Republicans and Democrats in Virginia are gearing up to battle for control of the commonwealth’s two legislative bodies Tuesday in an election that could impact next year’s general elections across the country.
Republicans currently control the House of Delegates, 50 to 46. Meanwhile, Democrats hold a majority in the Senate, 22 to 18. There are four open seats up for grabs in the Senate and five in the House.
Most of Virginia’s key Legislature races are located in the commonwealth’s most populous enclaves and have seen campaigns focused on hot-button issues such as abortion and crime.
Here are five key races to watch in Virginia’s state Legislature elections.
Senate District 31
Democrat Russet Perry and Republican Juan Pablo Segura are competing for the open seat in the state’s highly competitive 31st Senate district.
The district includes parts of Fauquier and Loudoun County, which has been a political hotbed over the past two years. Perry is a former CIA officer and prosecutor. Segura is an entrepreneur who founded the D.C.-based donut chain D.C. Donuts and co-founded the virtual maternity care company Babyscripts.
The race for the open seat has proven to be one of the most expensive this cycle, given its location in the D.C. media market. According to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, Perry raised $3.3 million as of Oct. 13, while Segura brought in $2.8 million. The two campaigns are a fixture on D.C. and Northern Virginia airwaves, with Perry’s team painting Segura as an anti-abortion extremist and Segura portraying Perry as weak on crime and parental rights.
The inclusion of Loudoun County in the district makes the race a must-watch given the county’s status as being the starting point for the post-COVID parental rights movement. Additionally, the district is emblematic of a swing suburban district, many of which will play a pivotal role in Virginia elections this year and the general election next year.
Senate District 16
Further south in the Richmond area, incumbent state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R ) is working to fend off Democratic challenger Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg in the state’s 16th Senate district.
Like Perry, VanValkenburg is heavily leaning into abortion as a key issue with the hopes of swaying voters in the suburban district. The Democrat has run ads accusing Dunnavant of aiming to ban abortion, saying voters cannot trust her on the matter.
The issue of abortion appeared to help Democrats, including some in Virginia during last year’s midterm elections. National Republicans have since urged their candidates to not run away from the issue, and Dunnavant has adopted that strategy.
The incumbent state senator has cited her past experience working as an OB-GYN and has portrayed her position on abortion as a moderate. In an ad released last month in response to VanValkenburg accusing her of supporting an abortion ban, Dunnavant pushed back on the notion. The spot features actors saying that not allowing the procedure after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and fetal anomalies is “reasonable.” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R ), who has been a prominent surrogate for Republicans running in the state, has come out in support of a 15-week limit on the procedure as well.
The district’s race in many ways serves as a test case for Republican messaging on abortion in a post-Roe v. Wade world going into a presidential election.
House District 97
Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R ) is defending her seat representing parts of the Virginia Beach area from Air Force veteran and Democrat Michael Feggans. The race is one of the more expensive of the House of Delegates races, with Greenhalgh raising $852,949 this cycle and Feggans bringing in $889,993.
Abortion has also played a major role in the race for District 97 this cycle. According to Virginia Mercury, Feggans has cited Virginia state Sen. Aaron Rouse’s (D) victory in the Virginia Beach area earlier this year as evidence that the issue will play well for Democrats at the ballot box.
The district has a history of voting for Democratic candidates, but it was won over by Youngkin in 2021. Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.) also won the district in the 2022 midterm elections. Youngkin has been a frequent presence on the Virginia campaign trail this cycle, and there is no doubt that political observers will look to the district as a litmus test on how voters feel about Youngkin’s first two years in office.
House District 21
Virginia’s 21st House district also stands to be a test for Republican and Democratic messaging on abortion in the suburbs. The race was already on track to be competitive but got a deluge of attention last summer when The Washington Post obtained a recording of Republican John Stirrup saying he would “100 percent” support a ban on abortion in Virginia. Josh Thomas, like many Democrats, has attacked his GOP opponent, calling him anti-choice.
But Stirrup has zeroed in on another important issue for voters: crime. Stirrup has tied increases in crime to policies including efforts to defund police departments. The issue has the potential to have a strong impact on voters given the increased media coverage of rising crime in nearby Washington, D.C. Republicans tried to use the issue against Democrats in 2022, but in many cases, abortion appeared to drown out that messaging.
House District 22
Prince William County is also home to Virginia’s 22nd House District, which is shaping up to be a competitive race. Former attorney and Democrat Travis Nembhard is facing off against former Manassas City Council member and Republican Ian Lovejoy.
The Virginia Public Access Project labels the district as “competitive,” but Lovejoy could benefit from Youngkin’s past performance in the district. Youngkin won over constituents in the district during his 2021 election with 53 percent support.