After Virginia Republicans failed to win either chamber of the state legislature on Tuesday, Republican operatives are pointing the finger at Democrats’ abortion messaging and significant fundraising advantage.
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned for months on behalf of his party’s candidates in hopes of securing a GOP trifecta, but Democrats narrowly flipped the House of Delegates and held the Virginia Senate. Though Youngkin’s state political action committee (PAC) Spirit of Virginia broke fundraising records, it wasn’t enough to fend off Democrats’ money operation. Moreover, state operatives told the Daily Caller News Foundation that Democrats’ message, which heavily focused on painting Republicans as extreme on abortion and other issues, succeeded in winning over crucial voters.
“We knew from the very beginning that we’d be outspent in this election with every national Democratic group pouring millions into the state. Our candidates responded to their negative TV barrage on abortion by showing the Democrat position of ‘no limits’ is too extreme and that Republicans have a commonsense position,” Spirit of Virginia PAC Chairman Dave Rexrode told the DCNF in a statement Thursday.
Spirit of Virginia PAC raised over $18 million this year, according to state finance reports, and $14 million was allocated toward candidates, legislative caucuses and the state Republican party, while millions more were spent on polling, advertising and a ground effort to encourage early voting, according to a post-election memo released Wednesday. The Republican State Leadership Committee also spent over $5 million in the state, according to Axios.
Conversely, Democrats far outpaced Republicans in fundraising — $76.5 million to $50.3 million — this year, according to The Washington Post. Democratic candidates also outspent Republicans on television advertising by $7.5 million, according to the Spirit of Virginia’s memo.
The election drew national attention from Democrats, including the Democratic National Committee, which spent $1.5 million on the races largely at President Joe Biden’s directive. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee also gave $2 million and a nonprofit aligned with Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker contributed $250,000.
While national Democrats pumped millions into Virginia, the Republican National Committee (RNC) drew criticism for not deploying financial resources in the state’s election, whereas it spent in Kentucky and Mississippi‘s gubernatorial races this cycle.
The RNC transferred roughly a half million dollars to the Republican Party of Kentucky this year, as well as $9,000 to Mississippi’s state GOP, ahead of its contentious elections for governor, according to the campaign finance records.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel addressed the criticism Wednesday night in Miami, Florida, following the third GOP primary debate, where she claimed Youngkin’s team turned down their support and blamed Republicans’ messaging on abortion as the reason for their losses.
“You know the RNC’s not a state committee, we’re a federal committee, right? Your candidates can take unlimited state dollars and your governor can take unlimited state dollars, and he actually said, ‘we don’t need you guys here,’” McDaniel told Townhall’s Larry O’Connor, which a spokesperson for the RNC pointed the DCNF toward upon request for comment. “We were told in the summer they didn’t need us, that they had all of the money and they were good.”
However, Youngkin’s team stressed its financial needs in a statement to the DCNF.
“But when we are being significantly outspent in the Washington, D.C. media market our message got drowned out. Our candidates needed every resource available and, as the Governor said many times, we couldn’t afford to have anyone sitting on the sidelines if we were to win these close elections in a state Biden won by 10,” Rexrode added.
A source familiar with the state Republican operation told the DCNF that in the 2021 election, the RNC launched a significant effort to help Virginia Republicans with staff and a ground game operation. The source said that state House Speaker Todd Gilbert and state Party chair Rich Anderson asked the RNC for more funding in early October ahead of Tuesday’s election, but the committee told them it didn’t have the resources.
State operatives attributed the Republican losses largely to the issue of abortion and the fundraising discrepancies between the two sides, with some pointing to the Democrats’ messaging on former President Donald Trump.
“It’s obvious, the two campaign themes the Democrats ran on resonated with more voters than what the Republicans were selling. Their two themes were pro-choice all the way up until the point of birth, and ‘MAGA extremism,’” Chris Saxman, executive director of Virginia FREE, a conservative political organization in the state, and former state delegate, told the DCNF.
While Democrats attempted to paint Republicans as seeking to ban abortion outright in the state, most GOP candidates followed Youngkin’s message on championing a 15-week limit with exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk.
Jeff Frederick, former chairman of the Virginia GOP and former Virginia state delegate, was taken aback at the election results, particularly with the flip of the state’s lower chamber, and pointed solely to Democrats’ messaging on abortion for the losses.
“It was all about abortion all the time,” Frederick told the DCNF. “I mean, it’s their one-trick pony. And again, it’s unfortunate that voters can’t think more multi-dimensional than that. I would think the voters of Virginia are a little bit smarter than that, but I guess not.”
Saxman wasn’t surprised at the outcome, but commended the governor’s political operation for its efforts in the election, telling the DCNF that “the results in a normal year without Glenn Youngkin would’ve been horrific.”
On Tuesday, Republican candidates secured 13 districts that Biden won in 2020 and seven districts that Democratic congressional candidates won in the 2022 midterms, as well as coming within a couple thousand votes in other historically blue districts, according to the Spirit of Virginia memo.
“It appears that when all votes are counted, the statewide margin between votes cast for Republican candidates vs. votes cast for Democrat candidates will be one percent and neither side got a majority of the vote. This once again illustrates how close and competitive this election cycle truly was,” the memo reads.
Mike McKenna, GOP consultant and president of MWR Strategies, echoed Saxman’s sentiment, adding that Virginia Republicans fared better in many districts than last cycle.
“They just didn’t do well enough to win,” said McKenna. “The reason why that’s important is because I know that there is going to be this narrative of, ‘the Republicans lost and the world’s over.’ I think the reality of it is that there was some steady progress, and I think Youngkin would probably do well to start talking about that, that ‘hey, it took a generation for this state to become blue, it might take a couple of elections to turn it red.’ Because that’s the truth. The truth is, like I said, there was an incremental improvement from 2021.”
Youngkin flipped the governor’s mansion red in 2021, beating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe by nearly 2 points, while Republicans flipped the state House. The governor had hoped to continue the momentum Tuesday to allow him to advance his conservative agenda for the remainder of his term.
Mary Lou Masters on November 9, 2023