AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
On election night seven weeks from now, Americans will likely have to look no further than three suburban districts in Virginia – the 2nd, 7th, and 10th, all currently controlled by Democrats – to see both if the GOP will succeed in retaking control of the U.S. House of Representatives and, if so, how big their majority will be.
If Republicans win none of these races, Democrats have a good chance of retaining control of the House and even expanding their majority. If Republicans win just one, who wins the majority is a toss-up and will likely be determined by just a few seats either way. If Republicans win two or all three, it is a safe bet that narratives of a Democratic “resurgence” were overblown, and the GOP is well on its way to a large majority.
Examining each of these races in turn and as a group provides valuable insight into both the dynamics at play in swing districts throughout the country, as well as internal shifts taking place in the Republican Party.
In Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, Republican state senator Jen Kiggans is taking on two-term incumbent Democrat Elaine Luria, who in 2018 defeated Republican Scott Taylor for the seat. The district encompasses Virginia’s Eastern Shore as well as Virginia Beach and several Norfolk suburbs. According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which measures how strongly a state or congressional district leans toward a certain party, VA-02 (which, along with every other district in the state, was redrawn following the 2020 census) has a score of R+2, making it one of the least partisan districts in the country, but also the most Republican of the three.
Looking back at electoral patterns in the 2nd district’s new boundaries, it is clear that both parties have reason to be optimistic for success elsewhere if they do well here. If the district had existed, it would have gone 55%-44% for Republican Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAuliffe in last year’s gubernatorial contest. But three years earlier in 2018 – a good year for Democrats – Democrat Senator Tim Kaine won the same voters by a margin of 52%-45%. Virginia Beach, the district’s largest population center and home to a large military community went for Donald Trump in 2016, but Joe Biden in 2020.
Of particular interest in this race will be how voters react to Elaine Luria’s participation in Democrats’ January 6 Committee. Luria is the only Democrat on the panel who doesn’t represent a “safe” Democratic district. While Republicans have hammered Luria for engaging in a “partisan witch hunt,” Luria has fully embraced her role on the committee, even as the public sours on the proceedings that have now dragged on for more than a year.
In the Virginia 7th, a significantly redrawn district to the south of Arlington and Fairfax Counties, now comprised primarily of parts of Prince William County along with Stafford County, Spotsylvania County, and Culpeper County, former law enforcement officer and Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega is taking on incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger. Cook PVI currently rates the district as D+1, and both parties have devoted significant resources to winning the seat.
As the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants running in a district with a large Latino population relative to Virginia and the country, Republicans hope Vega will be another prime example of Latino realignment and a potential rising star within the GOP. Following Mayra Flores’ stunning upset victory in a Texas border district special election earlier this year, Republicans are betting that Latino candidates (and voters) like Vega will help the party retake control of Congress this fall.
The contest in VA-07 will also be a test of how voters are likely to react to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the power to legislate on abortion to the states. Following a number of statements by Vega in support of the pro-life movement at a campaign event earlier this year, Spanberger has made support for abortion central to her re-election campaign, attempting to brand Vega as an “anti-abortion radical.” Vega, meanwhile, has pointed out Spanberger’s past votes and statements in support of unrestricted abortion access, including in the third trimester of pregnancy.
Republicans face perhaps their biggest challenge in the Virginia 10th, where retired Navy Captain Hung Cao is taking on two-term incumbent Democrat Jennifer Wexton. Though Cook PVI rates this as the most difficult pickup for Republicans at D+6, Cao has by all accounts run an impressive campaign, and appears to be gaining momentum heading into the final weeks of the race. A refugee from Vietnam whose parents escaped shortly before the fall of Saigon in 1975, Cao’s personal story and unabashed patriotism has resonated with voters in a racially diverse district with a large immigrant population.
Anchored in Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, the 10th District has also been ground zero for the national debate over Critical Race Theory and parents’ rights in education, an issue that has taken center stage in this race as well. “Parents play a leading role in their child’s health, wellness and education,” Cao tweeted recently. “Why does the Left continue to subvert parental involvement?” Cao has also held a number of rallies outside school board meetings and slammed Wexton for allowing Democrats to shut down schools for months. For Republicans hoping that education and other cultural issues will help boost them over the top in November, Cao’s race is one to watch.
In all three of these races, the Democratic incumbents have attempted to brand themselves as “moderates,” hoping to avoid the public’s ire with President Joe Biden and Democrats’ far-left policies. For the Republican challengers, a major key to success will be forcing Luria, Spanberger, and Wexton to own their voting record over the past two years. This Congress, Spanberger and Wexton have voted in line with Joe Biden 100% of the time, while Luria has voted with Biden 99% of the time. That voting record includes “yes” votes on legislation like the $1.9 trillion inflation-causing “American Rescue Plan,” the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” that is actually predicted to make inflation worse, and a litany of other radical bills, from a federal takeover of elections to taxpayer funding of abortion-on-demand up until (and in some cases even after) the moment of birth.
It will be up to Kiggans, Vega, and Cao, along with their campaign teams, to force their Democratic opponents to answer for these votes and refuse to allow them to hide behind a veil of moderation. If they can successfully do that and perform well on November 8, it bodes well for Republicans everywhere, likely paving the way for a large Republican majority come January 2023.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.
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