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Virginia state legislature up for grabs this Tuesday, with Democrats favored to flip majorities

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Virginia elections this Tuesday will decide who controls the state House of Delegates and the  Senate for the next two years. Republicans currently hold small two-seat majorities in both chambers, but a University of Virginia analysis is predicting that Democrats have the edge in both.

If there is a leadership change, Democrats may be able to garner enough support for some policies that Republicans have opposed, such as stricter gun control legislation and repealing the commonwealth’s right-to-work laws.

Democrats are more strongly favored to win the Senate than the House. Because the lieutenant governor holds the tiebreaker in Senate votes, Democrats only need to flip one seat to control the chamber and they are expected to gain between two and four seats, according to political analyst Chaz Nuttycombe, who contributed to the analysis called “Sabato’s Crystal Ball.”

According to Nuttycombe, there are seven competitive races in Senate districts that are currently controlled by Republicans, but there are no competitive races in districts controlled by Democrats. Democrats are likely to flip Senate District 13 in Northern Virginia and Senate District 10 in Richmond, which would give them enough seats to take control of the chamber. They are also slight favorites to win two other competitive races; Republicans are favorites to hold onto three of the seats.

The outcome for the House of Delegates is less certain, but Nuttycombe’s predictions lean toward Democrats. Although about one-third of the races are competitive, there are more competitive races in Republican-controlled districts than Democrat-controlled districts.

Two districts that are currently Republican-controlled are likely to flip Democrat, one district leans Democrat and another tilts Democrat, according to his predictions. Another five Republican-controlled districts are toss-ups.

Although Democrats are favored to keep all of their current seats, there are four seats that tilt Democrat, but are too close to call. Republicans would likely have to flip three of those seats, maintain their current seat that is tilting Democrat and win all of the toss-up races to hold onto their majority.

House Democrats are benefiting from new court-drawn district lines that drew six Republicans into Democrat-leaning districts. This includes District 66, in which House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, is the incumbent and District 76, in which another party leader, Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, is the incumbent. Cox’s district is currently a toss-up for Tuesday’s election and Jones’s district currently leans Democrat.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told The Center Square that the presidency of Donald Trump is likely the leading factor for why Democrats are in such a good position to gain control of the General Assembly. The analysis stated that highly educated white voters who would normally vote Republican are more open to voting Democrat since the election of Trump.

“If there was a Democrat in the White House, I don’t think the Democrats would be in position to potentially take over,” Kondik said via email. “Additionally, negative reaction to Trump has pushed some typically Republican voters in the suburbs toward the Democrats.”

Kondik also said that Virginia’s suburbs have been shifting further to the left in recent years, which means that Democrats do not have to appeal to culturally conservative voters as much as they used to. According to the analysis, demographics have shifted in these areas toward groups that are more likely to vote Democrat.

The one factor that could help Republicans maintain control is voter turnout. Republicans are more likely to vote in off-year elections such as this one, according to the analysis. Democrats could also see low turnout among black voters because of the blackface scandal surrounding Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.

If Democrats gain control of both chambers of the General Assembly, then state government would cease to be divided as it currently is under a Democratic governor with a Republican General Assembly. This would allow Democrats to pursue their legislative goals more easily.

With Virginia’s suburbs becoming less socially conservative, Kondik said that Democrats may be able to unify on issues such as gun control, which Northam has made a priority after the Virginia Beach shooting earlier this year.

Chris Braunlich, a spokesperson for The Thomas Jefferson Institute, told The Center Square that Democrats might also unify to repeal the state’s right-to-work laws. The institute is a free-market think tank based in Virginia. He said that this could put the state’s top business ranking at risk.

“Large numbers of candidates have said they will repeal Virginia’s Right To Work law, which is one of the top reasons businesses move here – and bring jobs with them,” Braunlich said. “Those same candidates have promised a $15 minimum wage, which will devastate small Mom and Pop restaurants and businesses that cannot afford it and increase unemployment as it has elsewhere. And approval of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will increase electric rates on both consumers and businesses alike. These actions will make Virginia far less attractive to [employers]. And without employers, there are no employees.”

Two former Virginia governors also recently wrote op-eds opposing a repeal of the state’s right-to-work laws.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, until 7 p.m.

Virginians can find out their voting location on the Virginia Department of Election’s website.