RICHMOND — Virginia voters resoundingly rejected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s costly efforts to take control of the General Assembly in Tuesday’s elections, according to unofficial results — flipping the House of Delegates to Democratic control and preserving a blue majority in the state Senate that can block his conservative agenda and prevent Republicans from tightening limits on access to abortion.
Democrats’ sweeping victories amounted to a sharp setback for Youngkin as he seeks to raise his national profile as a potential last-minute presidential contender and seemed to fit with a national trend that saw Democrats rally around the issue of protecting abortion rights. In Ohio, voters decisively approved a measure to build abortion access protections into the state constitution, and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) won reelection after hammering his Republican opponent for supporting the state’s near-total ban on abortions.
Youngkin had hoped to set a new model for how Republicans everywhere could win on the abortion issue, campaigning on the promise that if voters gave Republicans control over both chambers of the General Assembly, he would pass a ban on abortions after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Virginia is the only Southern state that hasn’t restricted access to abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Democrats ran hard on raising fears of Republican bans, promising to protect Virginia’s law allowing abortion through the second trimester (about 26 weeks) and in the third trimester if three doctors agree it is necessary.
Democrats reveled in the moment at an election results watch party Tuesday at a downtown Richmond hotel, cheering when one of the marquee Senate races was called early for Schuyler T. VanValkenburg, a Democratic delegate and high school civics teacher who defeated Republican Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant in the suburbs of Henrico County.
Josh San Miguel let out a shout that rose above the thunderous roar and applause. “I think that his race is going to be a bellwether for how the rest of the state’s going to go,” said San Miguel, deputy political director of People for the American Way, a liberal political advocacy group based in D.C. “He was one of the top candidates we endorsed. We came out early for him.”
Posing with two bricks purchased from a home improvement store and painted deep blue only hours earlier, Democratic Sens. Scott A. Surovell (Fairfax) and Mamie E. Locke (Hampton) celebrated two more wins for their party. “This brick wall means we maintain our majority in the Senate,” Surovell said, drawing loud applause and cheers from supporters. “The governor made a big deal about trying to tear down this brick wall but it’s not going to happen,” he said.
Democrats also were projected to win the most expensive race of the year when Democrat Russet Perry was declared the victor over Republican Juan Pablo Segura in a Senate district in Loudoun and Fauquier counties. And in a closely watched Prince William County Senate race, Democratic Del. Danica A. Roem was projected to beat Republican Bill Woolf.
Democrats reclaimed the Senate majority when Aaron Rouse was declared the winner over Republican Kevin Adams in Virginia Beach, giving the party 21 seats in the 40-seat chamber.
That could still represent a net gain for Republicans, though; Democrats had enjoyed a 22-18 edge earlier this year. But a tight race in the Williamsburg area between Sen. T. Montgomery “Monty” Mason (D) and Republican Danny Diggs was too close to call, with several thousand early votes still uncounted.
On the House side, the Associated Press projected that Democrats had won at least 51 seats in the 100-seat chamber, with seven races still unresolved.
The trend left Republicans somber. “We are still monitoring a couple key races and will fully assess where things stand in the morning,” Dave Rexrode, Youngkin’s top political adviser, said in a statement on X (formerly Twitter). “We had hoped for a stronger outcome this evening but are proud of the effort all our candidates put in to these extremely competitive districts.”
The Republicans had no central gathering Tuesday night, and advisers said Youngkin was watching returns in private. But he appeared earlier in the evening with Dunnavant at a polling place in Henrico County, handing out sample GOP ballots.
The election is “in the hands of the voters and I hope that they extend our license to lead,” Youngkin said to reporters, noting he’d made 100 campaign stops in recent weeks.
Asked whether he would jump into the presidential race if Republicans won big, Youngkin brushed off the question by calling it “kind” and issuing his stock answer: that it’s “humbling” to be mentioned as a potential candidate but that he’s “focused on Virginia.”
Asked about his last-minute message to voters, he talked about meat-and-potato goals such as cutting taxes, overcoming pandemic learning loss and recruiting law enforcement officers. He called “the Biden economy” the most important topic for voters. When asked directly about abortion, Youngkin said he believes his 15-week plan is a compromise that a majority of Virginians could unite behind.
“I think this is a chance for Virginia to prove to be a leader, to bring people together around one of the most difficult topics in America,” he said.
Since taking office as governor in 2022, Youngkin and his ambitions have had to contend with a divided legislature, with a Democratic-controlled Senate that could stand in the way of his initiatives that were put forward by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. This year he raised record sums of money and spent personal political capital pushing for full GOP control of both chambers. Whether Virginians rewarded or resisted Youngkin’s campaign was considered an indicator of voter attitudes ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Voters at Buckland Mills Elementary School in Gainesville in western Prince William County cited abortion as a key issue as they cast ballots in a tight House of Delegates race between Republican John Stirrup and Democrat Josh Thomas.
“I’m pro-choice, but not because I support abortion but because I believe it’s a moral issue and not a legal issue,” said Diana Trammell, 38, who said she voted for Democratic candidates across the board.
Dave Weiss, 43, an Army veteran, said he is a Republican who supports abortion rights and thinks Republicans have hurt themselves with their position on abortion.
“I think Republicans would clean up if they got away from that,” he said.
Youngkin did not mention abortion among his top issues as he handed out Republican sample ballots in Henrico County. Youngkin was otherwise not highly visible Tuesday; his political team said he planned to watch returns in private.
The election is “in the hands of the voters and I hope that they extend our license to lead,” Youngkin said during a brief gathering with reporters at the school, noting he’d made 100 campaign stops in recent weeks.
Asked if he will jump into the presidential race if Republicans win in Virginia on Tuesday, Youngkin brushed off the question by calling it “kind” and issuing his stock answer: that it’s “humbling” to be mentioned as a potential candidate but that he’s “focused on Virginia.”
Asked about his last-minute message to voters, he talked about meat-and-potato goals such as cutting taxes, overcoming pandemic learning loss and recruiting law enforcement officers. He called “the Biden economy” the most important topic for voters. When asked directly about abortion, Youngkin said he believes his 15-week plan is one that “Virginians can come around.”
“I think this is a chance for Virginia to prove to be a leader, to bring people together around one of the most difficult topics in America,” he said.
Voters on Tuesday also cited other issues in addition to abortion, such as the economy, education and crime. But it was clear — particularly in the D.C. suburbs — that many voters were motivated by national issues as much as local concerns. Again and again, they mentioned the southern border, President Biden, former president Donald Trump, Israel, Ukraine, inflation — general dysfunction in Washington feeding a sense that something needs to change, one way or the other.
At Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church in Suffolk, Erin Goff, 43, said it wasn’t the issues that decided her vote for Democratic Senate candidate Clinton Jenkins over Republican Emily M. Brewer. It was the party. “It didn’t really matter who the candidate was, I was voting blue,” she said. “I don’t want to give more power to Republicans. Even if I had liked the Republican candidate, I wouldn’t have voted for him.”
Goff, a small-business owner, said she had never voted straight party. She was raised in a Republican household. Her parents voted for Trump the first time, then put a Biden sign in their yard the next time. She voted Republican in every presidential race until Barack Obama in 2008. What else contributed to her decision? “It’s also a woman’s right to choose. It is school vouchers. It is the Republican Party’s inability to get anything done,” she added.
Turnout seemed generally steady around the state Tuesday. Some precincts in the Richmond area reported heavy lines at polling places, with city residents especially energized by a measure on whether to allow a casino, which has attracted heavy advertising. Poll workers in some Fairfax County locations also reported heavy turnout, and some Fredericksburg, Loudoun County and Prince William County sites appeared busy as well.
The flow of voters at precincts in Virginia Beach and other parts of Hampton Roads seemed slow but steady all day, according to workers at several polling places.
Election Day crowds are affected by Virginia’s 45-day no-excuse early voting, which ended on Saturday and drew more than 789,000 voters as of Monday, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. That number does not include all mail-in ballots. Last year’s early votes totaled more than 972,000, with congressional races on the ballot, and almost 1.2 million early votes were cast during the gubernatorial race of 2021.
According to VPAP’s analysis of voting patterns, early turnout was roughly 60 percent likely Democratic voters and roughly 40 percent Republican. That means that as absentee totals are tabulated later, they are more likely to add to Democrats’ totals than Republicans’.
In one of the most closely watched House districts — anchored in the predominantly Black city of Petersburg but stretching into the majority-White, rural counties of Dinwiddie, Prince George and Surry — early voting was strong in red and blue precincts alike, according to a VPAP analysis. But by midafternoon Tuesday, a precinct in downtown Petersburg reported extremely light in-person turnout, while a nearby Dinwiddie precinct was much busier.
The high stakes in this year’s elections led to enormous fundraising totals. Democrats raised $76.5 million this year compared with $50.3 million for Republican candidates, according to VPAP.
Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia political action committee broke records for gubernatorial fundraising, bringing in nearly $19 million, including several million-dollar donations from out-of-state billionaires who are interested in him as a possible presidential contender.
Democrats had their own megadonor in the form of Charlottesville investor Michael D. Bills, who gave $12.5 million in the 2022-2023 cycle, almost all of it going to Democratic candidates through his nonprofit, Clean Virginia, according to VPAP. Together with his wife, Sonjia Smith, who donates independently, the Bills-Smith family gave more than $17 million to a new crop of candidates who share their outlook on resisting corporate donations, pursuing renewable energy and protecting access to abortion.
Both parties concentrated their money and effort in the most closely divided swing districts. One of the key races pitted Republican Karen Greenhalgh against Democrat Michael Feggans in Virginia Beach, a military-heavy area that has split closely between the two parties in recent elections.
At Windsor Woods Elementary School in the city, Sherri Annan, 53, cited a long list of reasons she voted for Greenhalgh and a straight Republican ticket. “I’m worried about the economy. I’m worried about the border. I’m pro-police, pro-law enforcement. I’m retired law enforcement,” she said. “Republicans are on the right track and unfortunately Democrats are on the wrong track.”
But Victoria Shlanta, 27, said she is a military spouse and supported Feggans and Democrats because she worried about losing Medicaid benefits under Republican control. Shlanta, who brought her two young daughters along to the polls, said she voted in a way that “my daughters are going to benefit. I need my reproductive rights protected.”
Many voters, whether they had school-aged children or not, said the future of kids was on their minds — an issue that Youngkin rode into office in 2021 with his “Parents Matter” campaign theme.
“That’s our future,” said Anna White, 55, who voted for all Republican candidates at Heritage Baptist Church in Woodbridge. “I think parents should be able to have a say in the things that are taught to their children.”
But some voters at the same polling place who emphasized that issue said they disliked the way Youngkin spun it. Although Darryl Brock’s seven children have all graduated high school, he said he’s still invested in the way kids are being taught, especially as it relates to the country’s history.
“I’m not a big Youngkin fan just because of how he’s trying to change the school system,” said Brock, 64, who is Black and Native American. He cited the administration’s efforts to rewrite school history curriculums and prevent the teaching of “critical race theory.”
“You can’t change slavery. Slavery happened,” he said. “You can’t change the Confederacy. The Confederacy happened.”
The elections hold the promise of dramatic turnover in the legislature, thanks to new district maps drawn under supervision of the Supreme Court of Virginia and the state’s recently enacted constitutional amendment requiring a bipartisan redistricting process. The new districts led to a wave of incumbent retirements, purging some of the most senior members and guaranteeing that at least 30 percent of both chambers will be fresh faces.
In Heritage Hunt, a senior-living gated community in western Prince William, voters cast their ballots in the clubhouse next to the golf course. Bill Withers, 70, and his wife, Linda Withers, 69, said the growth of data centers, rising crime and education issues were reasons they voted straight Republican. The couple said they want to see Republicans gain control of the legislature.
“This state has gone from red to purple to blue and I hope we’re going back to red,” Bill Withers said.
But three women casting ballots at a Henrico County elementary school said they supported Democrat Susanna Gibson for a House seat despite a scandal over her decision to perform sex online with her husband in exchange for monetary tips.
All three women at Nuckols Farm Elementary School said Gibson’s support for abortion rights outweighed any concerns about her explicit online performances. “I definitely found it disappointing,” Meredith Kozera, 35, said of the revelations about Gibson. “But at the end of the day, I’ve got to vote on the issues and not on the individual and their personal choices.”