Virginia to be ground zero in 2023 legislative elections

For the second time since Joe Biden became president of the United States, Virginia is emerging as a key political test for his party in new elections that will attract millions in spending next year.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) applauds as he delivers his State of the Commonwealth address in the House chambers at the Capitol, on Jan. 17, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

For the second time since Joe Biden became president of the United States, Virginia is emerging as a key political test for his party in new elections that will attract millions in spending next year.

Virginia is one of only four states — along with Kentucky, Louisiana and New Jersey — that hold legislative elections next year, and the only one of those four where either party has a real chance to challenge for control.

Democrats hold a 21-19 seat advantage in the state Senate, where they reclaimed control in 2019. Republicans hold the House of Delegates by a 52-48 margin, after wresting back the majority in 2021. 

All 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the state Senate are up for election next November. The final results will be a late signal of whether Biden’s Democratic Party has the wind in its sails as the president heads into a potential re-election bid, or if Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) gets a key boost — one that would land just a few months before Youngkin’s potential bid for president would go before Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Neither party has made known its intention to challenge for key seats yet. 

But an analysis of the districts’ partisanship sheds some light on the state’s competitive universe: President Biden and former President Donald Trump’s 2020 vote shares were separated by about 10 percentage points or less in 18 House districts and six Senate districts.

Democrats are aiming to build on this year’s historically successful midterm performance, when the party held all of its legislative majorities and picked up Republican-controlled chambers in Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, three other presidential swing states.

“Heading into 2023, we are coming off this advantageous political cycle where a lot of lessons were learned,” said Christina Polizzi, a spokesperson for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “One of them is abortion rights are very popular. With Republicans having already shown they want to restrict access to abortions, I think you are going to see that emerge as a major issue.”

A special election for a vacant Senate seat that includes parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach could provide an early sign of momentum for either party. The 7th District contest, which is being run under old district boundary lines, is to replace Jen Kiggans (R), who unseated U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D) last month.

In 2020, President Biden carried Kiggans’s state Senate district by a 54%-44% margin, according to calculations by Daily Kos, the progressive blog.

The new lines crafted during the redistricting process will be in place for the regularly scheduled legislative elections. 

Unlike in 2021, when Republicans swept all three statewide offices, legislative races will be the only game in town. Still, Republicans are intent on picking up where they left off that year, when they won the House while sweeping the statewide races.

“Since taking back the House majority, Virginia Republicans have kept their promises to empower parents to have a say in their children’s education, lower the cost of living for working families, and make communities safer,” said Mason DiPalma, a spokesperson for the Republican State Leadership Committee.

DiPalma said the RSLC would invest in Virginia to defend the GOP’s House majority and reclaim the state Senate.

The competition in Virginia is likely to draw significant spending from outside groups in part because there are few other competitive races on the ballot next year.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) will face the winner of a crowded Republican primary. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R), who also has close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). Kelly Craft, who served as ambassador to Canada and the United Nations under Trump, has begun running television advertisements.

In Louisiana, a host of prominent Republicans including Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (R) are running to replace term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). No prominent Democrat has stepped up to try to succeed Edwards.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) appears poised to skate to a second term.

Republicans control legislative chambers in all three states by wide margins. Democrats control the lone remaining state that will hold legislative elections next year, New Jersey, with substantial majorities.