The United States’ 2024 elections will be “the most expensive political cycle of all time,” predicts ad-tracking firm AdImpact Politics, with campaigns projected to spend $10.2 billion across all advertising platforms, a 13-percent increase over the 2020 election cycle.
The commonwealth’s “off-year” legislative contests often presage national trends the following year, and it is set to exceed 2019’s campaign expenditures by as much as 50 percent.
In what is being described as “the first election of 2024,” all 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, currently led 52-48 by Republicans, and all 40 seats in its Senate, where Democrats hold a 22-18 advantage, are on the state’s Nov. 7 ballot.
In addition to Virginia’s General Assembly elections, state legislature campaigns are also under way this fall in New Jersey, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the dominant party in three states—Republicans in Louisiana and Mississippi, and Democrats in New Jersey—are expected to retain their advantages, with the Louisiana and Mississippi GOP potentially securing veto-proof majorities.
Battleground BellwetherThe purple commonwealth’s legislative elections are being closely watched nationwide because abortion and school choice—issues that will resonate across the 2024 election cycle—have emerged as top get-out-the-vote pitches for both parties.
Democrats are appealing to Virginia’s independents, suburban voters, and moderates with vows to protect more liberal abortion policies from “extremist” conservative reforms.
Republicans, galvanized by Gov. Glenn Youngkin and boosted by money plugs from his Spirit of Virginia PAC, believe they can win those same voters with the governor's proposed “common sense” 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for rape, incest, and medical complications, and school choice agenda.
Virginia's Competitive RacesThe most competitive races will be along the fringes of the state’s metropolitan areas, the exurbs nestled greater Washington, Richmond, and Hampton Roads where voters tend to be college-educated and moderate, especially on social issues.
How that nuanced appeal influences voters in those areas could be the difference in determining which party controls Virginia's state house and wins momentum heading into the 2024 election cycle.
According to a July Virginia Commonwealth University survey, 47 percent of Virginians favor Republican House candidates and 41 percent back Democrat hopefuls. For the Upper House, an even 44 percent prefer GOP and Democrat Senate candidates.
Ballotpedia identifies eight Virginia Senate “battleground” elections, with four rated as either “Toss-Up” or “Competitive.” CNalysis, a state legislature rating service, rates seven as “competitive” with two “tossups.”
According to Ballotpedia, there are seven “battleground” House districts. CNalysis identifies 15 competitive House races with four tagged as “tossups.”
In its initial forecast issued Sept. 10, CNalysis projects that Democrats will retain the Senate, sustaining the 22-18 status quo, and gives Democrats a 71-percent chance of flipping the House by reversing the GOP’s current 52-48 chamber advantage.
Big Bucks In-BoundAs a result of local intensity and national interest, 2023 campaign spending has, or will soon, exceed the $200 million expended during Virginia’s 2019 General Assembly elections cycle, and could near $300 million over the next seven weeks.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), Virginia General Assembly candidates raised a collective $87 million as of June 30, the first reporting date after the state’s June 20 primary.
In July 1–Aug. 31 reports posted by the Virginia Department of Elections on Sept. 15, campaigns raised $54.5 million during the two month span, including nearly $28 million contributed by 543 state-registered PACs, such as Mr. Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia, and $26.5 million raised by 443 General Assembly candidates.
The posted numbers only reflect what candidate campaigns collect and spend, not what independent PACs and other outside groups are spending. Virginia does not have campaign contribution limits for state elections and PACs don’t have to name donors.
According to OpenSecrets and the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO, “dark money” groups and donors had spent nearly $1.7 million on Virginia candidates by Sept. 12, with GOP hopefuls benefitting from more than $1.4 million of that.
More than $1.2 million of the $1.7 million in “dark money” was spent by three out-of-state non-profits, OpenSecrets and VCIJ at WHRO calculates.
They are: Washington-based Americans for Prosperity, a conservative nonprofit founded by Koch Industries, that spent more than $1 million in support of 17 Republican candidates; Maryland-based American Federation for Children, a school choice nonprofit founded by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which is spending $9 million on 2023 state elections nationwide; and Washington-based Forward Majority Action, which had kicked in more than $241,000 on Virginia’s elections.
Democrats Out-Raising RepublicansThe “dark money” edge offsets Democrats overall fundraising advance across all General Assembly races. According to VPAP, Democrat candidates have out-raised GOP rivals by about $5 million as of Sept. 1.
In the Senate, 134 campaigns raised $13.13 million between July 1–Aug. 31. Democrats raised $8.186 million and had $7.752 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 1, while Republicans collected $4.857 million and had $6.575 million in bank.
In the House, 309 campaigns raised $13.348 million between July 1–Aug. 31. Democrats collected $7.5 million and had $10 million in the bank on Sept. 1, while Republicans garnered $5.7 million and had $9.33 million in cash on hand.
Of the nearly $28 million contributed to campaigns by 543 state-registered PACs, Mr. Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC doled out $3.77 million primarily to seven GOP candidates, and Dominion Energy contributed $2.385 million to mostly Republican campaigns. The Clean Virginia Fund, created as a counter-balance to Dominion Energy, countered with $3 million in campaign donations, mostly to Democrats.
The National Democratic Committee, at President Joe Biden’s urging, last week funneled $1.2 million into the Majority Project PAC, a Virginia Democrat group, to get out door-knockers and boost ad buys in key districts.
This raised the PAC's contribution to Democrat state house campaigns to $1.5 million thus far—15 times the $100,000 it kicked in during 2019’s elections.
The next Virginia campaign finance report updates will be posted Oct. 15 and Oct. 30.