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Democrats appear poised to flip a key Senate seat in Virginia

By Sarah May on
 January 12, 2023

In a Tuesday special election with potential implications for restrictions on abortion in Virginia, Democrat Aaron Rouse narrowly defeated his Republican opponent, Kevin Adams, to flip the state Senate seat vacated by Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-VA), who was elected to Congress in November, as The Hill reports.

The seventh Senate district in which Rouse prevailed encompasses significant parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and because it tends to lead Republican, the Democrat's victory has been heralded as a particularly noteworthy achievement by his party, despite the extremely slim margin of victory.

Rouse defeats Adams

According to NBC affiliate WAVY, unofficial early results indicated that Rouse won by a sufficient number of votes to prevent his opponent from seeking a recount without having to bear the cost himself, and it was at roughly 9:15 p.m. Tuesday night that the former Virginia Beach city councilman and NFL player appeared before supporters to declare the campaign a success.

“I'm just so excited that Virginia Beach has my back and I have theirs all the way to Richmond,” Rouse said, adding, “...I'm a native here. I grew up in a place where I had a chance to come home and serve on a local governing body. Do good things and [voters] remember that.”

Rouse also expressed gratitude on Twitter, writing, “THANK YOU!” With your support, and the support of voters from across Virginia Beach and Norfolk, we have won this Special Election. No rest for the weary – tomorrow, we head to Richmond to get to work for Virginia families.”

Adams conceded the race the following day, stating, as NBC News noted, “While the results last night were not what we wanted, I am proud of the campaign that we ran and so thankful for everyone who believed in me and this campaign along the way.”

“We put everything we had into this race and left no stone unturned,” Adams added, vowing, “[d]espite the result, I will never stop serving Hampton Roads.”

Key win for VA Dems

As a result of Rouse's win, Democrats in the Virginia Senate now enjoy a 22-18 majority, a fact that many anticipate will have a significant impact on Republican efforts to pass a 15-week abortion ban.

The Hill noted that the question of abortion was raised frequently during the state Senate race, with Rouse vowing to stand in opposition to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's move to shorten the legal window for abortion in Virginia from the current threshold of roughly 26 weeks.

Amid his campaign for the Senate seat, Rouse declared that protecting abortion access was something on which he would “not compromise,” while his Republican opponent expressed a willingness to support Youngkin's 15-week ban proposal, though he did suggest a need for “reasonable exceptions to protect the life of the mother or in the instance of rape or incest.”

In the aftermath of the election, abortion rights advocates praised the outcome, with Tarina Keene, executive director of REPRO Rising Virginia saying, “Reproductive rights and freedom in Virginia have been hanging by a tenuous threat, especially in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, and the only thing standing in the way is a one-vote margin in the Virginia state Senate.”

“It all comes down to one vote and having Aaron Rouse added to the state Senate in this precarious time only helps shore up reproductive rights and freedom here in the commonwealth. We know that he is a champion for reproductive rights and freedom and will be a solid vote no on any abortion ban that should be introduced in Virginia now,” Keene continued.

Ban in the balance

Despite Rouse's win on Tuesday, Youngkin on Wednesday delivered his State of the Commonwealth address in which he reiterated his call for the General Assembly to approve the aforementioned ban on abortions after 15 weeks, as NBC News noted.

The governor said, “When it comes to unborn children, we can come together, we can choose life and choose to support mothers, fathers and families in difficult decisions.”

“This session I have asked the General Assembly to come together to protect life at 15 weeks, the point when a baby can feel pain. It is clear Virginians want fewer abortions, not more,” Youngkin added.

The fate of such a ban, however, is now increasingly uncertain, despite reports that Democrat state Sen. Joe Morrissey recently hinted at a willingness to consider the sort of restrictions for which Youngkin has advocated, saying that he intended to keep an “open mind.”

Considering that Virginia's Republican Lt. Gov, Winsome Sears, can cast tiebreaking votes in the state Senate, an Adams victory together with a possible defection from Morrissey would have greatly bolstered Youngkin's chances, particularly since Republicans control the House of Delegates, but such a scenario was not on the cards.

Though Tuesday's special election certainly seems to have dampened GOP hopes of securing a 15-week abortion ban in Virginia, only time will tell whether any defections from Democrats may yet be secured.