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Election Day 2023: Early voting push could give GOP edge in Virginia race focused on abortion, Biden

Democrats have traditionally been the leaders in early voting, but Republicans in Virginia may have taken a page from Democratic playbook.

Published: November 6, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: November 7, 2023 7:19am

Higher early voting among Republicans compared to 2022 may give them an edge in a Virginia election focused on abortion that will likely be viewed by many as a referendum on President Joe Biden's policies.

Close Mississippi and Kentucky governor races are also taking place on Tuesday.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) "the share of early in-person votes cast by likely Republicans has increased by more than two percentage points compared to last year based on data available six days before the election" and the Republicans' "share of mail votes has increased by nearly four points."

Overall, Democrats are voting early at higher numbers either in-person or by mail in this election cycle compared to Republicans.

"In Virginia, all we have is the top line totals so it's hard to kind of say who has the benefit," said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of "Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball" at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, in an interview with Just the News. "And in Virginia, we've only been a big early voting state for the last few years, so it's hard to gauge."

With that being said, Coleman noted that VPAP's data on early voting by party is a good indicator of where early voting stands heading into Election Day.

The latest VPAP reported data on record is 6 days from the election and it shows that the number of Democrats who voted early was 52.9%, compared to 40.9% of Republicans. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, R-Va., has galvanized support among Republican lawmakers around a 15-week limit on abortion. Republicans currently control the House of Delegates 48-46 and the Democrats control the state Senate 22-17-1 non-caucusing Republican member.

Republican candidates have campaigned on the 15-week abortion limit around the state. Democrats have described it as a 15-week abortion ban that takes away rights from women.

"I think to Youngkin's credit, he's at least got most of the Republicans on the same page behind his idea of a 15-week limit. I've noticed the Democrats call it a 15-week ban," said Coleman.

"If it's successful here, that's definitely something that the Republicans, at least in campaigns next year for governor and Congress, could maybe look at replicating," he added.

Coleman said Virginia's close proximity to Washington D.C. makes its state elections an indicator of what could happen nationally and the results are often seen as a referendum on the president and his party.

"In Virginia, we're sort of extra sensitive to the whatever happens in Washington," he said.

Biden's nationwide approval rating is currently about 39%, according to polling report Five Thirty Eight.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn, a former GOP presidential candidate, said abortion is not on the top of minds of voters in Virginia.

"People in Virginia are very concerned about costs. Gasoline is extremely expensive. Food is extremely expensive and I think those are the issues people care about. When Glenn Youngkin won the governorship a few years ago, it was because of the outrageous news coming out of the Greater Washington, DC area; in Loudoun County over what was really happening in the public schools," Bachmann, currently the dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, told Just the News.

"And parents said, 'Not with my kid you don't.' And so they went with Glenn Youngkin. In recent years we've been a very strong Democrat state, certainly at the governor's level, but Glenn Youngkin has been an excellent governor and he's been campaigning for candidates both in the state Senate and in the House. I think there's a very good chance that he will be successful and have a Republican House and a Republican Senate after Tuesday's election," she added.

Coleman also predicted that Democrats would use Biden as a "scapegoat" if they perform poorly on Tuesday. He recalled some of the staffers affiliated with former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's failed campaign in Virginia blaming Biden's low approval numbers after the botched Afghanistan withdraw for their loss to Youngkin in 2021.

An OpenSecrets.org report on Monday showed that Virginia statewide campaign fundraising for both parties has shattered records this cycle at nearly $175 million.

"I know Governor Youngkin has been very active in some of these elections. His PAC has raised something in the ballpark of $15 million and you have a lot of money coming in on the Democratic side as well," Coleman said. "It would be funny, a little, if for all this both chambers remain exactly as they are without any cracks in the state Senate and in the state House. I think there's a decent possibility."

There are also closely watched elections taking place in Mississippi and Kentucky on Tuesday as well.

In Kentucky, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, is running against Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Ky. That race that is currently a dead heat, according to recent polling. Early voting totals have surpassed 2022 levels overall in Kentucky, according to the latest state election data.

In Mississippi the incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is running for a second term against Democrat Brandon Presley, a public service commissioner. That race has tightened in the closing days with some state polls showing it as a virtual tie.

Mississippi currently does not allow general in-person early voting and absentee ballots may only be obtained with an excuse. Qualified voters over 65 are able to vote early in-person, according to AARP.