In Va., Democrats look to women to win

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Local News - By Marc Fisher and Jenna Port­noy The Washington Post

Fe­male can­di­dates push to flip 7-4 GOP ad­van­tage in House

If Repub­li­cans are go­ing to pre­vent a blue wave from wash­ing over the coun­try on Nov. 6, the evening’s first sign of a stop could come in Vir­ginia, where peo­ple such as Larnie All­good are ea­ger to send a mes­sage in sup­port of their pres­i­dent.

All­good, a retired telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions worker, is vot­ing to re-elect his con­gress­man, Dave Brat, be­cause, he said, “he and Don­ald Trump don’t fit in that swamp in D.C. I don’t pay much at­ten­tion to what Trump says, but I watch what he does with the tax cuts and the jobs com­ing back in.”

If Democrats are go­ing to wrest away the House and gain a foothold on power in the Trump era, an early elec­tion night in­di­ca­tor will come shortly af­ter the polls close at 7 p.m. in Vir­ginia, one of the battleground states with the most close races in the East­ern time zone.

To flip at least a cou­ple of Vir­ginia’s four vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­can seats, Democrats need peo­ple such as Mei Wu to break with their past and ex­press their frus­tra­tion with an an­tag­o­niz­ing pres­i­dent.

“We have re­mained silent for too long — no more,” said Wu, an elec­tri­cal project man­ager in sub­ur­ban Rich­mond who just joined a newly or­ga­nized group of Asian Amer­i­cans, most of them im­mi­grants, in sup­port of Brat’s Demo­cratic chal­lenger, Abi­gail Span­berger. “We Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans are nat­u­rally con­ser­va­tive ... But the pres­i­dent tells so many lies and at­tacks im­mi­grants so much, he’s pushed a lot of us to the Demo­cratic side.”

From a dis­tance, next month’s midterm elec­tion in a deeply di­vided na­tion presents a bi­nary choice be­tween red and blue. But con­trol of the House will be de­ter­mined es­pe­cially in pur­ple places such as Vir­ginia, where new­com­ers from other states and coun­tries have boosted the econ­omy and cre­ated sur­pris­ing chances for Democrats.

Na­tion­wide, Democrats need to flip 23 seats to take over the House. In Vir­ginia, where Repub­li­cans hold a 7-4 ad­van­tage over Democrats in House seats, there are four real races, three in dis­tricts that Trump won hand­ily two years ago and that Repub­li­cans have con­sid­ered safe in re­cent cy­cles.

The close races are tak­ing place not only in the af­flu­ent sub­urbs of Washington, but also in cen­tral Vir­ginia around Rich­mond, the sea­side com­mu­ni­ties around Vir­ginia Beach and in a mas­sive dis­trict that in­cludes some of the Washington, D.C. ex­urbs, Char­lottesville and a ru­ral swath reach­ing all the way to the North Carolina bor­der.

With sub­ur­ban women trend­ing na­tion­wide against Trump, the Democrats have cho­sen women to run in all four of the tight races. Three are run­ning for of­fice for the first time. Two are vet­eran na­tional se­cu­rity pro­fes­sion­als — Span­berger and Elaine Luria, a for­mer Navy com­man­der who is chal­leng­ing Rep. Scott Tay­lor in the 2nd, which in­cludes Vir­ginia Beach and the East­ern Shore.

The chal­lengers are run­ning close to or even ahead of the Repub­li­cans, ac­cord­ing to re­cent sur­veys. And the money is pour­ing in. In the three most com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts — Brat’s, Tay­lor’s and Rep. Bar­baraCom­stock’sintheWash­ing­ton sub­urbs of the 10th Dis­trict — po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees inde- pen­dent of the cam­paigns have spent $9.2 mil­lion through Septem­ber, more than four times the pre­vi­ous record, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Vir­ginia Pub­lic Ac­cess Project.

In Vir­ginia’s 7th Dis­trict, Brat, a mild-man­nered eco­nomics pro­fes­sor who stunned his own party by oust­ing then-House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 Repub­li­can pri­mary, now finds him­self in a tight bat­tle against Span­berger, a for­mer un­der­cover CIA agent and sub­ur­ban mother.

In a dis­trict that stretches from Rich­mond’s in­creas­ingly blue sub­urbs through ru­ral farm­land and up to the outer reaches of the Washington, D.C., metro area, Span­berger knows she can’t oust a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent un­less she wins both those who tell her that “I need to vote for you be­cause the news is too much,” and those who start their con­ver­sa­tions with “I’m a Repub­li­can, but.”

The 7th is one of Vir­ginia’s strangely elon­gated dis­tricts, fat fin­gers drawn by Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors to en­com­pass sub­ur­ban and ru­ral ter­rain that was ex­pected to en­sure re-elec­tion for GOP con­gress­men.

But that recipe is not work­ing as well as it used to, as vot­ers in the 7th’s two large sub­ur­ban Rich­mond coun­ties — Hen­rico and Ch­ester- field — shift to­ward the Democrats. Lastyear,DemocratRalphNortham won the gover­nor’s race by flip­ping sub­ur­ban coun­ties in some of the dis­tricts up for grabs next month.

“The polling shows this re­ally se­vere split be­tween ru­ral and sub­ur­ban vot­ers, es­pe­cially women, and as a Repub­li­can like Brat, you can do ev­ery­thing right in a very tough en­vi­ron­ment like this and it could still go the other way,” said Tucker Martin, a long­time ad­viser to Vir­ginia Repub­li­can can­di­dates. “If you’re dis­af­fected by what’s go­ing on in Washington, Span­berger is telling peo­ple she can be that safe place for you.”

“Our vote is there in all of those Vir­ginia dis­tricts,” said Repub­li­can poll­ster John McLaugh­lin. “They didn’t move away. The prob­lem is, you’re see­ing a lot of Trump vot­ers stay home this year.”

The Demo­cratic women in the four close races speak to each other reg­u­larly and are “of­fer­ing vari­a­tions on sim­i­lar mes­sages,” Span­berger said, “tak­ing dis­tricts that were not even in the realm of pos­si­ble and turn­ing them into ones we can win.”

Those vari­a­tions are most ap­par­ent in how the Democrats talk about their op­po­si­tion to Trump. Two chal­lengers are the more avowedly lib­eral of the bunch and present them­selves as part of the an­tiTrump re­sis­tance move­ment: In the 5th Dis­trict, a slice of Vir­ginia larger than New Jer­sey that stretches from the D.C. ex­urbs to the North Carolina bor­der, Les­lie Cock­burn, a vet­eran jour­nal­ist, is run­ning for an open seat against Repub­li­can Den­ver Rig­gle­man, and in the 10th, which ex­tends from in­side the Cap­i­tal Belt­way out to the Shenan­doah Val­ley, state Sen. Jen­nifer Wex­ton is chal­leng­ing Com­stock.

Luri­aandS­pan­berger,in­con­trast, shade to­ward the cen­ter, po­si­tion­ing them­selves as prag­ma­tists who will some­times stand tall against the pres­i­dent, even as they reach out to dis­af­fected Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents by em­pha­siz­ing that they will work with Trump when that makes sense. Span­berger pur­posely avoids di­rect comment on Trump. “I don’t men­tion him,” she said. “I’m not run­ning against him. I don’t want to re-lit­i­gate 2016. What good does it do for me to vil­ify him if I’m go­ing to need him to sign my bills?”

Luria, one of the first women to serve her en­tire Navy ca­reer on com­bat ships, said she has al­ways con­sid­ered her­self a Demo­crat. Al­though she voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016, she also backed Tay­lor that year be­cause she thought he would gov­ern as a mod­er­ate.

Now, Luria por­trays Tay­lor as a GOP foot soldier who votes with his party 98 per­cent of the time. Luria em­pha­sizes her mil­i­tary pedi­gree and avoids Trump-bash­ing in a dis­trict that in­cludes the world’s largest naval base.

Over sev­eral re­cent ap­pear­ances, Luria never ut­tered Trump’s name. But she made clear her op­po­si­tion to the pres­i­dent by point­ing out that Tay­lor had backed away from prom­ises to op­pose off­shore drilling — which Trump sup­ports — and to main­tain health care cov­er­age for pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, which would have been left un­cov­ered in a Trump-backed bill.

Demo­cratic strate­gists have en­cour­aged Luria and the other Vir­ginia can­di­dates to talk about Trump’s pol­icy fail­ures rather than ex­plic­itly at­tack­ing the pres­i­dent. “What we’re telling our can­di­dates is that that’s baked in,” said Rep. A. Don­ald McEachin, D-Va., a top of­fi­cial in the party’s con­gres­sional cam­paign com­mit­tee. “Just go­ing out and bash­ing Trump for the sake of Trump — you’ve got those vot­ers al­ready.”


For­mer Navy com­man­der Elaine Luria is chal­leng­ing Repub­li­can Rep. Scott Tay­lor in the 2nd Dis­trict. Luria avoids Trump-bash­ing in a dis­trict that in­cludes the world’s largest naval base.

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