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Democrats could flip Virginia state legislature in critical election

Dems declare victory in Kentucky
Dems declare victory in Kentucky 03:41

Follow our latest updates here. Tuesday's original story appears below.

The contentious gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Mississippi have been commanding attention from political observers across the country, but these are not the only key races to watch Tuesday.

All 140 seats in the Virginia state Senate and House are up for re-election on Tuesday. Currently, Republicans hold a majority in both chambers, but Democrats' success in flipping 15 House seats in 2017 has given the party hope that it can flip both chambers this cycle. Democrats also netted three congressional seats in 2018, indicating an increase in grassroots support for Democratic candidates in the state.

Republicans' control of the state legislature is tenuous: they hold narrow majorities of 20 to 19 in the state Senate and 51 to 48 in the House of Delegates. Like other critical races across the country, the legislative elections have become somewhat nationalized, and a victory for Republicans could mean trouble for President Trump in 2020. A late October poll by Christopher Newport University of four competitive state Senate seats found that 59% of voters say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Mr. Trump. The poll also found that the majority of voters in this district supported opening an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.

With Democrat Ralph Northam as governor, if Democrats flip the chambers, they would control all three branches of government for the first time in 25 years. A trifecta would allow Democrats to determine where redistricting lines are drawn following the 2020 census.

Democrats are looking at the 2017 results as a harbinger of a potentially successful 2019. However, old photos of Northam in blackface surfaced earlier this year, ensnaring him in a weeks-long controversy that put Virginia in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. The term-limited Northam is not on the ballot Tuesday, but he would be at the helm of whatever coalition Democrats piece together. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was also embroiled in a scandal over allegations of sexual assault in his past that surfaced earlier this year.

Virginia was also in the national spotlight earlier this year for a state House bill that would have reduced the restrictions on conducting third-trimester abortions. Northam, who is a doctor, mangled the defense of the bill during a radio interview. Asked what would happen if a baby was born following a failed abortion, Northam said, "The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother." Afterward, a spokesperson for Northam released a statement saying he was only trying to describe the "tragic or difficult circumstances" involved in a late-term abortion. 

The bill was voted down by a Virginia House subcommittee, but it sparked a conversation nationwide. 

Another issue on voters' minds as they head to the polls is gun violence. The issue came into focus in May when a disgruntled employee shot and killed 12 people and wounded four others in Virginia Beach. Following the shooting, Northam called a special legislative session to address gun violence in June, but nothing came of it because the Republican majorities in the state legislature adjourned without taking up a single bill. 

The elections on Tuesday have drawn some big names from both parties to get out the vote. On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence attended a rally in Virginia Beach where he reminded voters of the importance of 2021 redistricting and promised that Republicans would "always stand for the right to life." On the Democratic side, former President Obama endorsed 17 Democratic candidates for the legislature, and former Vice President Joe Biden headlined on Sunday a canvass kickoff in Sterling with former Governor Terry McAuliffe. 

Mr. Trump has also weighed in on the elections on Twitter. On Monday, Mr. Trump tweeted his "complete and total Endorsement" to Republican Geary Higgins, who is vying for an open seat in the Virginia state Senate. He also urged Virginians to vote Republican in two tweets on Sunday.

"I hope everyone in the Great State of Virginia will get out and VOTE on Tuesday in all of the local and state elections to send a signal to D.C. that you want lower taxes, a strong Military, Border & 2nd Amendment, great healthcare, and must take care of our Vets. VOTE REPUBLICAN," Mr. Trump wrote.

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