The crowd of Democrats gathered on the sweltering tiki-themed patio at Kilroy’s, a sports bar in deep blue Northern Virginia, knew better than most what was at stake in the November election in their state. But Tim Kaine, one of two US senators from their party, called them back anyway.
“I would say it’s the races in Virginia – 140 in total – that are going to send the most powerful message about where America is going,” Kaine said Sunday of the House of Representatives and Senate elections, so that he was speaking in front of about fifty candidates and party activists. a fundraiser.
In two months, Virginia voters will cast their ballots in odd-numbered years, deciding whether Republicans will gain unilateral control of state government or be forced to share power with Democrats for another two years. The election results will provide both parties with the clearest signs yet of where voters stand on issues such as abortion, crime, voting rights and the economy. They could also radically reshape the political future of the Commonwealth and the rising Republican star who leads it, Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Youngkin, who rose to national prominence after winning the 2021 gubernatorial race by uniting moderate Republicans and supporters of former President Donald Trump, has leveraged his popularity to raise prolific funds for Spirit of Virginia. , his state political action committee.
Asked about his political future, Youngkin and his team insisted he only wanted to talk about the Nov. 7 election.
“What he’s said is that he’s just focused on the House and Senate races this year,” said David Rexrode, senior adviser to Youngkin and chairman of the Spirit of Virginia PAC. “He’s holding town halls in Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford, not Manchester and Charleston.”
Despite that insistence, Youngkin hinted at what 2024 could hold for him: He released a national campaign-style video earlier this year and solicited out-of-state donations with great success. His staggering fundraising — $12 million raised in the six months from March through August, the Spirit of Virginia PAC reported Wednesday — has raised alarm bells with Democrats in the state.
Last week, Chairman Joe Biden authorized the Democratic National Committee to send $1.2 million to Virginia to fund staff responsible for the coordinated campaign and get-out-the-vote efforts, bringing the full national party contribution at $1.5 million. The funds follow months of outreach by Kaine and fellow Virginia Democratic senator Mark Warner.
“The White House’s decision to award this to Virginia is a big deal,” Kaine told CNN on Sunday, referring to Biden and his political apparatus. “It gives us (Warner) and myself the ability to reach out to other groups nationwide and say, ‘The White House is big.’ Please be tall too.’
The 140 seats in the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-held House of Delegates will be elected in November, following a series of dramatic redistrictings that pitted incumbents against each other and forced a wave of departures retired. Control of both chambers will likely come down to a handful of competitive runs.
“If Glenn Youngkin manages to give his party full control of the Legislature, it will completely undo years of major gains made by Democrats that led many people – before his election in 2021 – to declare Virginia a state. blue,” said Mark J. Rozell. , Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
But both parties will also look to Virginia to help shape the narrative as the 2024 presidential election approaches.
“This isn’t just the last election of 2023,” said Virginia Democratic President Susan Swecker. “This is the first election of 2024.”
“Everything” hangs in the balance in November, said Virginia Rep. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat who served in the state Legislature for 17 years before being elected to Congress in February.
McClellan sponsored several of the bills passed by Democrats to expand voting rights and other policy priorities when they were in the state Senate. Today, she attended 24 campaign events for around 50 candidates from top to bottom.
“In 2020 and 2021, Virginia made generational progress on just about every issue, from access to abortion to fighting climate change to expanding our non-discrimination laws to to the protection of workers. All of this progress is at stake,” she said.
Although Youngkin will not be on the ballot this year, the election will be a referendum on many of the policies championed by the former Carlyle Group executive, from expanding school choice programs to a limit of 15 weeks for abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest and abortion. mother’s life. Youngkin is on the campaign trail and pushing hard for early voting, which begins September 22. The governor helped promote the “Secure Your Vote Virginia” initiative by launching a bus tour on Monday.
His fundraiser aims to help Republicans close the gap with Democrats in individual races, where Republican candidates, as a whole, are lagging, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. During the last fundraising period, June 9-30, Democratic candidates raised $2.3 million, compared to $1.5 million for Republicans in the House and $3.1 million for $1.4 million for Republicans in the Senate.
“They will spend even more than us this year, but it certainly won’t be at the levels of past years,” Rexrode said.
The challenge for both parties will be getting voters to show up in what is expected to be a low turnout election. With no federal races or governors on the ballot, attracting loyal party members will likely make the difference in key races. That’s where Youngkin’s political organization could be instrumental, said Tucker Martin, a former GOP political strategist who worked in Virginia politics.
“He has a good organization. He raised a lot of money. And he and his team will have the ability to get their constituents to vote,” Martin said. “In fact, that’s probably the biggest factor — I think that’s why you’re seeing the Democratic panic emerging from Washington, DC.”
Youngkin’s fundraising has been boosted by large donations from people who would also like to see him run for president.
“I don’t know if we can convince him to enter the race, but I think it would be very, very important that we try,” billionaire Republican megadonor Thomas Peterffy told Fox Business the day after the first debate. Republican presidential primary last month. Peterffy donated $2 million to Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC.
Former Republican Representative Francis Rooney of Florida said Youngkin reminded him of former Republican Presidents George W. Bush, George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan. Rooney donated $100,000 to Spirit of Virginia PAC and hosted a networking event for Youngkin at the former congressman’s home in Naples, Florida in April.
“I really think it’s important to have people in politics who have started, bought and run businesses,” said Rooney, who also served as US ambassador to the Vatican under the young President Bush. “Glenn Youngkin certainly fits that profile. It is refreshing from this point of view.
Under Virginia law, Youngkin cannot run for office when his term ends in January 2026. If he were to run in the 2024 race after the November election, he would face significant hurdles staffing, fundraising and registration in key states. Filing deadlines in two of the first four states, Nevada and South Carolina, will be passed, and several more will be approaching.
Whatever his political ambitions — whether it’s a last-minute entry into the 2024 election, a run for the Senate in 2024 or 2026, or something else — they would be helped by electoral success. in November or deeply hurt by a defeat.
Youngkin’s main issues have been public safety and crime, education and parental rights, and the economy. He managed to score several political victories despite opposition from the Democratic Senate, including $4 billion in tax cuts and significant funding for schools in his 2022 budget.
Other efforts failed. Senate Democrats blocked Republican efforts to advance Youngkin’s ‘parental rights’ agenda, repeal climate change policies that tie Virginia’s emissions standards to California’s and restrict access to abortion.
Democrats also blocked efforts to reverse their party’s overhaul of state election laws — which allowed no-excuse mail-in voting and same-day voter registration, introduced 45 days of early voting, created a permanent list of mail-in ballot requests and increased access to the deposit of ballot papers. boxes.
Democrats have criticized the Youngkin administration for undoing a bipartisan tradition of automatically restoring voting rights to people who have served criminal sentences and for withdrawing from ERIC, a nonpartisan voter registration database. in several states designed to prevent voter fraud.
While abortion is the main theme of Democratic ads in Virginia and across the country, Kaine said he focused on voting access in his appeals to domestic donors. A Republican victory in November could lead to new election laws next year, when Biden and Kaine are on the ballot.
“My main point in the White House was, ‘How much do you think Joe Biden benefited in 2020 from Virginia making it easier for people to vote?'” Kaine said at Sunday’s event.