The outcome of last week’s state legislative elections in Virginia was a major disappointment for Republicans. Not only did Democrats maintain control of the Senate; they also took control of the House of Delegates, effectively stymying GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s conservative agenda for the remainder of his term.
Despite last week’s electoral defeats, there was, however, one significant development that Republicans throughout the country should take heed of if they want to remain competitive in future elections.
In the months leading up to the Nov. 7 contest, Youngkin, along with organizations such as the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) and Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), made a major push for GOP voters to cast their ballots early prior to Election Day. RPV Chair Rich Anderson previously told The Federalist that the initiative represented a “cultural shift for us as a party” and emphasized how Republicans can’t afford to “go into our elections down thousands of votes.”
While Virginia Republicans ultimately didn’t come out on top in last week’s elections, their emphasis on absentee and in-person early voting (AB/EV) appears to have won them several pivotal races and limited what could have been much larger Democrat majorities in the General Assembly.
According to a Nov. 9 press release, the RSLC and Virginia Republicans’ push for EV/AB “secured 26% of [the former’s] target universe turnout goal heading into Election Day and converted twice as many low-propensity voters as [it] had set out to do.” Overall, these efforts “increased AB/EV by 5.5% when compared to 2021,” the same year Republicans swept races for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, and took control of the House of Delegates.
Among the key races reportedly affected by the RSLC and Virginia Republicans’ initiative was House District 89, where Republican N. Baxter Ennis defeated Democrat Karen Jenkins by fewer than 600 votes. According to the RSLC, Republicans’ AB/EV initiative “produced 1,593 absentee and early votes” in the district. Similarly successful results were also recorded in Senate District 27, where Republican Tara Durant defeated Democrat Joel Griffin by roughly 1,250 votes. The RSLC and Virginia Republicans’ efforts purportedly netted “3,735 absentee and early votes with 1,613 of those votes coming from low-propensity voters.”
Other close races where the GOP’s absentee and early voting campaign appears to have pushed Republican candidates over the finish line include House Districts 22, 57, and 82, and Senate District 24.
“Without our AB/EV efforts, Virginia Republicans would likely be sitting at a 45-55 House of Delegates and a 17-23 Senate,” the RSLC press release reads. Unofficial results indicate that Virginia Democrats will have a one-seat majority in both the House (51-49) and Senate (21-19) at the beginning of next year, although the questionable eligibility of a Democrat Senate candidate to run in the district she won could potentially shake up control of the upper chamber.
Despite facing a redistricted map favorable to Democrats, Virginia’s 2023 GOP candidates reportedly outperformed the margins set by the party’s candidates in the 2020 federal elections. According to the RSLC, 14 of Virginia’s 20 “most contested” state legislative districts — 19 of which were won by Joe Biden in 2020 — favored Democrats “by an average of 4.2%” following redistricting. Yet, “even with this imbalance, [Virginia’s 2023 GOP candidates] overperformed the 2020 GOP ticket in every district by more than 5%, averaging 10.4% across the board,” and overperformed 2020 Republican candidates by an average of 11 percent in districts where the 2023 candidates lost.
Why It Matters
While Virginia Republicans didn’t sweep last week’s elections, their use of early and absentee voting to gain votes in the face of a slanted map should serve as a lesson for Republicans nationwide. With Democrats’ voter registration and mail-in voting operations banking them thousands of votes ahead of Election Day, Republicans cannot afford to continue to fight with both hands tied behind their backs.
While embracing the left’s insecure voting practices goes against the “norm” of the GOP’s election strategy — which focuses on Election Day turnout — doing so in states where they don’t have the power to pass tighter election integrity laws is essential to remaining competitive at the ballot box. Republicans can and should highlight the insecurities and risks associated with Democrats’ lax voting policies. But passing laws that enshrine integrity in elections requires gaining the political power to implement them.
If Republicans want to change the rules of the game, they must be willing to play by the ones Democrats created first.