by Sam Shirazi
With the 2022 midterms behind us, it is time to look ahead to the all-important 2023 Virginia General Assembly elections. All 40 seats in the State Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates will be up for election, with a great deal on the line. For starters, if Republicans win both chambers, Democrats will not be able to stop them from passing right-wing legislation, which Governor Youngkin will then be able to sign it into law, and/or repealing much of the great, progressive and environmental legislation Democrats passed when *they* had a governing “trifecta” in 2020-2021. Perhaps most dramatically, after the overturning of Roe v Wade, a Republican “trifecta” could, of course, mean that they would pass abortion restrictions, up to and including a total abortion ban.
To block this nightmare scenario, and to set themselves up for a return to power in the 2025 Governor’s race, Democrats need to win at least one chamber of the General Assembly. This is especially important in the State Senate, which will not be up for election again until 2027.
I previously laid out the “majority maker” districts that will determine control. After the recent midterm elections, it is a good idea to revisit things, specifically focusing on the districts where Democrats were able to win in 2022.
Democrats need to win at least 21 seats for a majority. There are currently 19 seats that are completely safe or at least likely to go blue, meaning Democrats only need two more seats. Here are the ones most likely to get Democrats into the majority, with the 2021 and 2022 results:
• Senate District 16 (2021: McAuliffe +7 points; 2022: Dem +10 points) Unless she decides to retire, this western Henrico district is where GOP State Senator Siobhan Dunnavant will run for re-election. Dunnavant is the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the State Senate, given the blue lean of the district, as well as her role in trying to pass Younkin’s 15-week abortion ban. Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg has announced his candidacy on the Democratic side, making this one of the biggest match ups next year. If Democrats want to be in the Senate majority, this is the closest thing there is to a must-win seat.
• Senate District 31 (2021: Youngkin +0.5 points; 2022: Dem +6 points) For months, there have been rumors of GOP State Senator Jill Vogel’s retirement, and now former Loudoun Supervisor Geary Higgins (R) has announced his candidacy in this Loudoun/Fauquier district. On the Democratic side, former Loudoun prosecutor Russet Perry and Leesburg Councilman Zac Cummings are running. Even if Sen. Vogel does not retire, Democrats will like their chances in this suburban district, where abortion will no doubt a big issue.
• Senate District 24 (2021: Youngkin +3 points; 2022: Dem +1 point) This Williamsburg/Newport News district has Democratic State Senator Monty Mason in a very evenly divided seat. GOP York County Sheriff Danny Diggs is running; he has already raised a lot of money and has a base in the GOP part of the district. Sen. Mason will need to get students in the Williamsburg area out to vote in an off-off year election, when turnout usually false compared to other election years.
• Senate District 27 (2021: Youngkin +8.5 points; 2022: Dem +2.5 points) GOP Del. Tara Durant is running in this Fredericksburg-based seat, but faces Matt Strickland challenging her from the right in the Republican primary. On the Democratic side, former Stafford Democratic Committee Chair Ben Litchfield and Luke Radley Wright are running. If Democrats can replicate Rep. Spanberger’s strong performance, then this suburban seat could be in play.
• Senate District 17 (2021: Youngkin +5 points; 2022: Dem +0.5 points) This Southside/Hampton Roads seat has two delegates – Democrat Del. Clint Jenkins and GOP Del. Emily Brewer – running, although Brewer first faces Hermie Sadler in the Republican primary. Democratic turnout tends to fall in state elections here, but Jenkins can keep this competitive if he is able to successfully get out the African-American vote.
House of Delegates
Democrats need to win at least 50 seats in the House of Delegates to at least tie, or 51 seats to win the outright majority. There are currently 48 seats that are completely safe blue, or at least likely to go blue, meaning Democrats only need two more seats to get to 50, or three more to get to a majority. Here are the districts most likely to get Democrats into the majority, along with their 2021 and 2022 results:
House District 65 (2021: Youngkin +3 points; 2022: Dem +9 points) Former Del. Joshua Cole (D) is seeking to win back this Fredericksburg based seat back for Democrats after it became more blue during redistricting. This area saw a huge swing to the Democrats from 2021 to 2022, thanks to Rep. Spanberger’s strong performance. With a strong candidate, this is a near must-win if Democrats want to get to a majority.
House District 21 (2021: Youngkin +3.5 points; 2022: Dem +2 points) Democrats are hoping that Del. Danica Roem (D)’s State Senate bid in SD-30 will help get them over the line in this western Prince William County House of Delegates district, which is entirely within the State Senate district. Joshua Thomas has announced on the Democratic side, while John Stirrup and Joshua Quill are running on the Republican side.
House District 97 (2021: Youngkin +2 points; 2022: Dem +5 points) Republican Del. Karen Greenhalgh was first elected during the 2021 red wave, and will try to win again next year in this Virginia Beach seat. Michael Feggans is running on the Democratic side. Rep. Luria won this seat by about 5 points in 2022, so the votes are here for Democrats if they can get their voters out.
House District 57 (2021: Youngkin +3 points; 2022: Dem +1 point) This western Henrico seat is largely within the competitive SD-16, and Democrats are hoping to win both seats as part of their push to gain a majority in both chambers. Democrats Bob Shippee and Susanna Gibson are running, while David Owen has announced on the Republican side. As is the case in many of these suburban seats, abortion may be the deciding issue, helping Democrats get out their base.
House District 82 (2021: Youngkin +3 points; 2022: Dem +1 point) GOP Del. Kim Taylor will try to hold onto this Petersburg-based seat she flipped in 2021. Two Democrats – Kimberly Pope Adams and Victor McKenzie – are running to take the seat back. This is another seat where the votes are there for Democrats if they are able to get the African-American vote out in an off-off year election.
Of course, these are not all the districts that will be important next year, and there will be more districts that Democrats will have to defend, along with others where they might be able to go on the offense. But these are the districts that will largely decide who will be in the majority and the main ones to keep an eye out next year as the 2023 election plays out.