RICHMOND — Legislative elections in Virginia on Tuesday will determine whether Democrats gain control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades.
The Old Dominion is one of only four states with legislative elections this year, and the only one in which partisan control is up for grabs. Republicans currently have slim majorities in both the House and Senate. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is not up for election this year.
Virginia’s 2017 elections provided an early indication of a blue wave that swept through the 2018 U.S. midterms. This year’s legislative elections are being closely watched for clues about how the 2020 presidential cycle will play out.
Democrats are hoping big wins will send a message about President Donald Trump’s unpopularity. Republicans are hoping the specter of Trump’s impeachment will motivate the GOP base to turn out in large numbers.
Once a key swing state, Virginia has been trending blue for years thanks to the growth of its more diverse and liberal suburban and urban areas. A Democratic takeover Tuesday could help cement that trend as the next legislature will decide who controls the redistricting process.
On the policy front, Democratic control could mean rapid movement during next year’s legislative session on several issues Republicans have blocked in the past. That includes stricter gun laws, a higher minimum wage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the final state needed for possible passage of the gender equality measure.
Republicans have warned of higher taxes and virtually no restrictions on third-trimester abortions if they lose the majority.
The battle for control of the General Assembly will take place in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Hampton Roads area.
A redrawn legislative map that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld earlier this year is helping Democrats in several districts, including those of the top two Republicans in the state House. Speaker Kirk Cox is facing Sheila Bynum-Coleman, a vocal gun-control advocate in a Richmond area seat, while House Appropriations Chairman Del. Chris Jones is facing Clinton Jenkins, an Army veteran who runs a real estate company, in a Suffolk-area district.
State Senate races to watch include the Richmond-area contest between incumbent GOP Sen. Glen Sturtevant and Ghazala Hashmi; the Northern Virginia contest between Democratic Del. John Bell and Republican Loudoun County Board of Supervisors member Geary Higgins; and the Virginia Beach race between Democratic Del. Cheryl Turpin and Republican Jen Kiggans, a nurse practitioner and former naval aviator.
Another race of note is a write-in campaign in a GOP-friendly district being waged by incumbent Republican Del. Nick Freitas, who didn’t make the ballot after failing to file campaign paperwork on time.