While three states — Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi — have off-year gubernatorial races on Election Day 2023, the marquee ballot box showdown Tuesday may end up being Virginia’s legislative contests.
National Democrats and Republicans have spent millions on races for control of Virginia’s legislature with the election viewed in political circles as a key barometer ahead of the 2024 elections for president, control of Congress and key governorships.
Here are five reasons why the commonwealth’s the state to watch when election results flow in Tuesday night.
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1. Virginia is a 2024 bellwether
It’s been stated so many times in recent weeks that it’s almost become a cliché. But the fact is the national political spotlight is firmly on Virginia’s legislative elections.
Republicans won elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general two years ago — their first statewide victories in a dozen years — and they flipped the House of Delegates.
The victories in a state that had trended blue over the previous decade energized Republicans nationwide.
But the momentum didn’t carry over to the 2022 midterms.
Now, Gov. Glenn Youngkin aims to hold the GOP’s narrow majority in the state House and recapture control of the state Senate, where Democrats currently hold a fragile majority, to give Republicans nationwide another boost ahead of next year’s elections.
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Youngkin embraces the national attention on his state’s legislative showdowns.
“I believe it should be a bellwether because Virginia leads,” he told Fox News Digital. “I think we can lead and demonstrate that in a state that was lost, a state that was totally controlled by Democrats, we can in 24 short months come together — Republicans, independents, and, yes, some Democrats — and choose commonsense conservative leadership and policies that work. … I think other states should take notice.”
2. Abortion is a crucial issue
The blockbuster move last year by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the landmark nearly half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling, which had allowed for legalized abortions nationwide, moved the divisive issue back to the states.
And it’s forced Republicans to play plenty of defense in elections across the country. A party that’s nearly entirely “pro-life” has had to deal with an electorate where a majority of Americans support at least some form of abortion access.
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National and state Democrats have made abortion a crucial centerpiece in their push to get out the vote in Virginia.
While some Republicans have shied away from focusing on abortion, Youngkin’s leaning into the issue and is pushing a proposed 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“I just wanted us to be very clear about what we were going to do,” he told Fox News.
“The other side is really good about spreading non-truths. And, of course, what they want to do is make abortion available all the way up through and including birth, paid for with taxpayer money,” Youngkin claimed.
The governor argued the Democrats’ position is “way too extreme for Virginians.”
“I’ve been really clear. There is not a ban. We’d support a bill to protect life at 15 weeks when a baby feels pain, with exceptions for rape and incest when the mother’s life is at risk. And this is reasonable limits,” he argued. “I think with abortion, we have found a place we can come together. I think voters will support it.”
Democrats want to keep in place the state’s current restrictions, which allow abortions through the second trimester. And they note that Virginia is the only southern state that doesn’t ban abortions.
3. GOP push for early voting
Youngkin has been on a mission to encourage Republicans to turn out in big numbers in the state’s early voting period ahead of Election Day.
“When Republicans vote, Republicans win. When we turn out, we win,” Youngkin emphasized. “We’ve got to get the vote out.”
The mission by Youngkin is shared by the Republican National Committee. Earlier this year, the RNC launched a nationwide “Bank Your Vote” campaign to encourage GOP voters to take part in early in-person voting and absentee balloting to close a gap with Democrats.
It’s a tough task after three years of former President Donald Trump’s repeated claims about early and absentee voting being rampant with fraud as part of his unproven charges that his 2020 election loss was due to a rigged election.
In the 2018 midterms, Democrats had a six-point advantage over Republicans’ 35.1% for support, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida. That gap widened to nearly 12 points in the 2022 cycle.
The Virginia elections will be the first major test of the GOP’s early voting effort.
4. It’s in the mail
While the results in Virginia may give us a gauge on Republican early voting efforts, they’ll likewise teach us about the push by Democrats for mail-in balloting.
Democrats have infused millions into Virginia’s elections, with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) pushing turnout through grassroots outreach, direct mail, robocalls and digital and TV ads.
“We’re watching many aspects of this election closely as the vote comes in,” DLCC communications director Abhi Rahman told Fox News.
“Simply put, with our lead in early voting, if Democrats continue to return their mail-in ballots in, we will win,” Rahman emphasized. “The election comes down to whether or not Democrats return their mail-in ballot. Everything is on the line, and if the rates are high enough, we’re confident we’ll emerge victorious”
5. Youngkin’s political future may be on the line
He’s not on the ballot, but Youngkin has become the face of Virginia’s legislative elections and has a lot riding on the results.
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As a first-time candidate who hailed from the party’s business wing, Youngkin in 2021 edged former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to become the first GOP candidate in a dozen years to win a gubernatorial election in Virginia
His win instantly made Youngkin a rising star in the GOP who some pundits viewed as a possible 2024 White House contender.
A number of top conservative donors who don’t support former President Donald Trump — the current commanding frontrunner in the GOP nomination race — this autumn have quietly increased their efforts to persuade Youngkin to run for the White House.
That pressure will vastly increase if the GOP takes total control of Virginia’s government in next week’s elections.
Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.