “has rapidly returned to its purple state status.” In the same poll, 53% of respondents said the overturn of Roe v. Wade would be a “major factor” for electoral decision-making.

Moreover, 23% believe abortion should be legal in all cases compared to 8%, who believe it should be illegal in all cases, while 34% believe it should be legal in most cases and 27% believe it should be illegal in most cases.

“We’ve told Democrats and the whole commonwealth exactly where we are,” Garren Shipley, state House Speaker Todd Gilbert’s communications director, said. “We are at a limit after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life and health of the mother.”

Running on abortion in post-Roe elections appears to have worked for Democrats nationwide, with Republicans suffering an unexpectedly slim federal House majority in 2022, including only picking up one of potentially three close races in Virginia — Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-VA), whose state Senate seat was flipped by Rouse. Prince William County supervisor Yesli Vega, who ran to defeat Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), narrowly lost in a race many believe was marred by an abortion-related gaffe last year.

However, Spirit of Virginia PAC coordinated campaigns director Zack Roday said Republicans will have a different strategy than 2022, where Republicans have been criticized for running away from messaging on abortion, allowing Democrats to own the issue.

“We’re not putting our head in the sand,” Roday said, according to the Hill. “We’re correcting the record and sharing where Democrats are in this case, with a pretty simple choice between a reasonable 15-week limit to protect life and an extreme position where there are no limits to abortion.”

“You can’t just ignore what your opponent is leveling against you when it’s their No. 1 attack,” he added.

Republicans and Democrats both have reason to be nervous as well, due to the lack of current lawmakers running for seats — incumbency typically brings with it a significant electoral advantage. Seven out of the 10 closest races for the House of Delegates are open seats, while five of the most contested state Senate seats are also open.

The off-year election is also seeing large investments from both sides to angle toward victory, with Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC dropping more than $7 million in the third quarter and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee pumping in $2 million.


While abortion remains the major focus of Democratic candidates, Republicans are responding by painting Democrats as soft on crime. Republicans hope to win over suburbs in northern Virginia, Virginia Beach, and Richmond, and the GOP has been focusing specifically on George Soros-funded liberal prosecutors in the targeted areas.

Democrats are also trying to run on crime, blaming Republicans for opposing gun restrictions.