RICHMOND, Va. — Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin acknowledged disappointment Wednesday with election results that gave Democrats control of both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate, but pledged to work with the new legislative majority on bipartisan priorities like improving the mental health care system and boosting economic development over the remainder of his term.
Youngkin struck an optimistic tone as he told reporters gathered at the foot of the Capitol steps in Richmond that the resulting narrow divide in each chamber, settled by ultracompetitive races, underscored Virginia's history of alternating between Democratic and Republican control.
“I’m a little disappointed, to be clear,” he said.
“I think the No. 1 lesson is that Virginia is really purple, and that going into these elections, we knew that they were going to be tough,” he later added.
Democrats in Virginia and elsewhere were buoyed by Tuesday's outcome, which they attributed largely to their candidates' promises to protect abortion rights and defeat a 15-week ban with exceptions proposed by Youngkin.
Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, told reporters after Youngkin's remarks that she agreed with the governor that Virginia is a purple state, but not on the issue of abortion.
“My conclusion is that two years ago, a slim majority went on a Tinder date with Glenn Youngkin and are sorry now that they swiped right," Swecker said.
Youngkin did not directly answer a question about whether he thought his abortion proposal remained viable, but said he thought “there is a place to come together around a reasonable limit.”
The election results have been interpreted as a significant blow for the governor, who invested a great deal of time, money and political capital in the races and has been frequently mentioned as a possible late entrant into the 2024 presidential race. The outcome Youngkin was hoping for, a GOP trifecta, would have allowed him to move swiftly on pieces of his conservative agenda that the Senate Democratic majority in place since 2020 has so far been able to block.
When asked by reporters if he is still considering a White House run, Youngkin — who cannot seek a second consecutive term as governor — reiterated his typical response, saying he remains “focused on Virginia."
Every legislative seat was on the ballot this cycle, and only one race remained undecided on Wednesday afternoon: a House race south of Richmond where Republican incumbent Kim Taylor held a narrow lead over Democrat Kimberly Pope Adams. Taylor declared victory, but Adams said her campaign was waiting for every vote to be counted.
Other battleground races were called by The Associated Press Wednesday, well after it became clear Democrats had secured majorities in both chambers.
Republican Tara Durant prevailed over Democrat Joel Griffin and independent Monica Gary in a northern Virginia Senate race.
And in a Tidewater district, GOP challenger Danny Diggs — a retired longtime sheriff — defeated Democratic incumbent Monty Mason.
In the House, Republican David Owen defeated Democrat Susanna Gibson in a highly competitive suburban Richmond race that drew attention after revelations that Gibson engaged in sex acts with her husband on a pornographic website.
Democrats will begin the 2024 session with a 21-19 majority in the 40-seat upper chamber, with Republicans having picked up one additional seat from this year's 22-18 divide. Democrats will have at least 51 of 100 House seats.
Dave Rexrode, the chairman of Youngkin’s political operation, noted in a memo released publicly that while Republicans fell short of their goals, they did so by razor-thin margins while being outspent.
“In a state President Biden carried by 10 points, Republicans came within just a few thousand votes of winning majorities in both legislative chambers,” Rexrode wrote.
Senate Republicans conceded late Tuesday that Democrats had taken that chamber's majority. House Republicans did so Wednesday afternoon.
“Now, our Republican caucus will again assume the role of the loyal opposition, working with Governor Youngkin to hold the line against the worst left-wing impulses of the incoming Democratic majority, and ensure that common-sense ideas aren’t forgotten,” House Speaker Todd Gilbert said in a statement.
This year marked the first time all legislative candidates ran under new maps drawn by outside experts in the redistricting process. The maps, which Youngkin has characterized as fair, were created without regard for incumbent protection, which led to a wave of retirements.
In his remarks at the Capitol, Youngkin gave a nod to the dramatic turnover the General Assembly will see come January — 36% of the members will be new, he said.
The governor said he would work with incoming lawmakers in the pursuit of “educational excellence." Democrats and Republicans can also find places to agree on public safety, job growth, addressing the cost of living and transforming the behavioral health system, he said.
“I think this is what Virginians expect. I think they know that in a state that is so purple, that we do debate. We do argue. But they expect us to find common ground on these most important topics and to press forward,” he said.