Virginia Democrats appear on track to keep majority in state senate

Virginia Democrats retained their majority in the state senate, depriving the Republican governor of a legislative trifecta that likely would have allowed him to enact a 15-week abortion ban.

Related: Kentucky’s Democratic governor Andy Beshear re-elected in win for abortion rights

The Associated Press called the Virginia senate about three and a half hours after polls closed on Tuesday night, determining that Democrats had won at least 21 of the 40 seats in the upper chamber. The house of delegates, where Republicans previously held a narrow majority, remained too close to call, but Senate Democrats’ victory quashed Youngkin’s hope of taking full control of the legislature to advance his policy agenda.

As one of the only states holding off-year elections, the Virginia results could serve as a bellwether for the presidential race next year. Democrats also secured key victories on Tuesday in Kentucky, where incumbent governor Andy Beshear won re-election, and Ohio, where voters approved a measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

Senate Democrats’ success means that Youngkin will lose the opportunity to enact his proposed 15-week “limit” on abortion, which would ban the procedure after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies. Virginia Democrats have previously used their senate majority to block bills restricting abortion access and they promised to do so again if they maintained control of the chamber.

The possibility of curtailing access to abortion had become a galvanizing issue in Virginia, which is now the last remaining state in the US South without severe restrictions on the procedure. Virginia Democrats believed voters’ continued displeasure with the reversal of Roe v Wade would help them flip control of the House of Delegates, although that remained to be seen on Tuesday evening.

Democratic party leaders and reproductive rights groups celebrated senate Democrats’ wins as a victory for abortion access.

“Democrats’ message of protecting fundamental freedoms resonated with voters tonight,” said Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “With this victory, [Youngkin] has been denied a governing trifecta and our newly elected majority stands ready to defend Virginia from Republican extremism.”

Mini Timmaraju, president and CEO of Reproductive Freedom for All, added in a statement: “With tonight’s victory, Virginians soundly rejected Governor Glenn Youngkin and his allies’ push for an abortion ban, reaffirming that anti-abortion extremism has no place in the Commonwealth.”

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Youngkin defended his stance on abortion and suggested that it was not the top issue on Virginians’ minds as they cast their ballots“While I know abortion is an important topic, the No 1 topic that I hear over and over again is how the Biden economy is making life so difficult,” Youngkin said.

The Virginia results may serve as an indication of where swing voters in battleground states stand ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Virginia has been trending toward Democrats in recent years, as Joe Biden carried the state by 10 points in 2020. But Youngkin’s victory in 2021 proved Virginia remains a battleground state, and Republicans had hoped the governor’s success would deliver them a legislative trifecta in Richmond, but that failed to materialize on Tuesday.

Republicans’ failure to take full control of the legislature may throw cold water on speculation over Youngkin’s national ambitions, as the governor had been named as a potential presidential candidate for 2024. As polls closed on Tuesday, Youngkin deflected questions over his future plans.

“I’ve been asked this so much, so many times over the course of the last year,” Youngkin told CNN. “I’m humbled by it. I’m focused on Virginia; we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

With Democrats in control of the state senate and able to block much of Youngkin’s proposals, it will be much harder for the governor to make a pitch for the White House. Given that Virginia governors are limited to serving a single term, Democrats’ victories on Tuesday guarantee that Youngkin will never have the opportunity to govern with a Republican-controlled legislature.

Youngkin’s critics celebrated his party’s defeat, suggesting it would bring an end to any presidential aspirations.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, joked on X, “CLEARANCE SALE: all ‘Youngkin for President 2024’ merchandise.”

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