Democrats retook full control of the Virginia General Assembly, The Associated Press reported, handing a defeat to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who had poured millions of dollars and his personal political capital into expanding power for his party in the legislature.
The Democratic Party not only maintained its narrow hold on the State Senate, but also captured control of the House of Delegates, where Republicans had held a 48-to-46 majority since 2021.
The legislative races had drawn national attention — and millions of dollars in out-of-state contributions and independent expenditures — as a barometer of both Mr. Youngkin’s star power and national sentiment heading into next year’s presidential election.
All 140 legislative seats were on the ballot this year, and even longtime analysts found it difficult to predict who would win races for a legislature that had been scrambled by redrawn political maps and a wave of retirements.
With no contests for federal offices to draw voters to the polls, legislative elections’ outcomes depended on which party or candidate could best energize supporters.
In Virginia, as elsewhere, abortion appeared to be a defining issue, albeit not the only one.
The Supreme Court decision in June 2022 limiting abortion rights has galvanized turnout from Democratic voters nationwide. Virginia was considered a test of Republicans’ ability to blunt blowback against the ruling.
Abortion-rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, spent freely on ads opposing Republican positions on the issue. But an anti-abortion political action committee, Women Speak Out Virginia, was among the biggest independent spending groups in legislative contests, spending more than $1 million spread over 17 races in an effort to blunt the Democratic message.
Mr. Youngkin dipped into his political action committee, Spirit of Virginia, for a $1.4 million media campaign that portrayed his proposal to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — rather than ban them outright — as a common-sense compromise.
By his own choice, Mr. Youngkin was the other major issue in legislative races.
He is not only regarded as a potential candidate for president in 2028, but he has also refused to rule out making a late entry into the race for the 2024 Republican nomination. He barnstormed this fall for Republican legislative candidates in the hopes that a takeover of the legislature would solidify his national standing as a popular Republican in an increasingly Democratic state.
Last month alone, his political action committee donated at least $2.3 million to G.O.P. candidates for legislative seats and another $2.35 million to the state Republican Party.
But the national Democratic Party had poured $1.5 million into the legislative campaigns as of early October, and most likely more after that. A pro-Democrat PAC, the States Project, donated another $4.5 million to the party’s candidates.
“Youngkin has been campaigning like there’s no tomorrow, because this matters so much to him and his national ambitions,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
In the end, it was not enough.