Vega, Kiggans win GOP primaries in Virginia’s battleground districts

Prince William supervisor beats big Republican field to take on Spanberger

By: - June 21, 2022 9:32 pm

Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega (left) poses for a photo with supporter Monique Berthault after a June 20 rally at a Fredericksburg church. “Spanberger is not ready for this woman,” Berthault said afterward.(Photo by Graham Moomaw)

Near the end of a lengthy diatribe against Democrats delivered this week in the sanctuary of a Fredericksburg church, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Hispanics are one of several demographics “galloping” toward Republicans.

He talked up the recent victory in a Texas special election by Republican Mayra Flores, who will be the first Mexican-born woman to serve in Congress. He predicted more South Texas congressional districts would turn red in November, sending a wave of conservative Hispanic women to the U.S. House of Representatives. Virginia too, he said, “has an opportunity to be a game-changer nationally.”

“The commonwealth of Virginia is going to step forward and likewise send a Hispanic woman who’s a conservative to fight in the United States Congress,” Cruz said, drawing a standing ovation from a crowd backing Republican Yesli Vega in one of Virginia’s most closely watched congressional contests.

Vega, a former police officer who in 2019 became the first Latina to serve on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, beat five other Republicans Tuesday to win the GOP nomination in Virginia’s battleground 7th District, where her party is hoping to oust Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer, en route to retaking control in Washington.

At her rally Monday afternoon, Vega — who had endorsements from Cruz, Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell, former Congressman Dave Brat, former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart — said she’d already noticed several Democratic trackers sent to monitor her appearances and statements to prepare to defend Spanberger.

“She’s afraid because she knows what’s coming,” Vega said. “We’re going to bring the fight to her like never before. They don’t know what to do with me since I got elected in Prince William County. They’re still trying to figure it out.”

Vega defeated state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and former Green Beret Derrick Anderson, who had pulled ahead of Reeves for the second-place spot as the final batches of votes were being counted Tuesday night.

Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans handily won the day’s other key GOP primary in the Virginia Beach-centered 2nd District, defeating far-right opponent Jarome Bell and two other candidates. A nurse practitioner and former Navy helicopter pilot, Kiggans will take on Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, a former Navy officer, in a military-heavy swing district.

This is our chance to retake control of our country,” Kiggans said on Twitter after the race was called for her. “It’s time to restore American strength in our economy, at our borders, and on the world stage.”

Neither Spanberger nor Luria faced a primary challenge this year, and both incumbents have already raised millions to try to defend their seats. Virginia Democrats have already sought to portray Vega and Kiggans as hard-right candidates willing to indulge the false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In a statement released before the polls closed Tuesday, Spanberger said each of her would-be opponents has “proven to be far too extreme and has failed to offer any kind of plan to tackle the problems facing Virginians.”

“Instead, they have all promised to criminalize a woman’s right to choose and destroy the right to privacy, dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and pander to mega-donors and the gun lobby rather than protect our families and law enforcement with common-sense gun violence prevention proposals,” Spanberger said.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Luria’s campaign called Kiggans a “political opportunist” and referenced the senator’s controversial vote for a $70 million amendment to the state budget to pay for a forensic audit of the 2020 election, when President Joe Biden beat former President Donald Trump in Virginia by 10 points.

“Kiggans is an election denier who is more interested in auditing the 2020 election and partisan posturing to score cheap political points than the issues that matter most to Hampton Roads,” said Luria campaign manager Kate Fegley.

In less competitive races Tuesday, incumbent Reps. Don Beyer, D-Alexandria, and Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, easily beat little-known and vastly outfunded primary challengers. Retired Air Force veteran Terry Namkung won the Republican primary in the Hampton Roads-based 3rd District, a strongly Democratic seat held by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News.

Kiggans was considered a strong favorite in her race. Vega’s victory was more of a surprise, putting a relative newcomer to Virginia politics in a key spot for the GOP.

Speaking before Cruz, Vega noted her previous role heading up Latino outreach on behalf of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s successful campaign, reiterating disputed exit poll findings of strong Hispanic support for Youngkin that didn’t match actual election results in heavily Hispanic precincts

But Vega’s stump speech showed how her uncommon profile resonated with Republican voters, allowing her to deploy her own family’s story to hit law-and-order themes like supporting police and cracking down on illegal immigration. Vega, the Texas-born child of Salvadoran immigrants who fled civil war, says she was inspired to join law enforcement after a younger brother was shot by MS-13 gang members she called “savages” in a primary-eve TV appearance with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“When we talk about crime, when we talk about the crisis at the southern border, it’s not something that I’ve read. It’s not something somebody told me about. It’s something that I’ve had to live through,” Vega said in her speech at the church.

Several attendees at Vega’s rally said they liked her energy and willingness to fight.

“She’s just so dynamic,” said Norma Timmons, a 72-year-old retiree from Manassas who said she’s been to several Vega events even though she can’t vote for her because she lives in a different district.

David Williams, a 78-year-old retiree from Fredericksburg who was planning to work the polls for Vega on Tuesday, said he admired her “get up and go.”

“I’m looking for somebody that’s going to make some noise,” he said.

The 2022 nominating contests give Virginia Republicans a diverse slate of midterm candidates for a party historically dominated by White men. That image already shifted somewhat last year when Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears became the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia.

In addition to Vega and Kiggans, Republicans had already nominated Hung Cao, a Vietnamese refugee and retired Navy captain, to run against Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton in Northern Virginia’s 10th District. Wexton’s race isn’t expected to be as competitive as Spanberger’s and Luria’s, but high inflation and President Joe Biden’s low approval numbers have given Republicans hope they could potentially win back all three seats they lost in the 2018 anti-Trump wave.

The general election is Nov. 8. In Virginia, early voting begins Sept. 23.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]

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