Virginia early voting kicks off in fight for legislature with 2024 implications

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Early voting is set to start Friday in Virginia, where every seat in the state legislature is on the ballot in a high-stakes election with major implications for 2024.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 win ended a multiyear Democratic streak of statewide victories. Those wins were largely fueled by the party’s gains in the commonwealth’s northern suburbs outside Washington, DC.

Youngkin, whose political action committee raised $12 million between March and August of this year, would see his political ambitions buoyed if the GOP keeps its state House majority and flips the narrow Democratic edge in the state Senate, giving Republicans full control of state government.

The election could also decide the future of abortion access in Virginia – the only Southern state that hasn’t imposed new restrictions on the procedure since the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade last year. Youngkin has proposed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.

Democrats across the country have used the abortion issue to motivate their voters, turning in a stronger-than-expected showing in last year’s midterm elections and then winning a key judicial race in Wisconsin this spring in which abortion was the central issue. And on post-Roe ballot initiatives across the country, voters have sided with the pro-abortion rights position, even in traditionally red states.

In another marquee election this fall, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky launched an ad this week hammering his GOP challenger, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, over his opposition to abortion rights.

In Virginia, the most crucial territory in the battle for control of the state legislature could be the Richmond suburbs in Henrico County. Those include the state’s 16th Senate District, where GOP Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, the only medical doctor in the legislature, faces Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg and the 57th state House District, where Democratic nurse practitioner Susanna Gibson and retired Republican homebuilder David Owen are vying for an open seat. Gibson has faced controversy in recent weeks after reports emerged that she and her husband had live-streamed sexual acts for tips on a pornographic website.

Both parties have made significant early-voting pushes in Virginia. Democrats launched a turnout operation they have dubbed “The Majority Project,” which features 100 staffers organizing in key legislative districts.

Youngkin, while launching a GOP early-voting effort in July, said on Fox News that the GOP – which has largely emphasized in-person, day-of-election voting after former President Donald Trump cast unfounded doubt on the legitimacy of early and mail-in voting – needs to chip away at Democrats’ advantage in early ballots.

“Republicans got to stop sitting on the sidelines and allowing the Democrats to do a better job of voting early. I’m tired of us going into elections down thousands of votes,” Youngkin said at the time.

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