Election Day 2023 has passed, and it was not a good day for Virginia Republicans. Not only did the GOP fail to “flip the Senate,” they also failed to “hold the House.”
This is a huge defeat for Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who invested much of himself in a number of targeted campaigns across the state.
In the Senate, Republicans may actually end up losing ground with the defeat of Senator Siobhan Dunnavant in the 16th district and the failure to win any of the other targeted seats they needed to win to capture a majority. (The race in the 24th Senate District is still too close to call, but if Republicans can hold on and win this seat the Senate will remain in Democratic control by a margin of 21-19.)
In the House of Delegates, Republicans actually lost a couple of seats they were marginally favored to win, and it looks like Democrats will regain control of the House with an equally narrow margin of 51-49.
It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to quickly analyze why Republicans did not perform better at the polls on Tuesday. GOP defeats, and Democratic victories, can be attributed to three things:
Abortion – Democrats successfully argued that Republicans wanted to “ban abortion” in Virginia. While this argument was certainly not truthful, it was effective, especially with suburban women who have grown increasingly Democratic in their voting patterns in recent years.
Donald Trump – Democrats also successfully branded Republican candidates as “MAGA extremists.” While this argument is also not true, it was equally effective in influencing the vote of many suburban voters who do not like the former President or anyone that is seen as being overly supportive of him, his politics, or his political style.
Lack of vision – Republicans (and this one really amazes me) never offered the voters a compelling reason to vote for them. They never put together a cohesive argument as to what they would do to help improve the lives of Virginians if they were elected. Governor Youngkin tried to do this with his own TV ads late in the campaign, but it was too little, too late.
So, what does the GOP’s defeat mean for the future? Three additional thoughts….
First, it means that Governor Youngkin will be playing defense for the final two years of his term. He will not have the ability to implement his own agenda. He will simply have to stop the Democrats from implementing policies that he feels are bad for Virginia, and try to find areas where the parties can work together.
Second, these defeats certainly diminish Governor Youngkin’s national political ambitions. A Republican takeover of the General Assembly would have been a huge victory for him. But if that’s true, a Democratic takeover must objectively be viewed as a huge defeat for the Governor.
Third, the Democrats’ victory in 2023 increases the importance of the gubernatorial election in 2025. If Democrats can retain their legislative majorities and elect a Democratic Governor in 2025, they would once again have total control of Virginia’s state government and be free to implement more of the same liberal policies they implemented in 2020 and 2021.
The challenge for the GOP remains what it has been since 2013. How does the party nominate candidates and run campaigns that energize and mobilize the Republican base, which remains very conservative; while at the same time reaching out to the suburban voters that it is losing, voters who are much more moderate in their political beliefs?