By SARAH RANKIN
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A historic number of state lawmakers were ousted in this week’s Virginia primary, which featured about four dozen legislative races that set the parties’ slate of candidates for what will be a hard-fought general election.
Every seat in both the House of Delegates and state Senate will be on the ballot in November in an election cycle that will help determine how much of his legislative agenda Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin can achieve in his final two years in office.
Virginia is currently politically divided, and its unusual off-year legislative elections have drawn outsized national attention as a possible barometer of voter sentiment heading into the next year’s midterm and presidential cycle.
Here is a look at some of the key takeaways from Tuesday’s results and what’s ahead:
It was clear well before Tuesday night that the General Assembly was headed for massive turnover, driven by a bipartisan redistricting process that upended the state’s political maps, contributing to a flurry of retirements and diminishing incumbents’ typical name-recognition advantage. The defeat of a handful of officeholders Tuesday will only add to that turnover.
In the 40-member Senate, for example, at least 15 members will be new.
According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, the number of state senators ousted Tuesday — five — equaled the number of all Senators who had lost a primary election since 1999.
REPUBLICANS MAKE MORE CENTRIST PICKS
Across the state, voters in Republican races — including a handful of battleground districts — nominated candidates with a center-right approach over outsiders, firebrands and or far-right hardliners.
Del. Tara Durant defeated restaurateur Matt Strickland, who invoked the slogan “crush the establishment” in his race for the nomination in a competitive Fredericksburg-area Senate seat. Del. Emily Brewer defeated former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, who criticized her as excessively moderate, for the nomination in another battleground Senate seat.
And several of the candidates who had most loudly embraced former President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election were ousted, including Sen. Amanda Chase, who called herself “Trump in heels.” Another, Del. Dave LaRock, was considered a top contender in an open, eight-way Shenandoah Valley-based Senate seat, but he and the rest of the field were bested by farmer Timmy French, who centered agricultural and business issues and support for education and law enforcement in his campaign.
A similar dynamic played out in nominations settled earlier through party-run processes.
Tucker Martin, a former longtime Republican strategist, said the outcomes showed voters were prioritizing “electability over entertainment value.” He expressed the widely held view that the GOP has an uphill climb to retake the Senate in the general election but said the party came out of the night in the “best possible posture.”
DEMOCRATIC VOTERS OUST SEVERAL MODERATES
Democrats faced more primaries this cycle and ended up with more turnover, including the ouster of several of the Senate’s more moderate members.
Incumbents Joe Morrissey, George Barker, Lionell Spruill and Chap Petersen were all defeated, and a race involving a fifth — Jeremy McPike — was too close to call. Petersen’s loss was considered the biggest upset — he outspent challenger Saddam Salim by a nearly 6-to-1 margin.
If the primary winners in those races go on to prevail in the general election, where they will be heavily favored, observers say that will nudge the Democratic Senate caucus leftward. But none of the losses came in swing districts, where the candidates backed by caucus leadership prevailed in two key battleground races.
“While we’re going to miss some of our members who we’ve served alongside for years, we’re in a strong position to win the races necessary to protect and expand our majority in the Senate,” Sen. Scott Surovell said in a call with reporters.
Republicans sought to cast the outcome as a sign of a party moving hard to the fringe.
“Gone are the reasonable Democrats who would put Virginia first. They have been replaced with new nominees who would find like-minded comrades in the most liberal legislatures in the country,” Youngkin’s political action committee said in a memo Wednesday.
But there were some notable exceptions to the trend: In northern Virginia, Del. Suhas Subramanyam handily defeated former Del. Ibraheem Samirah, who criticized him for leading a caucus that included Republicans and aimed to increase bipartisanship. And in a Charlottesville-based seat, longtime incumbent Sen. Creigh Deeds, a moderate who has shifted leftward in recent years on gun issues, defeated progressive challenger Sally Hudson.
Lawmakers also noted some of the likely new members will add to the diversity of the General Assembly, which has grown in recent election cycles.
ABORTION RIGHTS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Abortion rights advocates say Lashrecse Aird’s defeat of Morrissey, a Democrat who previously sponsored a bill that would have restricted abortion access, is another electoral example of how the issue is motivating voters since the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Morrissey, who supports some access to abortion earlier in a pregnancy, had been seen as a possible swing vote on Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban. His defeat and the clear path Aird now has to a victory in the heavily Democratic central Virginia 13th District mean a tougher climb for Youngkin’s plan.
“This is a victory for SD-13 residents, for Virginians, and for health care access in our entire southeast region,” Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said in a statement.
A QUICK PIVOT TO THE GENERAL ELECTION
Leaders in both parties quickly pivoted to the general election battle and previewed their messaging, each side portraying the other as extremist.
Democratic House Leader Don Scott said his party would push back against Republicans “attacking voting rights, banning books, attacking children in classrooms” and a governor who wants to enact corporate tax cuts.
House Speaker Todd Gilbert said Democrats “refuse to hold violent criminals accountable, want higher taxes, and parents uninvolved in their children’s education.”