The battle for Virginia’s future — and 2023’s biggest down-ballot elections in the country — can now begin in earnest.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin aims for unified Republican control in a state that hasn’t gone for a GOP presidential candidate since George W. Bush, and Democrats hope to retake enough seats to defend abortion rights in the state.

Both parties are expected to dominate the airwaves over the next five months, with every single legislative seat across the two chambers up for grabs in November. Virginia is one of two states with a split legislature — Democrats have a slim majority in the state Senate while Republicans have a narrow one in the state House — and both parties believe they have a viable path to controlling either chamber.

Youngkin and his allies are pouring resources into the fall’s elections, which could bolster his national profile even further after not-quite ruling out a presidential bid. Democrats are hoping to claw back power after surprise Republican wins in 2021, testing the saliency of abortion as a winning message ahead of 2024.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan pair of controversial incumbents got the boot, while the general election field became clearer.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday night’s results.

Abortion messaging is here to stay

Like all things in Democratic politics: this race came down to abortion.

One of the most contentious primaries on Tuesday night saw the downfall of Democratic state Sen. Joe Morrissey, an anti-abortion incumbent who was defeated by former Del. Lashrecse Aird.

Morrissey is a controversial figure in Virginia’s state politics. He was a member of the state House before resigning after he was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, only for him to turn around and win his seat back in a special election that took place while he was serving a jail sentence. He has been in the state Senate since 2020. He bet on his long record with constituents — but came up short.

Aird focused her campaign challenging Morrissey heavily on abortion rights. (Morrissey previously described himself as “pro-life” and has said he would consider supporting some restrictions, but said his views had been misconstrued during the primary.)

Her victory is just the latest, in a series of small but significant data points that show Democratic voters are still motivated by abortion rights at the ballot box. Earlier this year, Democrats flipped a state Senate seat in Virginia after a campaign that drew outsized attention from both pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion groups. And Wisconsin saw unrivaled turnout in an April state Supreme Court race that was very much about abortion.

Democrats signaled that they intend to focus heavily on the issue in the general election. “The DLCC gave Republicans a reality check by running on protecting abortion access and creating a winning blueprint for state Democrats,” a recent strategy memo from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee reads.

Youngkin gets his troops

Youngkin has a lot riding on this year’s elections.

If he manages to get total control of the state legislature, he would have latitude to enact his agenda in a place other Republicans all but wrote off long ago. But headed into this fight, he got the troops he wanted. Youngkin endorsed in dozens of races Tuesday night, but his political operation — Spirit of Virginia — pointedly noted that he waded into ten contested primaries across the commonwealth.

Youngkin went 10 for 10 in the contested primaries he endorsed in.

Racking up these victories shows that Youngkin has some juice among primary voters, at least in Virginia. And some of those endorsements come in seats that will be crucial to determining the majorities in both legislative chambers — like in a Fredericksburg-area Senate district, where the Youngkin-backed state Del. Tara Durant beat Matt Strickland, a businessman who loudly defied Covid restrictions.

One race where Youngkin did not weigh in? The primary challenge to GOP state Sen. Amanda Chase, the self-described “Trump in Heels” who was censured in 2021 by her colleagues for praising Jan. 6 rioters as “patriots.” Chase finished third in the 2021 GOP gubernatorial nominating contest, and stumped for Youngkin in the general election.

Chase narrowly lost a three-way Republican primary Tuesday night, with former Sen. Glen Sturtevant squeaking past her.

Money still talks

State legislative races used to be fairly sleepy affairs, with national party figures appealing to donors to care even a little about the outcomes of these races. No more.

Already, Virginia legislative candidates raised over $22 million before the primaries were done. And AdImpact, an advertising tracking service, found that over $8.8 million had been spent on ads for the primaries alone — a nearly 700 percent increase from the 2021 legislative contests.

A big reason for that was the number of open seat contests, along with a slew of primaries to incumbents, but it is an early sign that the battle for November will be incredibly expensive.

Part of that will be thanks to Youngkin, whose PAC raised $2.7 million in the first quarter alone, which his aides called a record in the state. His team has repeatedly said Youngkin would spare no expense in his quest to win the state — and signaled that early fundraising was just the start.

Source: https://www.politico.com/news/2023/06/20/virginia-primary-night-takeaways-00102813

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