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The Most Important State to Watch in 2023

AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris

With no regular federal elections in 2023, perhaps the most important contests to watch this year will be for control of the Virginia state legislature. With a number of important dynamics at play from both a statewide and national perspective, the Old Dominion may once again provide key indicators for the political direction of the country, just as it did two years ago – beginning with three special elections next week.

The most important outcome from Virginia’s 2021 elections was the victory of first-time politician Glenn Youngkin, who burst onto the national political scene by defeating former Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe. Almost immediately after securing the governorship, speculation began swirling about a potential Youngkin 2024 presidential bid. Because Virginia governors are limited to one term, Youngkin does not have a potential reelection bid to consider. Although the former Carlyle Group CEO has remained mum on any 2024 plans, he did tour the country in 2022 campaigning for other Republican gubernatorial candidates – a move that many pundits saw as an attempt to raise his national profile.

If Youngkin indeed harbors presidential (or possibly vice presidential) aspirations, how well Republicans perform in Virginia’s statewide elections this November will be a major opportunity to showcase his effectiveness to Republican voters. Before Youngkin’s election, Virginia had been trending hard to the left; no Republican had won statewide there since 2009, and the Republican presidential nominee has not won the state since 2004. Additionally, Democrats had won control of both the state house and senate for the first time in nearly 30 years in 2019.

Youngkin appeared to lead a reversal of that trend when, with him at the top of the ticket, Republicans picked up control of the Virginia House of Delegates, along with the Lieutenant Governorship and Attorney General’s office. This year, Youngkin will be out to prove that these results were no fluke, and that his platform of traditional conservative policies like tax cuts and economic development incentives combined with a focus on social issues like greater transparency in education and protecting parents’ rights can deliver sustainable success for the GOP.

An early indicator of how November might go for Virginia Republicans – and Glenn Youngkin –  will come on January 10 with three special elections, two for state house seats and one for a state senate seat. While the house races are not expected to change the status quo – one is in a deep blue district for a seat formerly held by a Democrat, while the other is in a deep red district for a seat formerly held by a Republican – the contest for the Virginia 7th Senate District is worth keeping an eye on. There, Republican Kevin Adams is vying to hold the seat vacated by Jen Kiggans, who defeated Democrat Elaine Luria for her U.S. House seat in November.

Adams is running against Virginia Beach City Councilman Aaron Rouse, a far-left Democrat who has a history of run-ins with the law and has openly referred to police as “slave patrols” in public remarks. In what has traditionally been a hotly contested seat and with a slim margin in the state senate, the race will provide the victorious side an important extra vote in the upcoming legislative session.

Democrats, meanwhile, will be equally determined to prove that 2021 was merely a red blip in an otherwise solidly blue electoral record. Throughout the first year of Youngkin’s term, Democrats in the state senate have labeled themselves a “brick wall,” attempting to block as many of Youngkin’s proposed policies as possible. But they were forced to cave on certain key items such as removing mask mandates in schools and the elimination of the state’s grocery tax amid broad public support for those initiatives, indicating that Youngkin’s agenda may be more popular in the state than Democrats are willing to admit.

Youngkin also recently unveiled a set of proposed amendments to the state budget which would, among other things, provide billions in additional tax relief, expand funding for mental health treatment, and help hire thousands of new police officers. Overall, the proposal is clearly designed to elicit broad public support. If Democrats oppose the amendments in the upcoming legislative session, it may be at their own political peril.

Virginia’s statewide elections in 2021 were also a foreshadowing of how national midterms would shake out in 2022. After two years of Democrat control of both the Virginia state house and senate, Republicans won a narrow 52-18 majority in the house and held Democrats to a 21-19 majority in the senate. One year later, Republicans at the national level similarly eked out a four-seat victory for the U.S. House while holding Democrat to a narrow lead in the senate. If Virginia Republicans hold or expand their advantage in the house and flip the senate, Republicans throughout the country may view it as a positive sign for things to come in 2024.

What issues become dominant throughout the campaign cycle this year will also likely provide a glimpse into what could drive the narrative in the general election cycle next year. In 2021, Youngkin capitalized on simmering resentment over Critical Race Theory and far-left ideologies in K-12 classrooms to help catapult his campaign to victory. Once in office, he took immediate action to address those issues and has continued to perform well in public polling. This year, again, there may be another “sleeper issue” that rises to the fore in Virginia before going national in 2024.

Some in the establishment political class still believe that, even in light of Youngkin’s victory and sustained popularity, Virginia is still too far gone and Republican hopes of a resurgence there are unfounded. But if Republicans can deliver back-to-back positive results in a state that Joe Biden won by 10 points in 2020, then conservatives have ample reason for optimism virtually everywhere else.

Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.


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P.J.
2 months ago

 You wrote: Before Youngkin’s election, Virginia had been trending hard to the left; no Republican had won statewide there since 2009.
>>>That’s true, but there’s more to the story: The only reason Republicans hadn’t won statewide between 2009 and 2021 is because of a rump Republican, Robert Sarvis, with a grudge to settle who ran as a third-party candidate in 2013 for governor and in 2014 for U.S. Senate. Sarvis was the spoiler in both cases.

SAW
2 months ago

Glenn Youngkin and others, do it better than Ron DeSantis and we will all be made aware and take notice.
One year is all you have to get a lot more done in YOUR state and that would not mean you take your one year to focus on JUMPING directly into the president’s seat just because your state only allows a one year term.

IMHO…

P.J.
2 months ago
Reply to  SAW

Youngkin would be better served running against Sen. Mark Warner. Warner will be up for re-election in 2026, the same year Youngkin’s governor’s term ends.

Veteran
2 months ago

The most important State to watch in 2023 – is the one you personally live in! Had we all done that, and had we all made sure we raised our children with a firm understanding of the Bible, the Constitution, and how our civic and party system is supposed to work we would not be in this horrific mess. So please watch what’s going on in your State, get involved where you are, with what you can do from school boards, to election committees, and if you see something that’s not right speak out. America has been silently aiding and abetting too long!

Lord help us!!!
2 months ago

Wherever you reside is the most important election. We’re in the fight of our lives to save the family and America from all this wickedness being perpetrated on us by the Obama/Biden and the democrat/communists!!! Be involved whether it is running for office, being an election official, donating time and/or money to like minded individuals running for office!!! I know people that whine about the state of our country yet they don’t give a single dime to decent people running for office. The wicked democrat/communists have media elites, big tech and big pharma with alot more money than we have so how do you think decent people can win if you don’t give anything? We all will have to give an account of what we did or didn’t do when we had the chance!!! Granted none of us are perfect but get in the game!!! There will be a time when it is TOO LATE if you just worry about you, yourself and I!!!

granky
2 months ago

I disagree, the state to watch is Texas. Virginia has 13 electoral votes, Texas has 38. Texas rural votes have kept the state red but the urban votes in the 2020 election were blue and the large urban areas populations are exploding with historically liberal voters coming from California and other blue states.

Bonnie
2 months ago
Reply to  granky

I agree. Look what happened to Arizona.

mytake
2 months ago
Reply to  Bonnie

The fight is not over in AZ.

K. Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  mytake

Something going on I don’t know about? If so, I’d very much like to know.

Philip Hammersley
2 months ago
Reply to  K. Martin

Kari Lake is still trying to move forward on lawsuits IF the judges will rule on the obvious evidence of voter irregularities, not on their own political persuasions!

Andrew P
2 months ago
Reply to  granky

Not in 2023, though. Texas has State elections in even years, just like the Federal. VA, NJ, KY, LA, MS have state elections in odd years.

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