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Anthony Jackson, USA TODAY
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is a rising star in the national GOP. But its growing popularity and presidential candidacy speculated could suffer a setback Tuesday if local Democrats achieve the success they predict on Election Day.
With every seat in the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate up for grabs this year, Youngkin and Republicans have focused their efforts on retaining their House majority and tipping the upper chamber into the red.
Democrats, however, say they are “cautiously optimistic” about next week’s results.
Young Kin used the same sentence in August to describe his attitude toward the Republicans’ chances at the time. The governor also said he is focused on those state races, ahead of any calls from national Republicans for him to enter the 2024 presidential race.
“It’s really humbling when people talk about 2024 and a national role for me,” Youngkin told USA TODAY. “And I thank them, and then I reiterate that I have a big job to do here in Virginia right now.”
His work in 2023, however, could soon be hampered by a handful of Democratic candidates in some of Virginia’s most competitive Senate races.
Democrats in Youngkin target races remain optimistic
Danica Roem, a current delegate and Democratic candidate for state Senate, said her race in northern Virginia could be decisive for either party. Roem’s district was ranked the 20th most Democratic district out of 40 seats in the State Senate. by the Virginia Public Access Projectplacing her in the middle of the competition and on the governor’s hit list.
Another potential “swing seat” for control of the state Senate lies just west of Roem, where Democrat Russet Perry faces Republican Juan Pablo Segura, who Youngkin supports.
“(Maintaining) the Senate depends on my ability to win this race,” Perry said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, a professor at Christopher Newport University and director of research at the school’s Wason Center for Civic Leadership, predicts that Democrats have “a slight advantage” in the fight for the majority in the state Senate.
She said that from her perspective, there were four really close races, including Virginia Sen. Monty Mason, which she described as an “intense matchup” against former sheriff and Republican JD “Danny.” Diggs.
“What’s interesting about this race is that they’re both trying to make the case that the other is extreme,” Bromley-Trujillo said. “Mason says Diggs is an extremist Republican, Diggs says Mason is an extremist Democrat, but they both run as moderates and also have a track record as moderates on many issues. So it’s more fascinating to watch this race unfold.
Mason’s district on the state’s southeastern peninsula has been an upset since he began his campaign for a third Senate term, he said. It also serves as another clear mark for Youngkin and the Republican caucus, Mason said.
“The governor made no secret that my district was his target. He knew that without my seat, you couldn’t take control of the State Senate,” Mason said.
Youngkin is one of the only Republicans to win votes in recent years in the Mason, Virginia, area, although the senator said Democrats’ margins of victory there are often tight.
The governor’s popularity surpasses that of President Joe Biden, who had a 40% approval rating among Virginians in August. Roanoke College investigation. Throughout his tenure, Youngkin’s ratings among Virginians remained above 50 percent.
And Youngkin has leveraged his favor into this election cycle, discouragement for Republicans in some of Virginia’s most competitive races. Earlier this month, he took the stage with current state delegate and Republican Senate candidate Tara Durant in Fredericksburg, eastern Virginia.
Regardless of Youngkin’s support, Durant’s Democratic opponent and former Marine Joel Griffin said he was confident heading into Election Day.
“I’m excited to have such a competitive district, because I think it’s a good representation of who we are as Virginians, and I hope the election night results will also guide us into 2024.” , Griffin said.
Democratic success in Virginia could pose obstacle to Youngkin’s national path
GOP donors and figures have floated Youngkin’s name as a 2024 presidential candidate. They have also invested millions in his Spirit of Virginia PAC and these state races.
Republican success in 2023 would give Youngkin national momentum and a potential argument for a late presidential bid, Bromley-Trujillo said. On the other hand, a poor showing by the Virginia GOP could hurt Youngkin’s promising profile, she said.
“I wouldn’t say that would rule him out, because he’s still a very popular Republican in the state,” Bromley-Trujillo said. “But it would certainly damage his image of being able to convince moderates or Democrats.”
Democrats outside Virginia are also keeping next year in mind ahead of Tuesday, said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
“If you stop Glenn Youngkin in these parliamentary elections, he will never become president,” Rahman said.
Optimistic about her own chances next week and Democrats’ overall standing, Roem said she doesn’t see a path for Youngkin to win the presidency in 2024, regardless of the outcome in Virginia.
“(Republicans) have exploited the ‘will he, won’t he’ rhetoric so they can raise money for state legislative elections,” Roem said. “It’s just about seizing the moment. And of course he can build To build a national profile, he has to build a national donor base.
At the heart of Virginie 2023: Abortion, other key issues
Griffin said he thought of his 21-year-old daughter when he decided to run for office for the first time this year.
“I’m starting to think she’ll make her own decisions here in the next few years. And I just couldn’t stand by and allow that to happen,” Griffin said of his opponent’s support for additional restrictions on abortion access in the state.
Virginia Republicans supported Youngkin’s proposal to limit abortion to 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and serious medical emergencies, which he called a “common sense” compromise.
The issue of abortion, Rahman said, is therefore “the centerpiece” of this year’s national elections.
“Virginia is the last state in the South that still has access to abortion, and no matter what Republicans say, a ban is a ban,” he said.
Republicans in many states have struggled to get their messages out on abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court last summer. Bromley-Trujillo said Republican candidates in Virginia have apparently made adjustments to appeal to a “more consensus position,” such as calling the 15-week proposal a “limit” rather than a “ban.”
Still, the abortion issue is a “key one for Republicans,” Bromley-Trujillo said. A poll this month by the Wason Center found that only 24 percent of Virginians want the state’s abortion law to become more restrictive and 39 percent support or strongly support it. support a 15-week ban.
Next week’s election night results could tell Republicans and Democrats in other states how voters’ appetite for abortion restrictions or access will impact the 2024 national elections.
“I’m sure abortion is going to continue to be a topic for everyone, because we’re literally talking about rights, we’re talking about reproductive rights, we’re talking about equality under the law,” Griffin said. These are not trivial problems. »
Mario Yedidia, field director for the UNITE HERE union, said abortion is “extraordinarily important” to the voters his group meets while canvassing in some of Virginia’s most competitive districts.
Another important aspect, he said, “is bread and butter.”
“It’s important not to lose sight of this fact,” Yedidia said. “Voters are people in their own right for whom abortion is certainly a key issue. And it’s not the only one either.
Other major issues for voters, Yedidia said, are the economy and the rising cost of living.
Schuyler VanValkenburg, a Democratic Senate candidate in an area northwest of Richmond, said gun violence, education and housing costs are top concerns, along with abortion.
VanValkenburg’s race in a “battleground” district could be the deciding factor for control of the state Senate and the outcome of legislation on these issues, he said.
“The Senate seat is going to help dictate whether or not we continue to follow Roe v. Wade, or whether we see abortion bans implemented,” VanValkenburg said. “The siege will make a difference: can we do more to prevent gun violence? Or will we see a legislature that repeals some of the steps we’ve already taken?