Virginia Legislative Campaign Cycle Closely Watched ends Tuesday, when voters decide whether to give Republicans full control of state government or allow Democrats to continue serving as a bulwark against Gov. Glenn Youngkin's agenda.
The outcome in Virginia, one of four states with congressional elections this year, will be closely scrutinized across the country for hints of what could happen in the 2024 presidential cycle.
While all 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot in an election year expensive and competitive, the balance of power, currently divided, will likely be decided in about a dozen districts in Hampton Roads, the Richmond suburbs and northern Virginia. Candidates have been making their arguments to voters about the economy, the environment, public safety and schools, but no issue has been more controversial that abortion in the last state in the South without new restrictions since the end of Roe v. Wade .
The races are “the most important elections in America because these issues that are so important to Virginians are also the ones that will be so important to Americans next year,” Youngkin said Sunday on ABC's “This Week.”
Candidates from both parties spent the run-up to Election Day organizing rallies and last-minute polls to get out the vote.
Democrats brought in replacements, including Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, gun control activist David Hogg (a survivor of the mass shooting at a Florida high school) and former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. , who joined Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas for an appearance in Northern Virginia.
President Joe Biden, who won Virginia in 2020 by 10 percentage points and campaigned against Youngkin here in 2021, he didn't appear in person, but he signed a fundraising and endorsement email.
Republicans hope their candidates will benefit from the Democratic president's persistently low approval ratings, which are lower than Youngkin's.
The governor led his party's campaign events. He appeared with candidates in competitive districts across the state as part of a bus tour to promote an early voting initiative aimed at reversing years of GOP distrust in politics.
Some early voters said abortion rights were their biggest concern. Youngkin has committed to try again prohibit abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest and situations in which the mother's life is at risk.
James Burkhardt, 37, a software engineer from Henrico County outside Richmond, waited in a long line Friday to cast his vote. He supported two Democrats who emphasized protecting abortion access: Del. Rodney Willett, who is seeking re-election to the House against Republican Riley Shaia, and Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, who is running for a state Senate seat.
VanValkenburg's opponent, Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, is an obstetrician-gynecologist who said she supports access to abortion for 15 weeks and then only in cases of rape, incest, serious fetal anomalies and to save the mother's life.
Burkhardt said he couldn't understand Dunnavant's support for placing new limits on abortion access, given his career.
"I'm surprised that she could vote against women's right to choose at any stage of pregnancy what is best for them," he said.
Other voters said Youngkin had come to a reasonable position.
Retiree Scott McKenzie, 78, voted early for Republicans in Virginia Beach. He said he is comfortable with a 15-week ban and supports some of the same exceptions as Youngkin.
“On the one hand, I support the right to live. But on the other hand, there are times when a young woman may not have had a choice,” she said.
In addition to the Willett-Shaia and VanValkenburg-Dunnavant races, other notable matchups include an ultra-competitive race in Tidewater between Democratic Senate incumbent Monty Mason and Republican challenger Danny Diggs, a long-retired sheriff. The race has featured particularly bitter television ads and is central to Republican efforts to flip control of the Senate.
In the Virginia suburbs of Washington, another close Senate race between Democratic Navy veteran Joel Griffin and Republican Tara Durant also features Monica Gary, a wild-card independent candidate with a track record of electoral success.
In suburban Richmond, Democrat Susanna Gibson, who continued her campaign after the news was known that she had performed sexual acts with her husband in live videos posted on a pornographic website, intends to prevail over Republican David Owen, even after some of the party's support faded following the controversy.
Other competitive House races are unfolding in Hampton Roads, D.C.'s exurban Interstate 95 corridor and a district south of Richmond.
Republicans generally see a more difficult path to flipping the Senate than keeping the House under the new maps that all legislative candidates are running on for the first time this year. During this year's session, Republicans held a slim majority in the House, while Democrats narrowly controlled the Senate.
Elections are also on the ballot for local school boards and prosecutors across the state, and a referendum in Richmond on whether to authorize a proposed casino .
Polls are open from 6 am to 7 pm on Tuesday and Virginia offers same-day voter registration.