Control of the Virginia General Assembly this year isn’t quite a Toss-Up in our forecasts at CNalysis: Democrats are slight favorites in both chambers to win a majority, with a “Lean Democratic” rating for each. However, the Toss-Up districts this year will be imperative in determining who will come out on top.
Out of the 40 seats in the State Senate, Democrats are favored in 21, Republicans in 18, and one district lies in the Toss-Up category. The House of Delegates demonstrates a higher importance for seats with a Toss-Up rating in our forecast: Democrats are favored in 49 seats, Republicans are favored in 48, and 3 seats are Toss-Ups.
Of course, that’s not to discount other competitive races where a party is at least slightly favored. That is, after all, why Democrats are favored in the chamber: out of the 49 seats in the House of Delegates that Democrats are favored in, just 3 are competitive, whereas in Republicans’ 48 seats they’re favored in, 9 are competitive. Similarly in the State Senate, two of the 21 seats that Democrats are favored in are competitive, while 3 of the 18 seats Republicans are favored in are competitive.
Winning all of the Toss-Up districts, all of which voted for Glenn Youngkin in 2021, is a near-requirement for Republican majorities in both chambers. The odds that they can win by some other path are extremely unlikely for their quest to flip the State Senate, and almost as unlikely in the House of Delegates.
The urban crescent of Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Northern Virginia, quite nicely each have at least one Toss-Up district in this year’s state legislative elections, with Hampton Roads getting two. All of these districts voted for Glenn Youngkin in 2021, and Democratic candidates for the US House of Representatives in 2022. You can expect all of these races to very likely be decided by a margin of under 5 points for either party.
Each year, Toss-Ups are eliminated in the CNalysis forecast at noon the day before the election when we release our final forecast, moving into the “Tilt” category for whichever party is seen, in my eyes, as the slight favorite. For reference, “Tilt” ratings are marked as where a candidate has approximately a 60% chance of winning, whereas Toss-Up represents each candidate having a 50% chance of winning.
With that, let’s examine the four districts in our forecasts that are seen as Toss-Ups at the moment.
SD 24: Danny Diggs (R) vs. Monty Mason (D)
No 2019 data due to uncontested districts, Biden +9, Youngkin +3, US House Democrats +1
Out of the four Toss-Ups in our forecast, this one is the most Republican-leaning: each of the House of Delegates Toss-Ups went to Biden by double digits in 2020, whereas SD-24 went to him by about 9 points. However, with each of these districts just barely voting for Republicans in 2021 and Democrats in 2022, that stat should be taken at face value.
This district that rests on the Peninsula with all of Williamsburg City, York County, Poquoson City as well as part of Newport News City is the only Toss-Up with a Democratic incumbent. Monty Mason (D), who was first elected to the seat in a 2016 special election, and previously enjoyed representing a solidly Democratic district. While most of the territory in the new SD-24 was in Mason’s old district, we don’t know how much of an incumbency advantage he has in terms of what you would call winning “earned votes,” when an incumbent is able to win over voters that would normally vote against the party they represent, since Mason was left uncontested in 2019.
Mason’s opponent is former York County & Poquoson City Sheriff Danny Diggs, hailing from where the Republican base is in the district. Diggs’s base has so far shown their willingness to turn out for the election in early voting, an encouraging sign for his campaign despite being outraised and outspent by Mason. If you asked me last month who I thought would come out on top in this Toss-Up race, I would have said Monty Mason. But if I were to choose a winner today, with 29 days until the election, I think Danny Diggs would be seen as a favorite.
HD 21: John Stirrup (R) vs. Josh Thomas (D)
2019 House of Delegates Democrats +3, no real presidential data due to Prince William County data errors, Youngkin +2, US House Democrats +1.
Going up to Prince William County, this is an open seat in a district where we don’t know what the actual presidential numbers were here due to data errors by Prince William County in 2020 (using their data it’s a district that voted for Biden by 27 points, but it’s almost certainly closer to somewhere between 11-14 points). Former Marine Josh Thomas (D) is running against former Prince William County Supervisor John Stirrup (R), who won a Republican primary for the district earlier this year.
During that primary, Democrats acting as Republicans secretly recorded Stirrup and got him on audio recording to admit he’d support a total ban on abortion in Virginia, and the Washington Post was sent those recordings in August. In a leftward-trending district like this, it’s political suicide for a Republican to have such a stance on abortion. To add insult to injury, Stirrup’s campaign is losing to Thomas in the campaign finance battle.
This race is still quite likely going to be close.
HD 82: Kimberly Pope Adams (D) vs. Kim Taylor (R)
No 2019 data due to uncontested districts, Biden +11, Youngkin +2, US House Democrats +1.
In 2019, I marked the race in the old Southside-based HD-75 where Roz Tyler (D) was running for re-election against Otto Waschmann (R) as my sleeper race for the cycle, despite having a Likely Democratic rating, meaning that this could be closer than expected. That suspicion was right: Tyler won re-election by 2 points that year. I gave that district the “sleeper pick” because of the Republican trends in Southside and my personal belief that Virginia Democrats do not know how to organize in rural areas, even ones that are favorable to them (the old HD-75 still voted for Democrats in each statewide election during the 2010s).
Similar dynamics are present here. Kim Taylor (R) won in an upset in 2021 in the old HD-63, which was a district containing Petersburg City, Dinwiddie County and part of Chesterfield County. This was a Likely Democratic seat in my final predictions, against incumbent Democrat Laschrecse Aird despite being heavily outspent. Black voters simply didn’t turn up for the election that year at a high enough rate to save Aird’s candidacy, and there should be similar worries for Black voters turning out for this year’s election in crucial swing districts like these.
Personally, despite Taylor now having an incumbency advantage in a majority of the district, I think Democrats are in a better spot than in 2021. A district that holds the most Democratic-leaning locality in the Commonwealth, Petersburg City, voting for a Republican candidate was somewhat unthinkable. Now that the “unthinkable” has actually happened, Democrats seemed to have pulled themselves together a little bit and have a much stronger operation in place than they did in 2021. Their nominee, Kimberly Pope Adams (D), won an impressive victory in her primary in June despite being outspent and even dropping out of the race for a short time, and she knows not to take the dynamics here for granted.
This is going to be a close race and I’ve gone somewhat back-and-forth in who I think I would pick as the favorite here. But if I were to eliminate this Toss-Up today, I think Adams would be the favorite.
HD 97: Michael Feggans (D) vs. Karen Greenhalgh (R)
2019 House of Delegates Democrats +3, Biden +12, Youngkin +2, US House Democrats +5.
Circling back to Hampton Roads, this Virginia Beach district is another House of Delegates Toss-Up featuring a Republican incumbent. Unlike Taylor though, Karen Greenhalgh (R) won what was expected to be a close race in 2021, and most voters actually come from outside of her old district. This has so far become the most expensive election in the House of Delegates so far, with both candidates running even on the money they’ve raised so far. Her Democratic opponent, Michael Feggans, is an Air Force veteran.
Elaine Luria impressively won the district by 5 points in 2022, running a few points ahead of how the other Toss-Up districts voted that year. And that was against Jen Kiggans, who was, in my view, is a much stronger Republican candidate than Greenhalgh is, given her military background.
I have a decently easy time in who I think is favored here if I had to eliminate my Toss-Up rating today, and that’s Michael Feggans.