11/07/2011 08:35 pm ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012

Virginia Elections 2011: McDonnell Stands To Gain Most From GOP Legislative Sweep

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday is Election Day in Virginia. But with voter turnout expected to be low, it's hard to forecast exactly who will show up to the polls -- and how they'll vote.

The biggest contest will be the race to control the state Senate, currently with a narrow 22-18 Democratic majority. If Republicans have a good showing on Tuesday, the party will likely control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's mansion.

And while Gov. Bob McDonnell won't be appearing on any ballot, the potential Republican vice-presidential nominee may stand the most to gain if the GOP takes control of the Senate, currently the "the only barrier to a drastic ideological shift to the right" in Virginia politics, the Washington Examiner wrote last week. Republicans hold a comfortable majority in the House of Delegates.

As Washington Post editorial page writer Lee Hockstader wrote Oct. 30:

Such a sweep might enhance his growing national reputation -- and his vice presidential prospects in 2012.

With Richmond firmly in control of the state government, McDonnell might be able to flex a little more of his conservative muscles, which have been somewhat restrained as he compromised with Senate Democrats and worked on relatively non-controversial "kitchen-table issues," the Post reported Saturday. "Regardless of who wins the majority, I'm going to pursue the same things, but I'll have a lot better chance on some of those things getting done," the governor said, according to the Post.

On Sunday, the Virginian-Pilot asked: "What might a Republican-led Senate get done in Virginia?"

Bills to ease restrictions on guns, expand the death penalty, limit abortion, restrict illegal immigrants' access to higher education, and affirm the state's anti-union labor law are among those a GOP-run Senate might treat more kindly.

State Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran put it more bluntly in an interview last week with WTOP: "What you'll have if the Republicans are successful is a state Senate talking about God, guns and gays."

Both parties have poured tremendous amounts of money and resources into the legislative races.

Because of the expected low turnout, analysts have cautioned reading too much into Tuesday's election results as a signal of how the state may vote in 2012's general elections when President Obama will be at the top of the ticket. Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics tells WTOP that the electorate that will turnout for 2012 will be totally different than Tuesday's.

"The electorate next year will probably be double the size it is for this election," he told the radio station. "I wouldn't put much stock into this in terms of predicting the future."

Victory may hinge on independent voters, who have helped steer the course of recent elections. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week:

If the independent trend shown in Virginia holds, it could be a good night for Republicans. As Pew Research Center noted in September, independents are increasingly dissatisfied by the Democratic-controlled Congress -- and those that dislike Congress are more likely to vote for a Republican candidate.

Polls are open Tuesday between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Here are some community-by-community voter guides in Northern Virginia from Patch.