RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Republican Rep. Rob Wittman, Democrat Herb Jones and independent David Foster are all vying for Virginia’s 1st Congressional District seat in this year’s midterms.
Wittman, a member of Congress since 2007, is running to represent a new 1st District that now includes parts of Henrico and Chesterfield counties.
Jones, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as New Kent County treasurer, is the CEO of a cloud-computing and logistics firm.
Foster, an independent conservative, ran for Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District seat in 2020 but only received 2.5% of the vote.
8News spoke with all three to learn more about their platforms, the top issues voters have shared with them on the campaign trail and what they’re focusing on as Election Day inches closer.
A closer look at Virginia’s new 1st District
Virginia’s political lines changed in late 2021 with redistricting, shifting voters into new congressional and state legislative districts.
The largest share of voters in Virginia’s new 1st Congressional District come from parts of Chesterfield (20%) and Henrico (23%), according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The counties were not part of the district before redistricting.
Hanover County makes up nearly 12% of the district, followed by James City County with 10% and York County with 8.69%, according to VPAP.
An analysis from VPAP shows that voters in the district would have favored Republicans in the last six statewide elections, from last year’s gubernatorial election to the 2016 presidential election.
- Localities added to new 1st District: Parts of Henrico and Chesterfield counties, York County, City of Williamsburg, City of Poquoson
- Localities no longer in the 1st District: Caroline County, Fauquier County, City of Fredericksburg, King George County, Prince William County, Spotsylvania County and Stafford County
On the issues
Voters’ top issues
8News asked the candidates what voters are saying their top issues are for this year’s congressional midterms.
“Well, the number one issue is the economy,” Wittman said in an interview, adding that people have expressed concerns about the high prices for food, fuel and a potential recession. He also said people have talked about crime, border control, the attack on Ukraine and the desire to have more input on the education systems in their communities.
Jones said he’s heard from 1st District residents who are concerned about abortion rights and the prices for everyday items, such as gas and medicine. He also pointed to Wittman’s voting record, specifically votes against certifying the electors from Pennsylvania and the commission to investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“There a lot of folks who believe in democracy and believe in freedom and his vote to overturn the 2020 election results has a lot of people upset,” Jones told 8News.
When asked about the top issues for voters he’s spoken to, Foster shared criticism of mandates and the economy being put on hold in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Polls have shown that the top issue for Virginia voters ahead of the election is the economy, but with a partisan split among voters. While several factors have contributed to high inflation and gas prices rising, the candidates presented different concerns and solutions to address the issue.
Jones called inflation “a worldwide problem” brought on by the pandemic and its effects, including supply chain issues, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the instability of oil prices as a result.
He did lay blame on Republicans, saying they complain about inflation “but they don’t have solutions,” and accusing them of being critical of President Joe Biden but not turning their attention to moves former President Donald Trump made in response to the pandemic.
“Trump was fortunate enough to inherit a great economy from President Obama, but he wants to take all the credit for it,” Jones said. “So, Biden inherits a fiasco from Trump, and he actually turns it around and folks are complaining about inflation as if what Trump had done didn’t have any impact on this.”
Wittman told 8News he’s heard from voters who want to see the U.S. grow its manufacturing base and create “base elements that we need for our economy to grow.” He said he backs calls to increase the U.S.’s effort to manufacture semiconductors, “to increase energy production” and manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Not relying on China for products, Wittman said, would help address supply chain issues. He added that he believes the U.S. can expand nuclear power generation and that Virginia should play a part in the effort.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in June striking down the constitutional right to an abortion pushed women’s reproductive rights to the forefront of the midterms.
Jones told 8News he believes whether a pregnant woman chooses to have an abortion is a private decision she should make with her doctor and loved ones and that the “government should have nothing to do with” it.
“It’s a medical procedure,” he said. “Why are we involved in women making a private decision?”
Wittman has noted that as a child of adoption, he’s anti-abortion with exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the mother’s life.
After the Supreme Court decision, legislation was put forward to enshrine contraceptive access into law but Wittman voted against the measure. He told 8News that “there is not any sort of endangerment on people’s rights to access contraception.”
“I am a believer in full access to contraception across the spectrum and I think that needs to be maintained but I think too that bringing up a bill where there is no issue, brings us down a slippery slope,” Wittman said. “I want to make sure Congress is addressing real issues that are before us. Congress is not about addressing theoreticals. I just don’t think that’s who we are as legislators.”
Jan. 6 insurrection
Jones said Wittman’s decision not to certify Pennsylvania’s electors and approve the Jan. 6 commission played a major part in getting him into the race.
He also noted Wittman’s vote against changes to the Electoral Count Act to clarify that the vice president’s role in the count is only ceremonial and other updates to prevent any effort to overturn a presidential election.
“I’ve put my life on the line for this country as did a lot of other folks,” Jones, a retired military officer who did two tours in Iraq, told 8News. “The bottom line is, I care about this country. My parents sacrificed, my grandparents sacrificed, and I stand on their shoulders.”
When asked why he did not vote to certify Pennsylvania’s electoral count, Wittman called it “purely a constitutional decision,” claiming a dispute over whether the state’s executive branch did not follow state law when making changes to the election process led to the vote.
“I was not going to vote to certify electors when the constitutional question was still pending,” Wittman told 8News. “Even if there were enough members of Congress not to certify the Pennsylvania electors, Joe Biden would’ve still had 270 electoral votes so that would have not changed the outcome of the election.”
Wittman added that he felt Jan. 6, 2021, was “an absolutely horrendous day for this nation” and that the people who did not follow the law that day “need to be held accountable.”
On his vote against overhauling the Electoral Count Act, Wittman said, “I believe in the Electoral College. The Electoral College works. I was making sure that we still had the opportunity, as members of Congress, to be involved in that. I didn’t think this bill allowed members of Congress to perform their constitutional duties and what we are required to do in the Electoral College confirmation.”
Who is winning the money race?
As an incumbent, Wittman’s fundraising haul is much larger than Jones’. According to figures from the Federal Election Commission, Wittman’s campaign has brought in nearly $1.9 million and Jones’ has raised just over $263,000.
Foster has not submitted campaign finance records with the commission, records show.
Campaign finance reports provide a peek into how much each campaign has raised, how they have spent their money, specific political donors and the cash they have on hand for political advertisements.
Foster’s message to the 1st District
Foster says he’s the real threat to Wittman in the district, saying he doesn’t think a Democrat can win over the area’s Republican base and calling himself the “conservative voice for the whole district.”
“Since collecting my signatures that I did on my own, the voter base tells me within the fishing community Wittman has never supported them in his 15 years and they want to see him gone. But because there’s only been two people on the ballot, a conservative base 70 percent to 30 percent Democrat, they’ll never cross over the aisle completely just to get Wittman out,” Foster told 8News. “So, he’s remained in office way too long and people just tell me ‘we pray he does a better job in the next two years.’”
“I went through the trailer parks to the mansions on the rivers and in between collecting signatures to get on the ballot cause I know everybody is important within a district,” he said
“I’m not going to Congress to get along. I’m going to Congress to battle and to get as many of these people out. And come 2024, I want to see many, many independents, left or right, on every ballot across America.”
You can find his campaign website here.
Jones’ message to the 1st District
If elected, Jones says he wants to focus his time in Congress on working on legislation to ensure women can make their own decisions regarding their health care, address climate change and bolster transportation infrastructure.
“I’m going to be the kind of congressman that’s actually going to represent the interests and the values of freedom and democracy, peace and justice for the first district,” he told 8News.
You can find his campaign website here.
Wittman’s message to the 1st District
While he’s running to represent a new 1st District, Wittman says he believes voters should look at his accomplishments in Congress and said he will seek to continue to work across the aisle on legislative priorities.
“I have a record of getting things done. Things I’m very proud of like recognition for Virginia Indian tribes, like assuring that each and every year we pass a National Defense Authorization Act which is the foundation of our military and defending this nation,” Wittman said.
Wittman said he will focus on standing up for fiscal responsibility and “making sure government is accountable.”
You can find his campaign website here.
Early voting in Virginia started in September and runs until Nov. 5. Election Day is Nov. 8.