CNN projected Thursday that Republicans in the state will win at least half of the seats in the chamber, guaranteeing that Democrats will no longer hold full control there. CNN has not projected that Republicans will take control of the House.
Democrats are projected so far to win 46 seats.
The best the party could do at this point is tie the number of Republican seats, but Democrats would need to win the remaining unprojected races to do so. A tie would mean a power sharing agreement between the two parties. If Republicans win even one of those four unprojected seats, they will control the chamber.
Five of the projected Republican wins are pick-ups and the shift in power — paired with Republicans Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares capturing the state’s governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general posts, respectively — underscores a broad political reckoning after years of Democratic control.
In recent years, Virginia Republicans had little recourse as Democrats enacted a progressive agenda, passing legislation that tightened gun control, expanded reproductive rights and offered protections for LGBTQ individuals. Virginia lawmakers also ratified the Equal Rights Amendment after years of trying and rolled back a number of laws Democrats described as “archaic.”
But Republicans succeeded in casting some of those policies as Democratic overreach, while painting the party as soft on crime. The strategy secured turnout in rural, conservative areas without alienating suburban voters.
The GOP pick-ups have the potential to deliver the party a jolt of momentum heading into 2022 and stand as an ominous warning to Democrats as the state’s off-year elections — where voters take to the ballot box a year after the presidential election — are often seen as a referendum on a new White House.
Though Youngkin came into the race as largely a blank slate with unlimited money, his success validates his strategy of largely focusing on local issues and lauding former President Donald Trump at times while also keeping him at arm’s length.
“It’s incumbent on Democrats to be loud and clear about what we’re for and not just running against Donald Trump,” an adviser to President Joe Biden told CNN Wednesday. “It’s also clear that voters are unhappy about inaction and this drives home the point that Democrats in Congress should move quickly on our agenda.”
Democratic control of Virginia’s state Senate, where members don’t face election until 2023, may still remain a roadblock to the GOP, but Democrats’ razor thin margin in the chamber means it could struggle to block some conservative overhauls.
And the new base of power in Richmond will likely lead to new policy discussions on a host of issues.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert said in a statement Wednesday that the party plans to work with Younkin to “restore fiscal order, give parents the voice they deserve in education, and keep our Commonwealth safe. Our work begins now.”
“Virginia voters made an historic statement, delivering a clear rebuke of the failed policies of the last two years and electing Republicans up and down the ballot,” Gilbert said.