Virginia’s 2023 elections, when we vote for all 100 members of the House of Delegates and all 40 members of the state Senate, are going to occur in the midst of a vigorous national debate. The impact could well decide who runs the General Assembly in Richmond. If the politicos were expecting a quiet election, they can forget it.

david kerr H&S

David Kerr

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding abortion was expected – after all, it was leaked in advance. Having overturned Roe v. Wade, the court has made abortion a state matter. Some states, which had so-called “trigger laws” on the books, have effectively already banned abortion. Other states plan to maintain access to abortions. Virginia allows abortion, but future access is dicey at best.

With a staunchly pro-life Republican governor, it all comes down to the legislature, and the margins are thin. There is a 52-48 Republican majority in the House, and a 21-19 Democratic majority in the Senate. Because the GOP controls the tie vote in the Senate, only one Senate seat separates the generally pro-life Republicans from severely limiting abortion rights. Indeed, with a shift of that one vote an outright ban is likely.

Although the legislature was dominated by the GOP during most of the past 25 years and the state has had several pro-life Republican governors, their ability to limit access to abortion was constrained. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed access to abortion, got in the way. As the result, abortion, while dividing the parties, was rarely a wedge issue with voters. However, in 2023, it’s going to matter.

If the Republicans maintain control of the House of Delegates and can take the Senate, and with Gov. Glenn Youngkin still in office, outlawing abortion won’t be all that difficult. However, looking at the political variables, and they’re many, maybe it’s not that easy.

The pro-life vote in Virginia is powerful. There is no mistaking that. That said, Northern Virginia usually votes pro-choice. That’s almost half the state’s population, but get outside Virginia’s “urban crescent” and opinions start to shift dramatically toward pro-life. To some voters, a candidate’s opposition to abortion is all that matters.

However, at the same time, a countervailing force is likely to come into play. First, there is a strong abortion rights base in the Democratic Party. It’s powerful. And it does win elections. Also, women, according to just about every poll, favor access to abortion by overwhelming margins.

Many women, even those identifying as Republicans, are distressed by the high court’s decision and concerned by efforts in various states to eliminate access to the procedure. They are worried about its future in Virginia.

It’s an anxiety few conservative female voters like to talk about. But it does make the political situation fluid. Some Republican women, and men, too, based on this one issue, may be tempted to change sides if their vote helps keep abortion legal in Virginia.

Also 2023 is in an off-year election. Arguably, that doesn’t adequately describe it. My preference is to call it an “off-off” year election. That’s because there are no statewide races on the ballot. Usually, this means voter turnout is light with few state or national issues mobilizing voters. However, with new, more equitably drawn districts, and what will likely be one of the most polarizing issues in years dominating the campaign, this could turn out to be a high-profile, high-turnout, big money election.

In a way, it’s sort of a post Roe v. Wade “showdown.” That said, neither Republicans nor Democrats know quite how to handle the issue and aren’t sure how to leverage it to their advantage. At least not yet. However, they have about a year to figure it out – at which point you can expect Virginia’s normally quiet legislative elections to find their way to national prominence.

David Kerr is an adjunct professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University and has worked on Capitol Hill and for various federal agencies for many years.

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(1) comment

Paul Benedict

Killing fetuses is so important to Democrats. They don't care if it's at 12 weeks or 40 weeks. They don't care if the fetus has a heartbeat. They don't care if the fetus can feel pain. They don't care if the fetus is moving around and sucking its thumb. They don't care if it is far enough along to survive outside the womb. They don't care that the fetus is a human being with it's own DNA and technically not part of the woman's body. All they care about is killing the damn thing. Abortion is barbaric and Democrats love it.

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