Is the Democratic sweep of legislative elections a minor setback or disaster for Va. Gov. Youngkin?

Democrats took full control of Virginia’s general assembly, retaining their majority in the state Senate and winning enough seats to gain a majority in the House of Delegates.

Analysts predicted both chambers would be highly competitive going in to Tuesday’s election. Now that the smoke has cleared, WTOP has spoken with analysts to figure out what happens next.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the University of Virginia Center for Politics, joined WTOP Wednesday to talk about what Tuesday’s results mean going forward.

Steven Farnsworth, political-science professor at the University of Mary Washington, also spoke with WTOP about Tuesday’s results.

Find both conversations below:

Kyle Kondik

Kyle Kondik with the UVa. Center for Politics joins WTOP's John and Michelle to talk about Virginia's election results.

Michelle Basch: Kyle, what is your biggest take-away from last night? Were there any true surprises?

Kyle Kondik: Look, I think we knew that both chambers in the state legislature were pretty competitive, and I think that’s how it turned out. There’s still a few outstanding races. But I thought going into this, that a Republican sweep would have been sort of less likely than a Democratic sweep.

We did get a Democratic sweep, although, of course, the majorities that Democrats won are going to be fairly small … And broadly speaking across the nation and other races that we were watching — the Kentucky governor’s race, an abortion rights vote in Ohio, Supreme Court race in Pennsylvania — Democrats mostly did really well in those races. And so, it was a good night for Democrats, broadly speaking.

John Aaron: Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been relatively popular this entire time, so how did his ideas and proposals get swatted down so spectacularly last night?

Kyle Kondik: I don’t know if he was spectacularly swatted down. I mean, again, there were a lot of close races. The race for the majorities were small, you know, some of the races broke toward the Democrats.

I think that back in 2021, when Youngkin won and the rest of the Republican ticket won, and they won the House of Delegates that year, it was sort of a perfect storm. It was a really good political environment for Republicans that year. I just don’t think the environment was quite as good this time.

Democrats, despite Youngkin’s efforts, you know, did have an overall money advantage in this race, which I think is important. The other thing about Virginia is that these off-year elections, the electorate that shows up is just more Republican leaning than what you’d see in a federal election. And so, even if Republicans had won last night, I don’t think it would have been predictive for 2024. I think Virginia’s a Democratic leaning state at the federal level.

Michelle Basch: Any other thoughts before we let you go?

Kyle Kondik: One thing that’s important … Gov. Youngkin can veto anything that the Democratic House and Senate passes.  But the way you can propose constitutional amendments to Virginia voters is the House and the Senate can vote to put those on. The House and Senate would have to do that again in 2025 to get anything on the ballot, like abortion or something like that.

But Democrats could at least start the process on that. That’s one helpful thing about having both chambers.

Steven Farnsworth

University of Mary Washington Professor Steven Farnsworth joins WTOP's Shawn and Anne to break down Virginia's election results.

Shawn Anderson: So how would you characterize what happened last night here in Virginia?

Steven Farnsworth: I think it all comes down to three words: Roe vs. Wade. The Republican Party has been facing significant challenges ever since the Supreme Court reversed the abortion law. And the governor’s plan to use a 15-week ban as a compromise position clearly didn’t go over well with the voters.

Anne Kramer: What does this mean for issues versus candidates as we head into next year’s presidential election?

Steven Farnsworth: Well, I think the Republicans are going to have to continue to retool. They need to still figure out, going back to the drawing board, how to talk about abortion in a way that isn’t poison for the party in suburban districts.

This election was won and lost in the suburbs, like so many elections in Virginia are, and we really saw a powerful dynamic where Democrats talked about abortion all the time. And, that created a real difficult environment for Republican candidates.

Shawn Anderson: Steven, what do you make of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s inability to deliver success for his own party yesterday? Does it quash the narrative by some that he would become some sort of white knight to enter the presidential race here for this coming cycle?

Steven Farnsworth: Well, it’s never seemed like a good cycle for Glenn Youngkin to run for president, even before the results on Tuesday. Donald Trump is way ahead in those Republican nomination polls. It doesn’t seem likely that Glenn Youngkin could succeed where Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis and a stage full of other candidates have not succeeded.

The scenario for Youngkin of course, as a national figure, is really torpedoed by the results on Tuesday. If a governor, incumbent governor, all-in on these races isn’t able to create a Republican majority, he’s not going to be getting a second look from national political figures.

Anne Kramer: So, still a lot to digest and take in after a long night for a lot of people, Steven, I’m sure it was for you as well.

Steven Farnsworth: Yeah, I mean, I think ultimately, now it’s on to the next election and people are going to be thinking about new issues and new dynamics as we go into 2024.

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