A new era is about to dawn on Virginia. After what can be argued as its most contentious race in the past decade, today Virginia will have picked a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and the 100 members of its House of Delegates.
It has been a long nine months since I started covering Virginia’s 2021 Election Cycle. There’s been a lot of twists and turns. But we’ve all finally made it to today. And with our final official rankings today, I think it’s safe to say that this is going to be an incredibly marginal election. So here they are.
Mark Herring’s small incumbency boost gives him the advantage over Jason Miyares
Let’s start with the simplest call first. It seems that even under the current environment, incumbent AG Mark Herring will survive another tough challenge in his bid for an unprecedented third term.
When polls are conducted of all three statewide races, Herring has continually been the best-performing candidate of them all. Part of that can be attributed to his incumbency. Herring is the only incumbent in the race, one of the few who passed on a Gubernatorial run this year to run for re-election.
The decision seems to have paid off. Even in polls where Glenn Youngkin has tied or led, Herring has been slightly in front of Republican nominee Jason Miyares. While Herring’s future past this election seems uncertain, we are confident enough in his standing to rate the Attorney General’s Race as Leans Democratic.
To me that means that Herring probably wins by about 3-4 points, outperforming the other members of the ticket, and likely multiple democratic House of Delegate candidates, specifically in the NOVA area. If there is a true surprise and there’s an R sweep, Miyares will have been pulled over by others coattails, not the other way around.
Lieutenant Governor: Hala Ayala favored in a closer-than-expected race to keep the office in Democratic hands
Who would’ve expected this race to be so close 6 months ago? Many saw the LG race as one that Democrats would have a pretty good chance at holding – especially after Republicans chose Winsome Sears over slightly more moderate and known options in Tim Hugo and Glenn Davis for this race. But the change in winds and the factors of this being an open seat have made this seat close.
Sears and Democratic nominee Hala Ayala, a delegate from Prince William County, both have strengths and weaknesses that each have attempted to capitalize on. But truly, this is just an open race that is being used as the baseline for the entirety of Virginia. If I could leave this as a tossup, I would, but I think Ayala has the tinniest advantage here over Sears.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Sears was able to pull it out though. Two reasons specifically make me believe this. One, that Youngkin’s tails are big enough for Sears to be pulled over the line and two that this is an open race. No incumbency factor exists in this race, and in this environment that will help Sears. We still though see Ayala as a narrow favorite here over Sears in the end, in what’s likely to be the closest LG race in Virginia since 2005 between Bill Bolling and Leslie Byrne.
Governor: Virginia Runs on Youngkin; Albeit by a very narrow margin
Yes folks, we’re saying it too. Glenn Youngkin is the ever-so-slight favorite to win the Virginia gubernatorial race, which would have him become the first Virginia GOP statewide officeholder since the trio of Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli all won in 2009.
There’s good reason for this too, and it’s not just “vibes”. Youngkin has seen a steady and clear improvement in the polls the last month, a key difference from this race and its 2017 counterpart. The environment has also gotten worse, not better for Democrats. A failure to pass any crucial legislation and with the forsworn “Biden bounce back” never happening in his approvals, that also helps Youngkin in this race.
Again, if I could leave this race as a tossup I would. And I almost did. But after a couple hours of arguments among the head staff at Elections Daily, we went with Leans Republican. The last time we made a call in such a close race in Georgia, we went the wrong way in part because we ignored the cleat signs of momentum for the general knowledge about the state. I am not letting us make that mistake again. The momentum and environment has just enough favor for Youngkin here that we see him getting a narrow 1-2 point win in Virginia.
The House of Delegates: A tie. Yes a tie, with many many caveats.
Maybe what most of our readers have been waiting for, our final House of Delegates calls. We are moving 10 seats, including all nine of our tossups, to new ratings at the end. Here they are.
- HD-10: Tossup to Leans Republican: The first of our four GOP flips on the night, we think that Republican Nick Clemente will be able to outperform the top of the ticket enough in this mostly Loudoun based district. This district has zoomed left since 2016, but the traction has been much slower down ballot. Some even consider Clemente, a 33 year old who works for a trade association, a stronger candidate than former GOP incumbent Randy Minchew. Even Democrats have agreed that Clemente has run an above-average campaign and we think that will sink incumbent Wendy Gooditis here in this district.
- HD-12: Tossup to Leans Republican: Another really hard call we had to make, we are predicting that Republican Jason Ballard will beat incumbent Democrat Chris Hurst here in this Blacksburg based seat. We think Giles will give Ballard a big margin and we don’t see proof that Blacksburg Democrats are as enthusiastic as they have been the last four years. That hurts Hurst tremendously, and we see that as giving Ballard the key edge in this crucial House race.
- HD-27: Tossup to Leans Republican: In one of the few competitive GOP held seats this cycle, we do have incumbent Roxann Robinson surviving a strong challenge from Democrat Debra Gardner. Robinson survived challenges that saw her win by only 128 and 189 votes in 2017 and 2019 respectively, and she’s likely to face another narrow margin this time around. This was however a seat that Donald Trump won in 2016 and with polling showing a continually close race at the top, we struggle to see Democrats at the top winning here, giving Robinson a distinct advantage. This is the seat we’ve been told that Democrats are saying would flip if there are any on the night for them, but at this point we think Robinson has a small, but clear, advantage.
- HD-28: Tossup to Leans Republican: The third straight year the 28th, based in parts of Stafford and parts of Fredricksburg, is going to be one of the most competitive seats in the House. It also has a rare distinction of being a Trump-Biden seat in the NOVA area. This is a part of the state that swung left hard from 2016-2020, but still likes to swing from year to year. Incumbent Josh Cole is arguably a stronger incumbent than GOP challenger Tara Durant, but this is just a seat where the data outweighs candidate quality. With what we’ve heard from both sides and through polling data given, we think the partisan swing here will be enough to get Durant over the line against Cole. The third flip for the GOP in our ratings comes here.
- HD-66: Tossup to Leans Republican: This seat, currently held by former Speaker Kirk Cox, was expected to be the Democrats best hope at a pickup. Even in a poorer environment than recently, a double digit Biden seat should’ve been at least on track for a narrow victory for them. But that hasn’t materialized here, with many Democrats privately admitting that their nominee, Katie Sponsler, has disappointed tremendously in this seat. GOP nominee Mike Cherry has also outperformed previous expectations, and many behind the scenes agreed he has outworked Sponsler in this seat. As stated previously, many Democrats see the 27th as the more likely seat to flip than the 66th now, a testament to what’s occurred here. We agree, and see the GOP holding this seat in the face of what were previously considered tough odds.
- HD-73: Tossup to Leans Democratic: Another tough one for us to call, but we see Democrats holding onto this seat in the Henrico Richmond suburbs. Mary Margaret Kastelburg has put up another spirited run against Rodeny Willett, who now has the advantage of incumbency in this 2019 rematch. While if there is a Richmond suburbs seat that flips, this is the one we think would flip. But we don’t see it happening at this point. We think the Henrico suburbs have just trended too much to the left and grown too much to see a Kastelburg win. Willett’s margin will almost certainly be closer than it was in 2019, but we see him holding on in this seat.
- HD-75: Tossup to Leans Republican: The seat we’re most confident in seeing flip tonight, the partisan change in the Commonwealth seem too great for incumbent Democrat Roz Tyler to overcome against challenger Otto Wachsmann for the second straight year. Wachsmann came surprisingly close in 2019, losing by only 2 points in a heavily D year. With the rightwards trends in this seat, combined with the likely drop off in African American turnout, we think Wachsmann has a very good chance to flip this seat on attempt number 2.
- HD-83: Tossup to Leans Democratic: One of the two tossup Virginia Beach seats, even though this seat was the closest in 2019, with Nancy Guy winning by only double digits, we think she survives a bit more comfortably this time. If former delegate Chris Stolle had won the primary, this would almost certainly be a GOP flip. But he lost his primary to Tim Anderson by only 28 votes. Anderson has definitely proven to be a weaker candidate, and we don’t see him getting the boost here to pull it off. This seat has also swung and trended more left than it’s friend in the 85th, and we don’t see Anderson pulling it out here.
- HD-84: Leans Republican to Likely Republican: The only non tossup we moved, we think incumbent Glenn Davis is now highly favored to win re-election in this seat. Democrats don’t seem particularly confident in nominee Kim Melnyk, and the campaign structure just isn’t there for her. Expect Davis to come out on top in this seat.
- HD-85: Tossup to Leans Republican: The final change from our tossups, we think Republican Karen Greenhalgh will beat out incumbent Democrat Alex Askew in this Virginia Beach based seat, creating a tie in the House of Delegates. This was another hard one to choose, but we see this one as the more likely one to flip from VA Beach, as it just hasn’t swung as hard compared to the 83rd. With Glenn Youngkin expected to do much better than Donald Trump in either of his runs in this part of the state, we see Greenhalgh benefiting from Youngkin’s coattails in this seat. Askew is also similar to the aforementioned Josh Cole, where he won’t get as much of an incumbency boost, as he was only elected in 2019.
Final Round Up
First I do want to say thanks to all our loyal followers and readers of this race. It’s been a crazy nine months and it was great to do it with you all.
But with how close everything is in Virginia, I want to say that, like with all things, it’s quite possible I’m wrong. There is a lot of marginal uncertainty in this race, which could make certain races go one way or the other in certain areas. That leads to a wide array of possibilities and outcomes, especially in the House of Delegates. This is how I think it’s going to end, which would lead to massive chaos, but that’s how I think this ends. But this now lays in the hands of Virginia’s voters, not us analysts. So go vote, and watch our coverage that starts at 6:30 PM tonight on our YouTube channel. We’ll also be hosting live election results with data from Decision Desk HQ on our website.