(The Center Square) — The Virginia Public Access Project, a go-to source for Virginia election information, hosted an “After Virginia Votes” panel discussing the General Assembly election in retrospect and how Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Democratic legislative majority can work together.
Northern Virginia Bureau Chief for news station NBC4 Washington Julie Carey moderated the conversation, which covered what Democrats and Republicans did well, the issues that mattered most to voters and what the national parties can glean from Virginia’s 2023 races. Carey spoke first with seasoned Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson and Matt Moran, executive director of Youngkin’s political action committee, Spirit of Virginia.
Both felt their parties had implemented some successful strategies in the election. Though Republicans lost both the House and Senate, Moran was proud of how Republicans responded – especially in the most targeted districts – to the governor’s early voting campaign, calling it “a playbook for Republicans to follow.”
“By every metric, we hit our margin [in terms of early voting]. Early on, we were striving to get somewhere between 125% and 150% of the Youngkin vote in the number of Republicans that were applying to vote absentee by mail or voting early, and in most of these seats we ended up with over 200% of the Youngkin numbers,” Moran told Carey.
Democrats, who typically have a much higher turnout for early voting, focused some of their early voting efforts on less frequent voters.
“One thing our program was calibrated on was, not just turning out votes, but turning out low-propensity voters,” Ferguson said.
Carey asked Moran for his thoughts on how Republicans handled the issue of abortion this election cycle. The governor tried to position his stance on the issue as a compromise, and many Republican candidates followed suit, promoting a 15-week ban, with exceptions.
“This is the second election [since the Dobbs decision]. We have one test case where Republicans largely attempted to ignore the issue, and now we have a test case where we engage,” Moran said.
“In a Biden +10 state where we won 13 Biden seats and seven seats congressional Democrats won, I think there’s a very fair case to be made that we did in fact push back and bring the ultimate outcome closer because we were willing to engage on it.” Moran said.
But Ferguson was more of the mind that, as long as Republicans in Virginia make further restrictions on abortion their goal, it will be a losing issue for them – regardless of the much-debated language they use to talk about it (‘limit’ versus ‘ban,’ etc).
“I don’t know that there’s a packaging problem that Republicans have on this issue. Truly, the voters have been pretty consistent. The problem is the package,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson and Moran also discussed takeaways Virginia’s congressional candidates could use from the General Assembly election.
Democrats would do well to remember that “a ballot box and a poll aren’t necessarily the same thing,” Ferguson told Carey, referring to the pro-Trump polls that came out just days before the election. Along those lines, Ferguson believes Democrats need to keep the consequences of elections front and center for voters, reminding them what’s at stake in the case of a Democratic loss.
In addition to continuing to promote early voting, Republicans need to “continue to engage Virginia’s growing and diverse minority communities.”
Moran also believes that education “has become the dividing line for Democrats and Republicans,” he thinks the Republican Party needs to improve its communication with highly educated voters.
Carey spoke with political professors from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Mary Washington, Jatria Wrighten and Stephen Farnsworth to analyze the Virginia government.
Wrighten and Farnsworth disagreed on how Democrats should use their majority in the state legislature.
Wrighten believes that representatives’ policies should reflect their politics; since less moderate candidates were elected this cycle, they should govern less moderately.
“I think it’s [Democrats’] time to shine in terms of pushing legislation that they have been wanting to get through…. The voters have spoken…. They elected legislators who are going to push policy to the left,” Wrighten said.
Farnsworth cautioned against Democrats using their majority to ram through hyper-partisan legislation, as that can create a “target-rich environment” for Republicans in the next election.
Both professors agreed that Youngkin will have to compromise and reach across the aisle in the second half of his governorship, suggesting that education, crime and the economy were issues potentially ripe for common ground.