The field is now set for all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates following Tuesday’s primaries, setting up one of the most consequential election battles of the year. Riding now-Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s coattails in 2021, Republicans brought an end to a brief two-year period of Democratic control, but the 52-48 majority they secured is anything but secure heading into November.
That’s why the governor has launched a well-funded campaign to protect his party’s edge in the lower chamber at the same time he’s trying to flip the state Senate, where Democrats are sitting on a similarly skinny 22-18 advantage. Youngkin, who is limited to just a single term as governor but still hasn’t ruled out a presidential bid, is counting on Republicans winning complete control of state government in order to pass his stalled priorities, like limits on abortion access. Democrats, likewise, are hoping to weaken him by retaking the House and holding their small majority in the Senate.
We previously took a look at the contests that will decide control of the Senate; in this post, we'll analyze the House battleground. Members of the House of Delegates serve two-year terms, so the winners will next be up in 2025, the same year the governorship will once again go before voters.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
This will be the first election conducted using the legislative maps that were crafted in late 2021 by consultants appointed by the state Supreme Court after Virginia's new bipartisan Redistricting Commission failed to agree on boundaries. Under this plan, Joe Biden, who won the state 54-44, would have carried 59 districts to Donald Trump's 41, similar to the 60-40 split in Biden's favor under the previous map. Many individual districts, however, changed a great deal, so you can follow along with this interactive map from Dave’s Redistricting App (which is also the source of much of the district-level election data used in this post.)
Biden's performance wasn't destiny for Democrats: The GOP bounced back the year after the president's double-digit win as Youngkin defeated former Democratic Gov Terry McAuliffe 51-49 and Republicans erased the Democrats' 55-45 majority in the House. (The Senate, much to the relief of Democrats everywhere, wasn't up for election in 2021.)
Under the new map, the governor would have taken 52 seats, including 11 that had supported Biden, while the remaining 48 would have gone for McAuliffe (all of which went for the president). That's identical to the split under the old map, which saw Republican House candidates win every Youngkin district and Democrats win every McAuliffe district, with zero crossover. But due to redistricting, some Republicans have now wound up on bluer turf while some Democrats have found themselves in the reverse position, and many incumbents are now introducing themselves to sizable numbers of new voters.
To win back the House, Democrats need to pick up just three seats, a much smaller figure than the number that’s changed hands in each of the last three elections: Democrats netted 15 seats in 2017 and another six the next cycle, followed by the GOP’s seven-seat gain two years ago. In 2013 and 2015, though, Democrats only managed to flip a single seat each time.
And as we wrote in our Senate preview, no one can say for sure what the state's political climate will look like this fall, especially since recent polls show the governor with solid approval ratings even as voters disapprove of much of his agenda. Republicans have typically benefited from the lower turnout that's usually a feature of Virginia's odd-year elections, suggesting Biden's performance might be a high-water mark. But Democrats have fared unusually well in special elections so far this year—including a critical one in Virginia in January—and abortion remains a major albatross from the GOP.
THE TOP TIER
Much of the focus in the fall will likely be on seven districts that both Biden and Youngkin carried and where candidates on each side have already raised a credible amount of money. Further below, we’ll also delve into the other four Biden/Youngkin seats where the GOP is favored but still could lose on a tough night, as well as a few more longshot opportunities for each side. It’s still early, though, so these categorizations can and likely will change.
We’ll begin with a look at arguably the most vulnerable Republican member of the chamber, freshman Del. Karen Greenhalgh. Democrats are fielding Air Force veteran Michael Feggans in the 97th District, a Virginia Beach constituency that voted 55-42 for Biden but then backed Youngkin 51-48, based on calculations from Dave's Redistricting App. Neither candidate had a primary to worry about, and both raised comparable sums through June 8, which is when the most recent campaign finance reports were due: Greenhalgh has taken in a total of $176,000 while Feggans hauled down $168,000.
Fellow first-term Republican Kim Taylor also faces a tough race in the 82nd District, which includes Petersburg and neighboring communities south of Richmond. Taylor’s Democratic foe is Kimberly Pope Adams, an official at Virginia State University who defeated a better-funded foe 61-39 in Tuesday’s primary. This district is a touch more conservative than the 97th, as it favored Biden 55-44 and Youngkin 51-48, but that’s not the only reason why Taylor seems to be in better shape than her colleague.
Taylor has outraised her opponent $265,000 to $97,000, though legislative Democrats have signaled that they’ll make this “Kim vs. Kim” contest a priority. Support from prominent Democrats could be especially crucial for Adams, who had to use much of her fundraising haul to win the nomination. Virginia, however, has no campaign finance limits, so well-funded donors and third-party organizations can quickly replenish the coffers of their favored candidates.
Republican Del. Amanda Batten also faces a competitive race in Hampton Roads, though her 71st District is redder than either of the seats Greenhalgh or Taylor are defending: The president carried this constituency 51-47 while Youngkin took it 53-46. Batten's Democratic opponent is Jessica Anderson, a public schools employee and progressive activist who has a large following on TikTok. Batten has outpaced Anderson $302,000 to $167,000 in fundraising, though the Democrat’s haul is still larger than that of many other challengers.
The other four contests in the most competitive tier, meanwhile, are all open-seat races. The battle for the 21st District in Northern Virginia’s Prince William County pits the Democratic nominee, Marine veteran Josh Thomas, against former county Supervisor John Stirrup. Available election data shows that Biden won 62-36 here before Youngkin took the seat 51-49.
However, concerns about how Prince William County allocated votes between precincts in the 2020 election preclude us from confidently presenting figures for the presidential race. It's likely, in fact, that Biden's actual margin was smaller, as the nearly 30-point gap between his apparent margin and Youngkin's is much larger than anywhere else in the state. In addition, Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton carried the 21st by just a 51-49 spread last year, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project, while winning reelection to the 10th Congressional District 53-47.
Thomas has outraised his GOP opponent $165,000 to $121,000, and he didn’t have to use any of it in a primary. Stirrup, by contrast, prevailed 65-35 in an ugly contest against an intra-party foe who highlighted that he was hospitalized after he collapsed at a supervisors meeting in April and previously pled guilty for driving while intoxicated in 2014.
The 22nd District next door features a showdown between Democratic attorney Travis Nembhard and former Manassas City Councilor Ian Lovejoy, the Republican nominee, neither of whom had any primary opposition. Lovejoy narrowly lost his reelection campaign in 2020, though for better or for worse, none of Manassas is located in this district, and he does have a $157,000 to $119,000 fundraising edge.
This seat is a bit tougher for Democrats than the 21st, but the same caveats about the 2020 presidential numbers apply here as well: The available data has Biden winning 52-46, while Youngkin scored a 53-47 victory here. (It's possible, though, that Biden actually lost the 22nd, in which case he'd have carried 58 districts statewide rather than 59.)
Another major contest is in the 57th District in the Richmond suburbs, a seat that swung from 52-46 Biden to 52-48 Youngkin. The Democrats are running nurse practitioner Susanna Gibson, who won her nomination 55-45, while businessman David Owen didn’t have any opposition in the GOP primary. Gibson has a modest $302,000 to $283,000 fundraising edge, though Owen had considerably more money in the bank as of June 8.
Finally, in the 65th District around Fredericksburg, former Democratic Del. Joshua Cole is trying to return to office two years after narrowly losing under the old map. (The Republican who unseated him, Tara Durant, is the GOP’s nominee for a competitive state Senate seat.) His Republican foe this time is Lee Peters, a captain in the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office who won his primary with close to 80% of the vote. Cole, who was unopposed on Tuesday, so far has outraised Peters by a wide $259,000 to $97,000 in a seat that flipped from 55-43 Biden to 51-48 Youngkin.
THE NEXT TIER
Republicans go into the general election with a definite advantage in each of the other four Biden/Youngkin seats, though all could be competitive if the prevailing winds wind up favoring Democrats.
One key reason many of these races lean toward the GOP is money. In three of these districts, Republicans are facing Democrats who have struggled to bring in cash so far. Republican Del. Carrie Coyner has outpaced Democrat Stephen Miller-Pitts $220,000 to $17,000 in the 75th District, which includes some of Richmond’s suburbs. Things could be competitive, though, if Miller-Pitts has the resources to run a strong campaign: Biden won 52-47 here, while the governor took the seat 53-46. (And as we noted above, Virginia's Wild West campaign finance regime means sudden infusions are always possible.)
Two seats in Hampton Roads, the 86th and 89th Districts, pose an even bigger challenge for Democrats, whose candidates have each raised less than $7,200 so far. Republican Del. A.C. Cordoza is defending the former, which supported Biden 50-47 before backing 54-45 Youngkin, against Jarris Taylor. The 89th, meanwhile, is an open-seat battle between Republican Baxter Ennis and Democrat Karen Jenkins. Biden scored a small 50-48 victory here, while Youngkin won it 53-46.
The fundraising situation is far different in the final Biden/Youngkin seat, the 30th District in Loudoun County, though the constituency is still a tough lift for Democrats. The GOP nominee, former County Supervisor Geary Higgins, has outraised retired Episcopal priest Rob Banse just $234,000 to $228,000. This district, which also includes a small chunk of conservative Fauquier County, went for Biden by a bare 49.3-48.7 before Youngkin decisively took it 57-43.
BIDEN/MCAULIFFE SEATS TO WATCH
The math would improve for Republicans if they could flip a seat that supported both Biden and McAuliffe, though they don’t have many good targets. Arguably their best opening is the 84th District in Hampton Roads, which respectively favored the president and McAuliffe 57-41 and 51-48. Democratic Del. Nadarius Clark decided to run here in March even though he didn’t represent any part of the redrawn district, but because of the state’s strict residency rules, his relocation required him to resign from the legislature.
The now-former delegate had no trouble beating an intra-party foe who argued she had stronger local roots, but Republicans are hoping that Navy veteran Michael Dillender will present more of an obstacle. Clark so far has outraised Dillender, who decisively won his own primary, $338,000 to $80,000.
Two other seats may also be worth watching. Democratic incumbent Rodney Willett is going up against gym owner Riley Shaia in the 58th District, a suburban Richmond seat that was Republican turf prior to the Trump era. Times have changed, though, as Biden won 57-41 here and McAuliffe took the seat 52-48. Willett also enjoys a $273,000 to $122,000 fundraising edge. Finally, Democrat Phil Hernandez, who lost a tight 2019 race under the old map, is favored to win the open 94th District in Norfolk against Republican Andrew Pittman. Biden won 57-40 here while McAuliffe took it 52-47, and Hernandez has a large financial advantage.
TRUMP/YOUNGKIN SEATS TO WATCH
Democrats are also hoping to put a pair of seats into play that Trump only barely carried but where Younkin pulled off double-digit wins. The 41st District around Blacksburg pits Democrat Lily Franklin against Republican Chris Obenshain, the cousin of state Sen. Mark Obenshain. Franklin has outraised her opponent $154,000 to $110,000, but she has a tough task in a seat Trump won 49-48 and the governor took 55-44.
Finally there’s the 64th District in Stafford County, which Trump won 49.2-48.5 before Youngkin carried it 57-43. Democrat Leonard Lacey, who is a chaplain with the county sheriff’s office, has brought in a respectable $106,000 to date, but that’s far behind the $652,000 haul from former County Supervisor Paul Milde.