LEESBURG, Va.—Abortion may prove to be the make-or-break issue in Virginia’s off-year election, traditionally a bellwether for the nation. With Election Day just around the corner, each party sprints toward the finish line: both with the goal of keeping their narrow majority in one legislative chamber and flipping the other.
To achieve that, each wants to sway independent voters and drive their base voter turnout. Just as parental rights issues helped Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin win his election in 2021 by winning over independents and even Democrats, the abortion issue seems to be doing the same trick for Democrat candidates this time around.
Hence, Mr. Youngkin has trodden carefully. Several months ago, he outlined his official position on abortion access, permitting abortion up to and including 15 weeks gestation while allowing for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother. Many Republican state and local candidates then aligned their policies accordingly.
On the other side, Democrats messaged that the GOP’s abortion policy is an abortion ban and infringement on women’s reproductive rights.
Unlike many other Republican-led states, Virginia has yet to change its abortion laws—currently allowing late-term abortions—after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. The latest ruling no longer considers abortion a constitutional right and returned the decision power over the practice to the states. Instead of trying to outline the details of late-term limits in its abortion policy, the Republican Party has tried to focus voters’ attention on parental rights in education.
Two candidates in the fiercely competitive State Senate District 31—composed of Loudoun County and part of Fauquier County—will now test the strength of these two issues in drawing votes.
The Democratic candidate Russet Perry, 39, a former CIA officer and county prosecutor, runs on abortion as her primary issue; the Republican candidate, Juan Pablo Segura, 35, an entrepreneur, vows to protect the right of parents to have a say in determining what children are being taught at every turn.
Loudoun County is ground zero of the national fight to protect parental rights, the issue that cemented Mr. Youngkin’s victory in November 2021 in a previously solid blue state. His campaign took off after he announced outside the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) administrative building that he would ban critical race theory—a quasi-Marxist ideology that considers America to be systemically racist—in public schools on day one. He delivered his promise with an executive order.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s nuanced approach to abortion has proven more challenging to communicate to the general public following the Democrats’ black and white messaging during the Supreme Court’s decision making on Roe v. Wade.
In fact, some analysts have said that underestimating the impact of Democrat’s messaging on abortion was a reason that Republicans only won one out of the three competitive Congressional races last November, contributing to Republicans’ narrow majority in the House, contrary to the much talked about “red wave.”
Will the election results of 2021 or 2022 repeat for Virginia this year?
The Undercurrents Around Abortion
Coming out of the Loudoun County Election Office in Leesburg, Bobby C., a salesperson and a self-identified independent, said he voted a mixed ballot this time, depending on the “alignment with my ideology.” He declined to disclose his last name.
Bobby said he took voting seriously and waited over an hour to vote on the last day of early in-person voting. “People died for our rights to vote,” he added. The next in-person voting opportunity will be on Election Day on Nov. 7.
He told The Epoch Times that he didn’t vote for Mr. Segura because he wanted to reserve the choice of abortion for his 19-year-old daughter. Instead, he voted for Ms. Perry based on her “overarching background,” including her experience in serving the country.
As Mr. C left the polling station, Bobbi and Howard Holcombe waited in line outside to cast their votes.
Ms. Holcome, a self-identified conservative, said she tended to vote Republican but not always. For example, she said she would vote for Ms. Perry because Mr. Segura is “extreme on women’s rights.” She didn’t trust Mr. Youngkin’s 15-week abortion limit policy and called him “fluid.” She worries that he will shift policies for popularity.
However, she said she would vote for the incumbent Republican sheriff Mike Chapman. In her view, a county-wide sheriff’s office might be more effective than local police departments. “The police need to evolve; our crimes are evolving,” she told The Epoch Times.
This self-described conservative’s voting choice seems to underscore the words of Angelia Williams Graves, a Democratic delegate running for the Virginia Senate in the Norfolk area, a strongly Democratic district.
“I think that Republican women and men who are pro-choice are going to be the secret undercurrents that are going to help us get to flip the House and expand the Senate,” she said at a Democrat virtual forum on Nov. 3, referring to the current narrow Democratic majority in the state Senate.
To Democrats, preventing Republicans from winning both the state House and Senate is crucial, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) emphasized at the same forum. He said it’s critical to prevent Republicans from becoming incumbents in the first state-wide races after redistricting because incumbents are difficult to overturn.
Phyllis Randall, the current chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors running for re-election, added that victories for Democrats in Virginia would restrain Mr. Youngkin’s rising profile and prevent the conservative Republican from taking national office.
Mr. Youngkin has been stumping for Republican candidates at last-minute rallies, with the last one scheduled at a soccer stadium in Loudoun County for Mr. Segura.
‘A 15-Week Compromise’
On Nov. 4, Mr. Segura visited the early voting site in Leesburg to speak to voters, slightly over half of whom held a piece of blue paper, the Democratic sample ballot. More Republican voters showed up after 4 p.m. After 4:30 p.m., half an hour before closing, almost everyone in line was holding the ivory Republican sample ballot.
“Can I count on your support?” Mr. Segura asked some voters.
“If you hire me, I’m going to work so hard for you,” he said to others, borrowing an expression from Mr. Youngkin, who often tells Virginians, “Thank you for hiring me.”
Many of those holding the ivory paper gave Mr. Segura the affirmative answer. Yet, the consistent objection from those holding the blue sheet was “women’s rights.” Mr. Segura tried to explain that it was not a ban and was a “15-week compromise,” but the voters reacted with empty stares.
Parental Rights Draw Votes
The parental rights issue, however, has attracted votes for Mr. Segura.
He got a vote from Leah, who moved to Loudoun County 17 years ago, partly for its schools. She didn’t want to share her last name. She has three children in the Loudoun County Public School (LCPS) system—two in high school and one in elementary school.
“Parents need to have a voice in their children’s education,” she told The Epoch Times, adding that the gender issue has been “very confusing” for children and their parents. She referred to the LCPS policy that requires students and staff to call students by their preferred pronouns and allows students to use restrooms by their self-identified gender.
“My campaign is focused on a message of being Successful Together. While my opponent and her allies try to scare people, I’m offering a vision for the future of Virginia. That vision includes safe communities. It includes a creative approach to problem-solving that brings people together. And it includes improved schools so our kids can get a better education,” Mr. Segura told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement on Nov. 5.
He continued: “I want to make sure parents are empowered. I want to make sure school boards and administrators are held accountable, which is why I’ve committed to immediately introducing legislation that mandates schools notify parents and students after an overdose. There is so much at stake, so I’m encouraging voters of all backgrounds to get to the polls and vote!”
Karen, an electrical designer, also voted for Mr. Segura. She declined to disclose her last name because her 15-year-old daughter goes to Stone Bridge High School, where a gender-fluid boy raped a teenage girl in the girl’s bathroom in May 2021. The boy was then transferred to a different high school and sexually assaulted another girl a few months later. The boy was eventually convicted and sentenced last year.
LCPS has been in the national spotlight since the Spring of 2021 due to the parents’ fight to reject critical race theory in their children’s education. Last December, the school board fired the former superintendent without cause after a special grand jury documented the school system’s mishandling of the sexual assaults.
Karen told The Epoch Times that she wanted boys and girls to simply go to separate bathrooms.
Both parties have spent millions on their candidates. In addition to winning over independents, ensuring base voter turnout has been a crucial focus.
Outside of the Fairfax County Government Center, a main early-voting site providing all northern Virginia ballots, Kelly, a Republican, said she didn’t think Republican voters were as charged as in 2021. She remained “cautiously hopeful” that the Republicans would keep the lower chamber in the state legislature.
She was concerned about the momentum on the other side as she refused to disclose her last name. “The passion comes out when you come from behind,” she told The Epoch Times on Nov. 4, referring to Democrats’ loss of the executive mansion and state House in 2021. “The abortion issue alone will bring out a lot of Democrat voters.”
Also in Fairfax, a Democrat voter said she was motivated to vote this season.
“I am trying to send a signal to Governor Youngkin that I will continue to vote complete Democrat ballot every time until I start hearing about Youngkin making sense with regard to schools, diversity, abortion, and protecting our communities in ensuring that we are kind to one another,” she told The Epoch Times, preferring to remain anonymous.
Both parties have worked hard to turn out the votes. Mr. Youngkin has pushed for early voting, which isn’t traditionally popular among Republican voters. According to Virginia Public Access Project, a Richmond-based watchdog, the Republican share of early voting has increased by 3 percent compared to the last state-wide races in 2021, six days before Election Day.
Masooma Haq contributed to the report.
From The Epoch Times