Here’s Why Virginia Is Holding a Special Election on Tuesday–and Why It Matters

Voters in Midlothian, VA

A voter check with the registration table as he prepares to cast his ballots under a giant mural at Robious Elementary school on Election Day, in Midlothian, Va., Tuesday Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Isabel Soisson

January 9, 2023

On Jan. 10, Democrat Aaron Rouse and Republican Kevin Adams will face off to be the next representative of District 7 in the Virginia state Senate, a seat left vacant by Republican Jenn Kiggans, who recently stepped down after winning her bid for the 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Two other races are set to be held on Tuesday: one for House District 24 and one for House District 35, each safely Republican and Democratic seats, respectively.

According to Virginia law, if there is a vacancy in the Virginia General Assembly, a special election must be held to fill the vacant seat. Gov. Glenn Youngkin worked with the leaders of each chamber to set the special election date before the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 11.

The two candidates, Rouse and Adams, have very different backgrounds. Rouse is a former NFL player who has served as a Virginia Beach City Council member since 2018. Adams is a retired lieutenant commander who served for 26 years in the Navy; he’s now a small business owner. He has never held elected office.

The race for Virginia’s Senate District 7 seat has drawn heaps of national attention, mainly due to abortion. As Old Dominion University political scientist Ben Melusky told The Washington Post, abortion helped drive turnout during the midterms in November, so Democrats have been eager to stress the abortion issue in the District 7 race.

Leaders on both sides of the abortion debate have said that whoever wins the seat will play a large role in shaping the commonwealth’s laws on the subject this year; Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed a ban on the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy that will be considered in this year’s General Assembly session. Currently, Virginia allows abortion through the second trimester and into the third in certain circumstances.

Youngkin has also said that he’s willing to go further: in June at a gathering shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Youngkin said he believes life begins at conception and said he would “gleefully” sign “any bill [to protect life] that comes” to his desk.

Rouse told both The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press last month that if elected, protecting abortion access would be one of his top priorities. Adams, on the other hand, supports Youngkin’s 15-week ban.

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election, Democrats will retain majority control of the Virginia Senate, so it’s not clear that Youngkin could rally the votes to pass his 15-week ban, even if Adams wins. Democrats will have a 21-19 advantage if Adams prevails, and a 22-18 edge if Rouse wins. But the outcome of the race is still significant, due to how narrow the Democrats’ majority is, and the fact that one of those Democrats is Sen. Joe Morrissey, the only anti-abortion Democratic elected official in the state.

Beyond abortion, Rouse has said that education is one of his top concerns, and that he wants to create an economy that “works for everyone” and push for workers to receive “fair, liveable wages.” His other priorities include health care and public safety.

Adams, on the other hand, claims that his top priority is supporting veterans, and he has emphasized so-called “law and order” themes throughout this campaign. And when it comes to Adams’ views on education, over the weekend, he was caught on tape saying he plans to work with Gov. Youngkin on his education proposals, including banning certain books from libraries and diverting public education dollars to private schools.

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.



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