Labor Day has long been regarded as the official kick-off of the fall political season, and this year, all eyes are on the battle for control of Virginia’s General Assembly. Democrats currently hold a slim majority in the Virginia State Senate, while Republicans hold an equally slim majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.
As we look ahead to the fall campaigns, it is clear that the balance of power will be decided by a handful of Senate and House races. This is because most of Virginia’s 140 legislative districts are simply not competitive. They solidly favor either Republicans or Democrats. The real battle in these districts is for the respective party’s nomination, not the General Election.
Today, my focus is on the key races that will likely determine control of the Virginia State Senate. Even though there are 40 seats in the State Senate, there appear to be four key races that will determine who controls the Senate in 2024. These are the races to watch this November:
Senate District 17
This district is located in Hampton Roads/Southside Virginia. It is an open seat. The district has a combined rating of +4.2% Republican in the past two election cycles. The Republican candidate is Del. Emily Brewer, who currently serves in the Virginia House of Delegates. The Democratic candidate is Del. Clinton Jenkins, who also currently serves in the House of Delegates. If Republicans rally around Brewer, who won a hotly contested primary against former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, this one should favor the GOP.
Senate District 24
This district is located on Virginia’s Peninsula (the Williamsburg area). The district has a combined rating of +2.4% Republican in the past two election cycles. The Republican candidate is former York County Sheriff Danny Diggs. The Democrat candidate is the current State Senator, Monty Mason. This race is a true toss-up.
Senate District 27
This district is located in the Fredericksburg area. It is also an open seat. The district has a combined rating of +6.4% Republican in the past two election cycles. The Republican candidate is Tara Durrant, an elementary school teacher. The Democrat candidate is Joel Griffin, a local businessman. There is also an Independent candidate in this race, Monica Gray, who serves on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors. The presence of the Independent candidate makes this race somewhat unpredictable, but on paper, it should favor the GOP.
Senate District 31
This district is located in Loudoun/Fauquier counties. It is also an open seat. The district has a combined rating of +4.9% Democrat in the past two election cycles. The Republican candidate is Juan Pablo Segura, a self-described health care entrepreneur. The Democrat candidate is Russet Perry, a former CIA officer and local prosecutor. This one favors the Democrats.
These are the four most competitive races for the State Senate. Most other Senate districts are either strongly Republican or Democrat, or lean heavily Republican or Democrat. It is likely that the outcome of these four races will determine who controls the State Senate in 2024.
However, there are at least three other races that Republicans will be focused on as they try to retake control of the State Senate. All these races are in districts that “lean Democrat.” These races include:
Senate District 16
This district is located in Henrico County. The incumbent Senator in this district is a Republican, Dr. Sioban Dunnavant. She is being opposed by Skyler Van Valkenburg, a public school teacher who is currently a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Both candidates have raised a lot of money and are already running TV ads in the Richmond area. It could be an uphill battle for Republicans to retain this critical seat, which has a combined rating of +8.2% Democrat in the past two election cycles.
Senate District 22
This district is located in Virginia Beach. The incumbent Senator in this district is Aaron Rouse, a former NFL player turned community activist. The Republican challenger is Kevin Adams, a retired Naval officer. The district has a combined rating of +8.9% Democrat in the past two election cycles, so this one is another uphill climb for Republicans, but still within the ”leans Democrat” category.
Senate District 30
This district is in Prince William County. It is another open seat. The district has a combined rating of +5.0% Democrat in the past two election cycles. The Republican candidate is Bill Woolf, a former law enforcement officer. The Democrat candidate is Danica Roem, who currently serves in the House of Delegates. Democrats are favored to hold this district, but it could be competitive.
There will certainly be other State Senate races that will gain interest this fall in various parts of the state, and while upsets do happen, most of those races so heavily favor one party or the other that the outcome is fairly predictable.
If the “strongly R/D districts” and the “leaning R/D districts” perform as expected, we would see a Senate with 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Thus, for Republicans to win control of the Senate they would need to win all four of the most competitive races. They could then rely on the tie-breaking vote of Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears to organize the Senate with a Republican majority. That is a tall task, but it could happen!
My early prediction … the Senate remains in Democrat control with a narrow margin of 1-2 seats, which is exactly where it stands right now.