Democrats are already gearing up for Virginia’s 2025 elections after the party’s successful showing earlier this month in the state’s off-year elections.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) announced Monday she is running for governor in 2025, while Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) has reportedly been gathering staff in preparation for a gubernatorial run as well. Democrats are also eager ahead of next year’s federal elections. Eugene Vindman, one of the high-profile witnesses in former President Trump’s first impeachment trial, announced Thursday he is running for Spanberger’s congressional seat.
The activity following Election Night is emblematic of the optimism Democrats feel, two years after the state appeared to be shifting toward Republicans.
“2021 was a wake-up call,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “I think a lot of folks assume that Virginia was at least a lean-blue state, but the way that we had to treat it — especially in off-years — is that it’s a toss-up state, because it always is.”
In this year’s election, Democrats maintained their majority in Virginia’s state Senate and flipped the House of Delegates.
“What we did really well this past year was that we were able to identify targets early, we were able to coordinate and get everybody on the same page to have a unified message,” Rahman said.
Virginia Democrats stayed laser-focused on painting their Republican counterparts as “MAGA extremists” and accusing them of having hard-line stances on abortion rights. On top of that, Democrats had a clear money advantage. According to AdImpact, Democrats outspent Republicans in Virginia $35.2 million to $27.6 million this cycle.
And while Virginia Democrats say they are eager to compete again in 2025, they acknowledge that much of their messaging two years from now will depend on what happens up and down the ballot in the state.
“But at the same time, I think both 2024 and 2025 lean blue for Virginia, just with the overall landscape of everything,” Rahman said.
Virginia’s 2nd and 7th congressional districts are on track to be the most competitive House races in 2024, particularly the 2nd District. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District as “lean Republican,” while the 7th District is “lean Democrat.”
At the federal House level, Virginia Democrats point to specific victories seen in the House of Delegates and state Senate districts that overlap with the two congressional districts.
Democrats point to wins in state House District 84, an open seat that Del.-elect Nadarius Clark (D) won earlier this month, and House District 97, where Del.-elect Michael Feggans ousted Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R). Both districts fall under Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes much of the greater Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads areas.
“Coastal Virginia delivered the House of Delegates the flip that happened that night,” said one Democratic strategist with ties to Virginia congressional races. “That was a testament to the work that was done in coastal Virginia.”
Democrats point to wins in the 7th Congressional District as reasons to feel optimistic. There, Del.-elect Joshua Cole (D) won in House District 65, and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair-elect Deshundra Jefferson defeated Republican Jeanine Lawson.
And while Republican Tara Durant ended up winning Virginia’s 27th Senate District in Northern Virginia, Democrats still said Democrat Joel Griffin outperformed former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in red parts of the district such as Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.
“We’re feeling very confident about our prospects in both of those districts,” said one Democratic strategist with ties to Virginia congressional races.
However, Republicans say that while Election Night 2023 did not go as well as they had hoped, there are still silver linings for the party in going into the next two election cycles.
“We overperformed in all of the House and Senate districts that overlay with the [congressional] map,” said a national Republican strategist.
Republicans point to data from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) that shows GOP candidates winning in state House District 89, which was won by Biden, and state Senate District 17. Republicans also point to the Democratic candidate underperforming Biden in state Senate District 22. All three districts fall under Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District.
As for the state districts making up the 7th Congressional District, Republicans point to victories in House District 27 and Senate District 27, which were both won by Biden in 2020. Additionally, NRCC data shows Cole underperforming Biden in House District 65, despite his victory.
“It’s still a very positive result in a state that Biden won by 10 points in 2020, and they’re still tabulating the absentee ballots,” the Republican strategist said.
And Republicans point to their efforts on absentee and early voting as victories this cycle. Gov. Glenn Youngkin prioritized the efforts as part of his Secure Your Vote program in Virginia.
According to a post-election memo from Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) President Dee Duncan, Republicans generated a 26 percent increase in absentee ballot requests from 2021 and 32 percent increase in absentee ballot returns.
“Despite district lines that favored Democrats by an average of 4.2%, Republicans were able to win every target district Joe Biden carried by 9 points or less in 2020 while picking up a seat in the state Senate,” said Michael Joyce, communications director at the RSLC.
“Even as Democrats drastically outspent Republicans, over $6 million on TV alone, Republicans still outperformed 2020 numbers by an average of 11%. While it wasn’t the night we hoped for, we are encouraged by our absentee and early vote program results and the opportunities it will create for Republicans in 2024 and beyond.”
Much of what plays out down-ballot in Virginia next year will also depend on who is at the top of the presidential ticket. This would seemingly bode well for Biden, if it were a Trump-Biden rematch; Biden defeated Trump 54 percent to 44 percent in the state in 2020.
“In Virginia, particularly Northern Virginia, Donald Trump is very unpopular. A Trump candidacy benefits the candidates in Northern Virginia,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran Virginia political analyst. “If Trump is the president and he wins, that makes 2025 easier for the Democrats.”
Some Republicans also acknowledge this conundrum.
“If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee in Virginia in 2024, he’s going to lose the state,” said Tucker Martin, a former aide to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). “And that’s going to have an impact all the way down the ballot. It is.”
But Democrats have areas they could improve on going into 2024 and 2025, particularly in Virginia’s rural communities.
“All of the competitive seats were in these edge areas of suburban, exurban areas in Virginia for the most part where Democrats do pretty well, particularly on the abortion issue,” Holsworth said, referring to the 2023 elections. “But what’s happened to the Democrats as well is that there has been a total collapse in the rural areas.”
“[Youngkin] just ran up the score outside of the major metropolitan areas tremendously, and that’s still a weakness for the Democrats,” he continued. “While the Republicans have had no answer for abortion, the Democrats seemingly have no answer for their collapse in rural Virginia, too.”
Youngkin will not be on the ballot in 2025, because Virginia governors can only serve one consecutive term. However, Democrats say they are feeling excited about a Spanberger candidacy, given her experience as a moderate and track record of reaching across the aisle to work with her conservative counterparts.
“She’s absolutely formidable,” Martin, a Republican, said. “She is very, very good and very talented. She’s a good retail politician.”
“But it goes back to, we don’t know the environment in which that campaign is going to unfold,” he continued. “And what Virginia has shown time and time again is that environment means everything.”
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.