Both parties rally supporters as voting opens in Virginia’s closely watched general election

Early voting began Friday in Virginia's costly, high-profile and closely watched general election after a week in which elected officials and candidates rallied supporters across the state.

All 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot, with candidates running for the first time in an environment shaken by redrawn maps in the latest once-in-a-decade redistricting process.

With the Legislature closely divided, both parties say they see a path to an outright majority in states that cut across a little more than a dozen battleground states centered on central Virginia, Hampton Roads and the Washington suburbs.

“At the heart of this is keeping our House and overturning our Senate,” Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin told supporters in Petersburg Thursday afternoon, urging the crowd to vote early, donate and volunteer.

A GOP shamrock would clear the way for Youngkin to move quickly on what he calls his “shared” conservative priorities — boosting law enforcement pay and funding, protecting parents' rights to education, reforming the mental health system and enforcing additional tax cuts and more. restrictions on abortion.

While he scored some successes on taxes and education through bipartisan support during his first two legislative sessions, many of his priorities have been blocked—with much fanfare—by the Democratic majority in the Senate, which prides itself on being a “brick wall ». against the Republican agenda.

Democrats, who held news conferences across the state this week, warned that total Republican control would lead to the repeal of legislation enacted in 2020 and 2021 while they ran the state government, including measures that required a shift to cleaner cars and power generation. expanded access to voting and added restrictions on the purchase and ownership of firearms.

Many Democratic candidates are also making abortion rights a top campaign issue, arguing that the proposed ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother, would endanger women's health and violated their bodily autonomy. Virginia is the only state in the South that has not enacted new restrictions since Roe v. Wade.

If voters elect a blue majority, Democrats over the next two years “can finally focus on getting some good legislation on Glenn Youngkin's desk,” said Sen. Lamont Bagby, who represents a suburban Richmond district and is chairman of Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

Members of the 100-seat House of Representatives serve two-year terms, while all 40 senators serve four-year terms. Youngkin, who is limited by Virginia law from seeking a second consecutive term, is scheduled to step down in January 2026.

For Youngkin, the election result may have implications for his political prospects.

The former private equity executive entered the governor's race as a first-time candidate and quickly established himself as a sought-after voice in the Republican Party. He has spent months indirectly answering questions about a possible run for president in 2024, though in recent responses he has emphasized that he is campaigning in Virginia, not Iowa or other early voting presidential states.

“I'm laser-focused on our legislative races,” he told Fox Business this week.

Both parties are urging supporters to use the 45-day early voting period to get their vote in before Election Day on November 7. While Youngkin has similarly encouraged early voting in the 2021 campaign, Republican lawmakers have sought to repeal many of the ballot measures they currently adopt through a Youngkin-led “Secure Your Vote” initiative that included a bus tour this month.

Voters, especially those in swing districts, can expect a flood of mailers and persistent TV ads in the coming weeks. Fundraising and spending could break records.

The Legislature is also headed for massive turnover, regardless of how party control loosens.

The new district maps, drawn by outside experts without regard to protecting incumbents, have contributed to a wave of retirements and a higher-than-usual number of vacancies. And a record number of senators were ousted in the June primary.

Because of its narrow political divide and informal voting cycle, with some type of election each year, Virginia's political contests are often closely watched across the country. They are seen as an opportunity to spot potential signals from the electorate and test both parties' messaging ahead of federal election cycles.

“The nation will watch our election in November as a barometer for the upcoming presidential election,” Ray Cousins, the Democratic candidate in a liberal Richmond House district, said Thursday.

Voters will also make choices in races for local offices such as district attorney and school board members. In Richmond, casino developers are asking residents for a second chance after voters previously rejected a measure that would have allowed the project to move forward.