What Virginia’s upcoming primary elections will tell us about national political trends

Next year’s presidential election is already getting a lot of attention, but there are more immediate political contests in Virginia, where the balance of power in the General Assembly will soon be at stake.

Tuesday’s primaries will provide an indication of which way Democratic and Republican voters are leaning as they prepare to elect all 140 members of the General Assembly in November.

Virginia will receive outsized attention this year as a possible political bellwether since it is one of only a handful of states with legislative elections in 2023.

And while cable television and talk radio are dominated by discussion of national political trends, they begin at the state level.

In recent years, an increasing number of state legislatures have become supermajorities, where they wield enormous power because even the governor of an opposing party can’t veto legislation.

More than half of states, 28, now have supermajorities. Nineteen are controlled by Republicans, while nine are held by Democrats.

Maryland is one of the states where Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly, as well as the governor’s office. In Virginia, Republicans control the governor’s office and House of Delegates, while Democrats have a slim majority in the state senate.

Democrats in the upper chamber have managed to push back against some of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s legislative priorities and Republicans are working hard to gain full control of the General Assembly.

Republican governors in many states with supermajorities have been able to enact sweeping legislative agendas.

In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year signed into law legislation that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. DeSantis has pointed to a string of other legislative victories as he begins his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

Legislation that tightens restrictions on abortion has been passed in several other states where Republicans control the legislature.

In Virginia, Youngkin has been trying to get lawmakers to pass his $1 billion tax cut plan, but Democrats have pushed back.

Virginia lawmakers still haven’t passed a budget for this year. Some lawmakers have suggested efforts to adopt a budget could pick up after Tuesday’s primaries.

Since Youngkin has become increasingly involved in national Republican politics, Virginia’s primaries and election in the fall will come under a lot of scrutiny. Youngkin was, at one point, mentioned as a possible presidential candidate but indicated last month that he’s focusing on GOP efforts to flip the state Senate, at least for now.

Republicans have not controlled both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office in a decade. That last happened in 2012 and 2013, when Bob McDonnell was governor.

GOP and Democratic operatives will be closely watching what happens in Virginia as they try to figure out what could be a very unpredictable political landscape for 2024.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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