AMAC Exclusive – By Eleanor Vaughn
Just 50 miles south of Washington, D.C., Republican Yesli Vega and incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger are locked in a heated battle for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District seat, in what could be one of the defining races of this year’s midterm elections. The Cook Political Report lists the contest as one of 33 toss-ups in the House for 2022, while some in Virginia Republican circles believe it could be Republicans’ best chance for a pickup in the state. The contest is in many ways a microcosm of broader political shifts in the country as a whole, and could well be a key indicator for how Republicans fare nationwide this fall.
Once a safe Republican seat, the Virginia 7th has in recent years become a top target for both parties. In 2018, Spanberger narrowly defeated two-term incumbent Republican Dave Brat before herself surviving a re-election scare by a mere 8,000 votes against Virginia State Assemblyman Nick Freitas in 2020.
This time around, Republicans believe they have the ideal candidate to unseat Spanberger in Yesli Vega, a Hispanic American mother, military wife, and law enforcement veteran who has made upholding public safety and expanding economic opportunity two pillars of her campaign.
Vega was born in Houston, Texas, to El Salvadoran immigrants fleeing civil war, eventually moving to Virginia as a young girl. There, she saw first-hand the power of the American Dream, growing up and starting a family with her high-school sweetheart, Rene. After a gang-related tragedy left a friend dead and her brother severely wounded, Vega decided to enter law enforcement to help prevent violence and respond to others in need, starting her career as a police officer with the city of Alexandria and later serving with police departments in Manassas Park and Prince William County.
Vega’s candidacy reflects a growing trend within the Republican Party of women of color – particularly Hispanic women – running for elected office. Mayra Flores, who flipped a previously safe Democratic seat in southern Texas, is an obvious comparison. Cassy Garcia (TX-28) and Monica De La Cruz (TX-15) are two other notable candidates who many observers think also have the potential to be part of an historic wave of Republican women entering Congress next January.
Like Flores, Garcia, and De La Cruz, Vega has emphasized her Christian faith and love of country in her campaign – two themes that have been noticeably lacking in Democrat campaigns in recent years but which connect with Hispanic voters. Indeed, the rising number of Latino Republican candidates directly coincides with growing support among Hispanic voters for the Republican Party generally. According to a recent New York Times/Siena College survey, Democrats have just a 3-point advantage over Republicans with Hispanic voters on the generic ballot – a striking finding given that Democrats won the Hispanic vote by more than 40 points during the last midterm cycle in 2018.
Vega also shares a number of similarities with another woman of color who fared quite well in the Old Dominion just one year ago – Virginia Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears. Both Sears and Vega served their communities – Vega as a police officer and Sears as a U.S. Marine – before shifting into politics to address growing problems facing the ordinary people they knew and worked with.
In the Virginia 7th, as in most areas throughout the country, the most urgent concern facing voters is the economy. Vega has emphasized the rising cost of living and record high inflation – caused by massive Democrat spending – as key examples of the failure of Democrat governance. Vega has also hammered Spanberger and the Democratic Party over the border crisis and crime wave, arguing that Americans need more leaders with law enforcement experience like herself in office to better ensure public safety.
The success of Vega’s campaign will likely depend in large part on her success at dispelling Spanberger’s attempts to brand herself as a “moderate,” a label that is becoming more and more difficult to believe in today’s increasingly radicalized Democratic Party. Though Spanberger has consistently touted her “bipartisan” label during her two terms in Washington and is a member of the “Problem Solver’s Caucus,” she has voted with President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time this Congress – directly tying her to Democrats’ far-left agenda. For Vega, cutting through Spanberger’s facade of moderation will be key during the campaign’s final months.
In a district that voted both for Biden and for Youngkin, 2022 promises to provide an intriguing look at where Virginia and the country are headed: Will Democrats be able to run from their failed policies and cling to power? Or will last year’s trend toward Republicans continue? If conservatives win in November, diverse and exciting candidates like Yesli Vega will probably be a big reason why.
Eleanor Vaughn is a writer living in Virginia.
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