Both parties are essentially 'focus-group testing' their 2024 messaging in Virginia—the economy, immigration, and the culture wars on the Republican side and (basically) abortion on the Democratic side. In 2022, abortion rights (along with a litany of 'not-ready-for-prime-time' Republican candidates) turned what looked like a Red Wave into a crimson trickle. The GOP garnered a razor-thin margin in the U.S. House of Representatives and failed to take back the U.S. Senate.
But even more important than the issues this year, Virginia will be the first test of whether Republicans have solved their "early-voting" problem. The pandemic-induced avalanche of early voting in 2020 may have been the key factor in the Joe Biden victory over Donald Trump. Democrats had fine-tuned their voter ID and turnout machine explicitly for the new reality of non-traditional voting. It worked brilliantly. Republicans essentially ignored the new electoral landscape and got their hats handed to them.
Republicans have supposedly learned their lesson—and have ramped up their voter mobilization efforts in some key swing states ahead of 2024. But have they done enough to turn the tide? Virginia may offer an early indication of whether they have or not.