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Virginia Beach special election could tip balance in abortion fight

Aaron Rouse smiling while wearing a suit; Kevin Adams smiling while wearing a lot of military paraphernalia, including an OEF hat and a US Navy tie
Photos: Courtesy of Rouse and Adams campaign
From left: Democrat Aaron Rouse is running against Republican Kevin Adams in Virginia’s 7th State Senate district.

Voters in northwestern Virginia Beach will cast ballots again Tuesday to elect a new 7th Senate District, and their decision may have an outsize impact on abortion access in Virginia.

The race between Republican Navy veteran Kevin Adams and former Virginia Beach councilmember and Democrat Aaron Rouse won’t determine control of the Virginia Senate; Democrats already have at least a one-seat majority whether they win or lose in the 7th.

But the seat could be the swing vote on abortion.

Richmond Democratic state Sen. Joe Morrissey recently said he’d keep an “open mind” about abortion ban proposals from Republicans in this year’s General Assembly session.

If he breaks with his party, Democrats would need an extra vote to prevail on abortion legislation in the Senate. A tie vote would be broken by Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears.

The 7th District seat is up for election now because Republican Jen Kiggans unseated U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria only two years into her state Senate term. The winner will serve out the remaining two years of the state Senate term.

Rouse’s win would give Democrats that extra vote to defeat Republican efforts even if Morrissey — or another senator — defects. Rouse has emphasized this issue in an effort to galvanize voters in the Republican-leaning 7th District.

Adams said he supports Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s suggestion of a 15-week abortion ban.

Senate Democrats vowed to use their majority to stop abortion ban efforts coming from Republicans, who control the House of Delegates and Executive Mansion.

Money matters

The perceived importance of the 7th Senate District race can be seen in the money flowing into the campaigns.

Both Rouse and Adams have brought in $1 million or more in just the last couple of months, making this the most expensive special election in Virginia Senate history and more expensive than 85% of the state Senate races held in 2019, according to figures published by the Virginia Public Access Project.

“We've had significant contributions to this campaign and activity in the campaign by pro-choice and pro-life organizations,” said Jesse Richman, a political scientist at Old Dominion University.

Special elections often boil down to turnout — how many voters show up and exactly which kinds of voters show up the most.

“It's a question of which voters are energized and mobilized,” Richman said. “Do Republican voters come out? Do the younger voters — who played a crucial role in Democrats staving off what had been rumored to be a red wave prior to the 2022 congressional elections — do they come out? What role do women play? These are all important questions.”

The 7th Senate District went red for Youngkin in 2021, but a majority of the district voted for Democratic President Joe Biden in 2020. When Kiggans won the seat in 2019, she did so by only about 500 votes, less than 1% of ballots cast.

Virginia Beach’s special Senate election is Jan. 10, one day before this year’s General Assembly session starts.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.