RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Two swing districts in Virginia held by Democrats could flip and help Republicans take control of Congress for the rest of President Joe Biden’s first term.
All 11 of Virginia’s congressional districts are on the ballot this November. While the winners won’t be known until the votes are counted, two races stand out in the fight for party control in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the 2nd District, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) is facing off against state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach). The race is a toss-up, a new poll shows, and is seen as one of the closest in this year’s midterms.
The other race in Virginia being closely watched is between Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Republican Yesli Vega in the 7th Congressional District. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections, moved the race from “lean Democrat” to a “toss-up” two weeks before Election Day.
“They’re dealing with very purple districts,” Richard Meagher, 8News political analyst and Randolph-Macon College associate professor of political science, said about Luria and Spanberger. “They’re not strong blue or red in any way.”
Both Luria and Spanberger flipped their districts in 2018 during Democrats’ “blue wave” when former President Donald Trump, who lost twice in Virginia, was in office. Those victories followed a typical trend in midterms in which the party in the White House loses U.S. House seats.
Unlike then, President Biden sits in the White House and has struggled with low approval ratings and questions about the economy in the face of high inflation and rising interest rates. These factors could help Republicans get the five net seats the party needs to seize House control.
The president’s favorability, Meagher said, could impact how Luria and Spanberger campaign.
“And so they might be encouraged to find a way to give lukewarm support for the president or embracing the parts of his agenda they think will resonate with their voters and try to reject some to make themselves appear independent,” Meagher continued.
The Republicans vying to unseat Luria and Spanberger have tried to tie them to Biden and his agenda. Sen. Kiggans and Vega, a Prince William County Supervisor, have been critical of large spending packages passed by Democrats and have attributed high inflation to them.
Vega has said Spanberger votes with and shares “Biden’s positions 100% of the time.” PolitiFact rated Vega’s statement “mostly true,” noting that Spanberger and nearly 200 other House Democrats back the president 100% when he comes out with a position on a proposal but adding that she doesn’t always agree with the president on the issues.
The Democrats have distanced themselves from national figures like Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, typical targets of GOP candidates on the campaign trail.
Luria said during her first debate with Kiggans that she didn’t support how Biden approached his plan for federal student loan forgiveness.
In February, Spanberger and Biden were in Virginia’s 7th District to talk about efforts to reduce prescription drug prices, a key initiative for the congresswoman. But the president has not made a stop in the district since.
This type of campaigning, Meagher said, highlights what the political world has been talking about for some time: the nationalization of local elections.
“This is a congressional election so it’s of course an election of the national government so of course the national situation, the national mood affects congressional elections,” he said. “But it seems like the personalities and the people involved are less important than the partisan labels and what’s going on at the national level I think more than ever before.”
Meagher added that he believes this year’s congressional midterms, more than elections in recent memory, are “a referendum on how you feel about the direction the country is going.”
“I think it’s a national question,” he told 8News, “and the question is less to me about how successful Luria and Kiggans are able to tell stories about themselves and more about how successfully they’re able to tap into this national environment about Biden, the economy and reproductive rights.”
Biden’s favorability numbers ticked up a bit in the summer, a bump Meagher attributes to better economic news, lower gas prices, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and legislative moves. But those gains appear to be gone in the latest polling.
One key indicator of how the races are being seen on the national stage is the money flowing into the campaigns and for advertisements, with advantages for the Democrats.
According to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, Luria has raised nearly $8.8 million, Kiggans has brought in $2.6 million, Spanberger has raised $7.7 million and Vega has hauled in nearly $2.3 million.
In terms of spending on political ads, a VPAP analysis shows that $13.2 million has been used on pro-Spanberger or anti-Vega ads, and $10.4 million has been spent on pro-Vega or anti-Spanberger ads.
VPAP shows $7.3 million has been spent on pro-Luria or anti-Kiggans ads, and $6.36 million has been used on pro-Kiggans or anti-Luria ads.
The races for Virginia’s 2nd and 7th districts look like they will come “down to the wire,” Meagher said. He added he wouldn’t be surprised by the way the races end up.