Looking at early voting, Democrats see ‘good signs’ in Virginia elections

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – It’s early, but Democrats say they feel good about their chances of winning control of the Virginia General Assembly.  

They’re pointing to early voter turnout in the state’s high-stakes legislative elections for their hopeful — although cautious — mood.

All 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot — some candidates are running unopposed — raising the stakes for this year’s elections as each party looks to pass their legislative agendas next year.

Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said Friday she’s seeing “good signs” that the party will retake the Virginia House and keep control of the state Senate. But she stressed it was still too early to take any sort of victory lap.

Tom Bonier, a Democratic strategist and senior advisor for TargetSmart, a Democratic polling and data firm, also tamped down the early enthusiasm.

He said while some data points look promising for Democrats, like early turnout compared to the last two years, he expects tight battleground races and a tough battle for General Assembly control. Bonier predicted that a third of ballots cast in Virginia this year will be early votes.

“Everything we’re seeing is consistent with a very close race” for control, Bonier said in a virtual press conference hosted by the DLCC.

Bonier said he’s seeing growing intensity for early voting from Democrats and Republicans, noting that GOP turnout is likely up because of the party’s new embrace of early voting spearheaded by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

An analysis of early voting numbers from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, as of Oct. 19, shows nearly 321,000 Virginians have either voted early in person or through the mail.

In 2021, early voting turnout almost reached 1.2 million, but the governor’s race was held that year. The last time all 140 General Assembly seats were on the ballot like this year was in 2019, before the extension of Virginia’s early voting window and growth brought on by the pandemic.

Two Democrats running for the Virginia Senate, state Sen. Monty Mason (Williamsburg) and Del. Danica Roem (Prince William), highlighted their legislative work on key issues and their goals under Democratic control.

Roem, who is running in a bluer district that includes the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, as well as parts of Prince William County, was considerably more bullish on her chances than Mason. “We believe we are in a really good position,” she said Friday, noting early voting data and mail-in ballots in the district.

As of Oct. 19, VPAP data shows nearly 1,900 early votes cast in Manassas, almost 600 in Manassas Park and more than 19,000 in Prince William County. Roem said she believes her campaign has built “a pretty nice lead” at Manassas early voting sites after mail-in ballots came in.

Mason said he knew his race in the Williamsburg-Hampton Roads area was for a “50-50 seat,” said while he saw an early bump for his Republican opponent Danny Diggs when Youngkin visited the district, his campaign is working on targeting sporadic voters and independents.

“We think we’re getting them now,” Mason told reporters Friday.

Williams said Democrats feel strongly about their plans to boost early voting and attract new voters but stressed that they won’t know how things play out until the votes are counted.

Dave Rexrode, senior advisor to Gov. Youngkin, said in a statement that the Republican-led “Secure Your Vote” initiative has brought out GOP voters who typically stay home for state legislative elections to vote early.

“Virginia Republicans were first out of the gate this summer, developing a historic, data-driven effort to unite everyone in our party behind the mission to compete in early and absentee voting,” Rexrode said Friday.

“By every indication, we are hitting the mark – driving Republican turnout in early voting and bringing Republicans who typically just vote in presidential or gubernatorial elections off the sidelines and in the game to win this election. But we have a long ways to go and it’s critical that every Republican turns out to vote, whether that is early or on Election Day. Everyone needs to cast a ballot.”

Early voting started in Virginia on Sept. 22, and the last day to vote early in person at local election offices is Nov. 4. Election Day is Nov. 7.  

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