Folks, it’s happening: The most contentious battleground of the 2023 elections is right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Governor Glenn Youngkin became the first Republican to win statewide in Virginia since 2009, alongside Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares in the 2021 elections. The House of Delegates likewise flipped back to the Republicans.
They say four years is a lifetime in politics, and yet we’ve seen just how drastic an electoral environment can shift in a single year. After a red wave rolled onto the shores of Virginia in 2021, national Republicans failed to replicate the same results in the 2022 midterm elections. We haven’t seen much of a change in the environment since the midterm elections either: Biden’s approval rating has remained steady, and Democrats flipped a district in the Virginia State Senate last month previously held by Congresswoman Jen Kiggans, expanding their majority in the State Senate.
The state legislative elections here in Virginia will be make-or-break for a potential presidential bid from Governor Youngkin, who would already be an underdog for the Republican nomination were he to run. Republicans currently control the House of Delegates while Democrats control the State Senate (which has not been up for election since 2019). A failure to create a Republican trifecta in the state government here in Virginia would be a hindrance to Youngkin, not only for his presidential prospects but for the rest of his tenure as Governor as well.
There are new redistricting lines that stand to be tested for the first time since the election. Democrats now have a leg-up thanks to the elimination of most Republican gerrymanders that were left intact under the old lines, coupled with the population shifts toward the Urban Crescent of Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads and away from rural Virginia. After our analysis of the new state legislative lines, as well as retracing our steps in our previous small misses in the 2022 midterms, we’re happy to announce that our initial forecast for the 2023 Virginia state legislative general elections is out now.
We will also be casting predictions for the state legislative primaries here in Virginia starting in April, with final predictions set to release before the June primaries. The primaries will not only affect the general election prospects of both parties in every chamber this year, but they will also be vividly entertaining given that the new lines have created several incumbent vs. incumbent matchups and open seats; the new General Assembly of 2024 will have a lot of fresh blood.
Let’s circle back to the general elections: as previously mentioned, both chambers are up for grabs this year. Each state legislative chamber in Virginia is forecasted as “Tilt Democratic,” with a 56% chance of a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates and a 9% chance of a tie (which would result in a power-sharing agreement between both parties), and a 63% chance of a Democratic majority in the State Senate and a 1% chance of a Democratic supermajority; any odds of a 20-20 Senate goes to a GOP majority for this forecast because Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears (R) would break the ties in that scenario.
This is a decent starting position for Democrats in their war of attrition against Governor Youngkin’s ability to govern. It is worth noting, though, that we’re 251 days away from the general election itself, and we’ve seen chambers that’ve been placed in our “Leans” column swing the other way before: in 2020, the Minnesota Senate had odds qualifying for a Lean Democratic rating, and in 2022 the Pennsylvania House had odds qualifying for a Lean Republican rating.
Districts by the Rating
There’s a slew of pure Toss-Up races in our state legislative forecasts this year: four in the House of Delegates and three in the State Senate. In the House, freshmen incumbents Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach) and Kim Taylor (R-Chesterfield), both of whom flipped seats held by Democrats in the 2021 elections, will be in hotly-contested seats: District 82 in Southside and 97 in Virginia Beach. Both have acquired a good lot of new territory in their enhanced districts and will have roughly a 50-50 chance of winning re-election. The other two Toss-Up seats in the House are the open seats of Districts 57 (mostly Henrico County) and 21 (Prince William County). Each of these districts voted for Republican candidates for the House of Delegates in 2021 (as well as Glenn Youngkin), but for Democratic candidates for the US House in 2022 according to our GIS analysis team.
There are three Toss-Ups in the Virginia State Senate. Only one of them has an incumbent running for re-election, which is SD-24 on the Peninsula with Democrat Monty Mason fighting tooth and nail to keep this seat in Democratic hands. The other two Toss-Ups are Loudoun-based SD-17, where incumbent Republican Jill Vogel recently announced her retirement – Republicans’ probable candidate, Juan Pablo Segura, is the son of billionaire Enrique Segura. This contest is gearing up to be the most expensive race for the Virginia legislature in the Commonwealth’s history. The other Toss-Up, District 17, is a Southside-based district with two members of the House of Delegates, Clint Jenkins (D) and Emily Brewer (R) squaring off to win the open seat. Brewer faces opposition in the Republican nomination but will probably come out on top as the nominee. All three of these districts voted for Glenn Youngkin in the 2021 election for Governor. However, District 31 voted for Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates, and all three of them voted for Democratic candidates for the US House in 2022.
There are two districts within our Tilt rating in our initial forecasts, and both of them are open seats in the House of Delegates. District 22 is a Tilt Republican race located in Prince William County and District 65 is a Tilt Democratic race located along the I-95 corridor with the entirety of Fredericksburg City as well as portions of Stafford and Spotsylvania counties. Each of these seats will be hotly contested, but none qualify as a true “Toss-Up” just yet. District 22 voted for Republican candidates in 2021 for the House of Delegates (as well as Glenn Youngkin), and then voted for Republicans in the US House elections in 2022. District 65 voted for Republican House of Delegates candidates and Youngkin as well, but voted for Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) in her second re-election to the US House.
Three districts in our forecast for the Virginia state legislative elections are seen as Lean races, two in the Senate and one in the House. The seat in the House in this column is District 84 in the Hampton Roads area, with small cities like Franklin and the heart of Suffolk making up most of the population. Incumbent Democrat Nadarius Clark is running for this seat despite his current district lacking any overlapping territory with District 84. It’s a plurality-white district that narrowly voted for Terry McAuliffe and House Democrats in 2021 and for Elaine Luria by high single digits. Democrats are the odds-on favorite, however a large enough drop in Black turnout in this off-off year election gives Republicans a shot to defy the odds.
In the Senate, the Henrico-based SD-16 in the Richmond suburbs is my personal pick for the most exciting race for the state legislature this year. However, this seat is unlikely to be the deciding seat for the majority. Incumbent Republican Siobhan Dunnavant represents most of Western Henrico and narrowly won re-election in 2019 thanks to her old district having a rural sliver of deep-red Hanover County; she narrowly lost the Henrico portion of the district. Now, the district is entirely based in Henrico and is even bluer as a result. Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg is running against Dunnavant and he should be a moderate favorite to win. The other Leans seat in the Senate is SD-27 on the I-95 corridor with parts of Stafford and Spotsylvania counties and the entirety of Fredericksburg City. This is an open seat where Delegate Tara Durant is running for a promotion, but first she needs to secure the nomination against Republican Matt Strickland. It voted for Republicans by high single-digits in 2021 but narrowly voted for Abigail Spanberger in 2022. Republicans begin with a moderate edge here.
There are four seats in our forecasts in our “Likely” column, two for Democrats and two for Republicans, with three in the House of Delegates. The only Likely seat in the Senate is SD-30 in Prince William County, where rising star of the Virginia Democrats and money machine Danica Roem is running for a promotion to the upper chamber. Republicans weren’t able to win this seat in 2021 or 2022 for any contest, and likely won’t be putting much effort into this seat given that it’s not a majority-maker.
In the House, two Republican incumbents on the Peninsula find themselves in Likely R contests: Amanda Batten and A.C. Cordoza. Batten won in her own right when the seat became open in 2019, while Cordoza was swept into office by riding the red wave environment in 2021. The districts have about the same partisan lean, though, and thus begin in the same spot despite one incumbent being stronger than the other. The final Likely seat is the Likely D Henrico-based HD-58 where incumbent Rodney Willett is the clear favorite for re-election in an area that has consistently trended against the Republicans regardless of the environment.
Very Likely (~90/10)
Five seats are found in our Very Likely rating, three in the House and two in the Senate. The first one is the open Roanoke-based SD-4, where incumbent Republican Dave Suetterlein is running for re-election in what is mostly unfamiliar territory to him. The other contest is SD-20, an Eastern Shore-Virginia Beach seat where incumbent Democrat Lynwood Lewis will face incumbent Republican Bill DeSteph. Lewis has historically had major overperformances for a Democrat on the Eastern Shore, even winning Accomack County in his 2019 re-election, which then voted for Trump by 9.41% in 2020. Lewis may opt out of re-election given his steep chances of winning, in which case this would be a Solid R race.
In the House, there are three Very Likely seats, all of which are in favor of the Republicans. Only one House incumbent is in a seat in this rating category, Carrie Coyner of Chesterfield. Her seat is in this category despite her district voting for Biden by 5 points in 2020, thanks to having one of, if not the most moderate voting record in the current House of Delegates and never having faced a real electoral challenge from a Democratic opponent. The other two Very Likely R seats are both open Northern Virginia-based districts, HD-30 in Western Loudoun and Northern Fauquier and Stafford-based HD-64. Both were very closely decided in their 2020 presidential election results, with HD-30 barely going to Biden and HD-64 barely going to Trump. We wouldn’t normally expect Virginia Democrats to be competitive in an open Trump-won district this year, but they might stand a chance if Republican candidate Paul Milde wins the nomination in HD-64. Milde, a self-financed candidate who won a primary against an incumbent in 2019 by running to the right, lost the seat for his party in the general election. With a nominee like Milde, should he ultimately become the nominee, there’s a small chance Virginia Democrats may be able to win this leftward-trending seat.
Democrats enter into the year at a benefit in both chambers by possessing a much larger number of seats considered “Safe” in their column: 46 Solid D seats in the House and 18 Solid D seats in the Senate. Meanwhile, the GOP has just 40 Solid R seats in the House and 14 Solid R seats in the Senate.