Elections Daily is proud to release our first ratings for the Virginia 2023 cycle. As always, these ratings will change at around a monthly update until mid-September, when we’ll shift to a bi-weekly updates. But for now, here are our starter ratings.
Democrats open as favorites in 20 seats
Starting in the key chamber this cycle, the Virginia Senate is the last body of government in the state not held by Republicans after the GOP swept all three statewide races and won back the House of Delegates in the 2021 sweep. The Senate, led by Louise Lucas, has named itself the “brick wall” against the Youngkin agenda. That hasn’t stopped everything from being passed, as some defections occured on matters of tax policies and mask mandates when those were still a thing. With Lieutenant Gov Winsome Sears breaking all ties, Republicans only need 20 seats to hold a majority, while Democrats need 21. In our ratings, Democrats are already at 20, but the road to get that 21st seat will likely not be easy.
The Safe Seats
Right off the bat, we think Democrats will win no less than 18 seats in the worst possible outcome, while in the worst possible outcome for Republicans they would win no less than 14 seats. There’s going to be some interesting primaries in these seats, specifically on the Democratic side, where numerous NOVA area Democrats are being challenged, and there’s possible interesting incumbent v. incumbent matchups as well. But that’s another topic for another article in the near future.
The Likely Seats
Democrats only have one seat in their Likely category, while Republicans also only have one.
- SD-30 (Likely Democratic) – This seat in Northern Prince William County, which includes Manassas City and Manassas Park City, is right on the edge of being safe for Democrats. They have a very solid recruit in delegate Danica Roem. Roem, the first openly transgender state legislator in American history, has been a money printer since she was first elected in 2017 – important for an open seat like this. So why isn’t this race Safely Democratic? Well for one, without Trump, this part of PWC has reverted back to more purple form. And unlike the new SD-22 in Virginia Beach, even though this is a McAuliffe/Congressional Dem seat, this seat was much closer to its McAuliffe 2021 margins then its Biden margin. So, in the worst case scenario for Virginia Democrats – amassive turnout drop-off – this seat will be on the board. Secondly, Republicans are probably getting supervisor Jeanine Lawson in this race. Lawson, who finished second to Hung Cao in the firehouse primary for the 10th Congressional district, has her supervisor district entirely in this seat. It will be a big lift for her, but she’s a competent enough candidate that she could flip this seat for Republicans.
- SD-20 (Likely Republican – FLIP*) – Incumbents Bill DeSteph (R) and Lynwood Lewis (D) were drawn together in redistricting here. This is a more interesting race than it looks on paper. It’s a two-times Trump district, with the only Democrat of recent record winning was Kaine 2018. And that was only by two points in a massive Democratic blowout statewide. Even Ralph Northam, with his huge overperformance in this part of the state in 2017, lost this seat by two. Lewis does have a moderate record in the counties of Accomack and Northampton, even winning Accomack in his 2019 re-election. However, that does not take away that this seat is much different that Lewis’s old seat. This seat is majority Virginia Beach, while Lewis survived off of his old seat going deep into deep blue Norfolk. That alone gives a massive advantage to DeSteph, who’s represented Virginia Beach his whole career. It’s Likely Republican to respect Lewis’s former performances on the Eastern Shore, but it will be a real challenge for him to win this seat.
Each party only has one of these to start, showing how competitive the remaining four seats will be.
- SD-16 (Leans Democratic – FLIP) – This western Henrico based seat, held by Republican Siobhan Dunnevant, is the first real flip we have ranked so far. Dunnavant beat the odds in 2019 by holding on to this seat for Republicans, but I don’t think she’ll beat those odds this time. Western Henrico was one of few places that Youngkin disappointed in 2021, showing how fast this area has swung left. This McAuliffe+6 seat is gonna be tough to be even close – especially with Democrats getting Delegate Schuyler Van Valkenburg as their likely nominee. Dunnavant’s incumbency should give Republicans some help. However, privately, some GOP insiders admit that Dunnavant’s ceiling may be a 1-2 point loss. That would help Republicans in some HOD seat if that hypothetical margin translated. And weird things can happen in these off-off year elections in Virginia. But we’re starting Dunnavant as a clear underdog.
- SD-04 (Leans Republican – FLIP*): Similar to SD-20, John Edwards (D) and Dave Suetterlein (R) were drawn together in redistricting. And like in the new 20th, this new district does favor Republicans slightly. This isn’t as red as the new 20th, since this district houses the deep-blue city of Roanoke. That alone gives Edwards a boost as more of this seat is his territory. However, the rest of the district comes squarely from Suetterlein’s old seat, and is more Republican-leaning than the Edwards portion is Democratic-leaning. The district is narrow enough in 2020 (barely going to Trump) for us to consider this a Leans seat, but that could change very quickly if the soon to be 80-year-old Edwards decides to pass on re-election.
The seats everyone’s been waiting for, these four seats are the ones we consider tossups and the ones that will decide this chamber.
Democratic/GOP held Tossups
- SD-24 (Tossup, Democrat Monty Mason) – This Newport News, York, Williamsburg and Poquoson (with a little of James City) district does provide a pretty big change for incumbent Monty Mason. The old seat was almost all in Newport News, with small portions of surrounding counties and cities, plus all of Williamsburg making it up. Newport News is still the majority of the district, but now includes all of York and deep red Poquoson City. Only Glenn Youngkin has won this seat under these lines since 2016, but it did vote to the right of his two point statewide win, with Youngkin winning it by 3.5 points. Republicans have York/Poquoson Sheriff Danny Diggs as their candidate, and hope his long time representing these two areas can provide the margins needed to win this seat. Democrats also need to hope that Black and student turnout doesn’t collapse here. While the Newport News portion did drop multiple black precincts in redistricting, 27% of voters here are Black. And student turnout is crucial to usual margins in Williamsburg, which houses William and Mary College.
- SD-31 (Tossup, Republican Jill Vogel) – Republicans were dealt an early blow here as incumbent Jill Vogel opted to retire, like rumors had suggested. However, in a move of competency, Republicans seem set to avoid a bloody primary here. Healthcare executive Juan Pablo Segura is set to be the GOP nominee here. This comes after an endorsement from Vogel and backing from Loudoun GOP leadership. That support includes forcing out area GOP chair Geary Higgins, forcing Higgins to the HOD races. Segura will also have the full backing of his father, and the $2 billion fortune that he is heir to. That money will be key in supporting the newly arrived Segura in one of the most expensive media markets in the world. Democrats seem to be shadow backing prosecutor Russet Perry here, but she, for now, faces primary opposition from Leesburg City councilman Zach Cummings. This will almost certainly be the most expensive and most competitive race in 2023, with both parties seemingly having the candidates they want.
These are tossup seats that have no incumbents.
- SD-17 (Southside/Hampton Roads) – This new district goes from the Northern parts of Portsmouth City to the Western parts of Dinwiddie County, keeping most of Southside together. This is one of the more interesting seats drawn, specifically regarding the area it’s drawn in. Southside Virginia are one of the few areas trending to the right in the state, and Youngkin’s margins here helped flip two House of Delegates seats located in or in part of this area of the state. Early on this looked like to be a battle between two current delegates. Emily Brewer (R) from Isle of Wright and Clint Jenkins (D) of Suffolk County both announced early for this seat very early on after redistricting was finished. Jenkins continues to have no primary challenger, but Brewer has gained one, and it’s a serious one. Former NASCAR Driver and lifetime Emporia resident Hermie Sadler is running for the GOP nod. Sadler isn’t necessarily running to Brewer’s right – rather he’s hyping up his outsider status and business credentials in the area. Of the tossups, this is one of two that Youngkin won by five or more in this 2021 victory.
- SD-24 (Fredericksburg, Stafford, North Spotsy) – This seat might be the most interesting of the Tossup seats. It certainly had the most difference in results between 2021 and 2022. Glenn Youngkin won this seat by eight in 2021, but Abigail Spanberger won it by two and a half points in 2022. GOP insiders will argue that comes down to the strengths of Spanberger that Democrats won’t have here, but it’s something to pay attention to. However, of the Tossup seats, this is the one that’s the closest to shifting to a Leans rating early on. If we used Tilts, I’d probably list this as Republican, but we don’t do tilts here. Republicans do have a potentially strong nominee here in Delegate Tara Durant. Durant won a close race against then incumbent Josh Cole in 2021, and if she is the nominee, it’s hard to say she wouldn’t be a slight favorite. Durant is however facing a strong challenge to her right from Matt Strickland. Strickland, a restaurant owner best known for not listening to COVID restrictions and being penalized for it, is running directly to Durant’s right. He has an endorsement from Amanda Chase, and if he would be the nominee, this seat would squarely be stuck in Tossup territory. Democrats have a choice between Stafford County Dems chair Ben Litchfield and Luke Wright, a former Marine. There’s also the inclusion of Independent Monica Gary, a Stafford County Supervisor. Gary, who claims she was recruited by both parties, makes for an interesting third choice. For now, if she has any effect at all, I’d expect her to take more from Democrats. She could become a bigger player if Strickland is the GOP nominee however.