In Va., Democrats look to women to win
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.