DUMFRIES, Va. (AP) — Republicans knocked off one of three Democratic congresswomen in Virginia who faced tough reelection bids Tuesday in a midterm election season where the GOP sought to regain control of the House of Representatives.
Republican challenger Jen Kiggans, a state senator, defeated Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria in a district centered in Virginia Beach that was tweaked in redistricting to make it more favorable to the GOP.
But Abigail Spanberger won reelection over Republican Yesli Vega in a 7th District seat that the GOP had made one of its top national targets. And another Democratic incumbent, Jennifer Wexton, fended off Republican Hung Cao in Virginia's 10th District, which is centered in the outer suburbs of the nation's capital.
Kiggans, in her victory speech, called her win “a new day for our commonwealth and for our country.”
“We’re here to celebrate a renewed commitment to restore American strength in our economy, at our borders, in our community and on the world stage,” she said.
Luria promised a smooth transition in her concession speech and urged her supporters to be supportive of Kiggans.
“The success of this district depends on her success,” Luria said. "She won this election. We came out short of where we wanted to land. But the truth is that we do need to wish her the best of luck.”
Spanberger, in her victory speech, also urged her supporters to set partisanship aside.
“Tonight we must recommit ourselves to the cause of our country, to the communities we live in and to our neighbors, whether they align with us politically or not,” Spanberger said.
Wexton, Spanberger and Luria were all elected to Congress in 2018. All three were top targets of the GOP in this election cycle.
Kiggans’ win also sets the stage for a special election to fill her seat in the narrowly divided state Senate, which is currently controlled by Democrats.
Luria’s race against Kiggans and Spanberger’s race against Vega, a Prince William County supervisor, in particular, are among the highest-profile congressional races in the country.
Luria, a retired naval commander, was running in Virginia’s 2nd District. It includes Virginia Beach and is home to an outsize military presence. It has long been a swing district in Virginia and remains so, though the most recent round of redistricting made it slightly more favorable to the GOP than it was.
Kiggans also has military bona fides as a former Navy helicopter pilot. Luria, who serves on the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, has called Kiggans an election denier. Kiggans has acknowledged that Joe Biden is president but has remained silent on whether she believes he was fairly elected.
Spanberger, in her race, saw her 7th District boundaries radically overhauled, forcing her to introduce herself to a whole new swath of constituents. The district was based in central Virginia in 2018 when she became a darling of the Democratic Party for knocking off conservative Republican Dave Brat.
The district is now centered in the northern Virginia and Fredericksburg areas, and Spanberger does not live within its new borders.
Spanberger campaigned on abortion rights, running ads that highlighted comments from Vega that expressed doubt about whether women could become pregnant from rape.
Vega raised millions and brought in high-profile GOP surrogates. She highlighted her life story as a daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, and would become Virginia’s first Latina member of Congress if elected.
Wexton, a former prosecutor and state legislator, was favored in her reelection bid. Wexton has won more than 56% of the vote in her last two elections. But Republicans had high hopes for Cao, a retired Navy captain and Vietnamese immigrant, in a district with high percentages of Asian Americans and military families.
Loudoun County is the heart of the 10th District where Wexton and Cao squared off, and has been ground zero in a national debate over how schools address issues like sexuality and transgender rights. Cao sought to tap into anger from conservatives who argue that parents' role in teaching values to their children is being supplanted.
Wexton addressed the issue in her victory speech, saying “those trying to turn parents against kids and their teachers and using students as political pawns are getting in the way of our children getting on the path to success.”
In the Kiggans-Luria race, Jim Ross said he voted Republican because of the economy, specifically rising inflation and the wavering stock market.
“If I had known it would be like this, I would have bought an electric car and took all my money out of my retirement,” said Ross, 61, a retired electrician in Virginia Beach.
Ross wants to send Kiggans to Washington to help stop Democrats from spending government money, which he believes contributed to high inflation.
“I can believe in the first stimulus packages,” Ross in regards to pandemic-related relief. “But the last one I don’t think they needed to do.”
But Deborah McElroy, 72, of Virginia Beach, said Republicans are not offering any real economic solutions.
“What are they seeing that I don’t?” said McElroy, who retired from a career in radiology and is an adjunct professor of medical terminology. “Whatever interest group offers (Kiggans) the most money, that’s the way she’s going. So how do they think she’s going to help the economy? I must have missed it.”
In the state’s eight other congressional districts four Republican incumbents — Morgan Griffith, Rob Wittman, Bob Good and Ben Cline — and four Democratic incumbents — Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Bobby Scott and Donald McEachin — all won reelection handily.
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