Commentary

Stage is set for dramatic House races in Virginia this fall

June 24, 2022 12:02 am

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)

By Kyle Kondik 

Matchups are set for a pair of high-profile House races in our home state. State Sen. Jen Kiggans (R) will face Rep. Elaine Luria (D, VA-2) in a Hampton Roads-based seat, while Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega (R) won a competitive primary for the right to challenge Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D, VA-7). The Crystal Ball rates the former a Toss-up and the latter Leans Democratic.

Democrats were hoping that a far-right Republican, Jarome Bell, would beat Kiggans, and some even tried to help make that happen. But Kiggans, a prized national Republican recruit, won easily, 56%-27%. Joe Biden won VA-2 by only a couple of points — down a few points from the previous iteration of the district — and we’ve previously noted that it is now the median House district by presidential performance. The district, under differing lines, has a swingy history: It has changed hands 4 times since the 2000 election, and very well could a fifth time this year.

Meanwhile, Vega emerged from a crowded field in the reconfigured VA-7, which used to include some of the Richmond area but instead is now more oriented in Northern Virginia. Biden won it by about 7 points, and Spanberger is among the most impressive of the newish crop of Democratic House members (she was first elected in 2018). But her power of incumbency, to the extent it matters (debatable these days), is mitigated by the district being so new to her, and Republicans will heavily target her.

It may be that, given the way the cycle is developing, that VA-2 will soon move into Leans Republican territory and VA-7 will be a Toss-up. We’re not quite yet there ourselves but we can understand the sentiment.

Virginia ended up being a big part of Democratic waves in 2008 and 2018 and the Republican wave in 2010, as the winning side flipped 3 seats apiece in the commonwealth in those 3 elections, respectively. Republicans do have clear targets in VA-2 and VA-7. They might have a third target, too, although it would be a considerably harder lift than the other 2.

A month ago, Republicans in VA-10 nominated Navy veteran Hung Cao (R) to face Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D, VA-10) in an affluent, highly-educated Northern Virginia district. In Virginia, party nominees are sometimes selected in different formats than a traditional primary; Cao ended up winning the nomination through a party-run, ranked-choice “firehouse primary.”

The candidacy of Cao, who was born in Vietnam before his family fled the country following the fall of Saigon in 1975, helps illustrate the growing diversity of Northern Virginia: The redrawn 10th is nearly one-fifth Asian American (the aforementioned VA-7 is also diverse, just barely majority non-Hispanic white). Wexton won renomination, unopposed, in Tuesday night’s primary.

Biden won VA-10 58%-40% in 2020, which means it is likely not winnable for Republicans at the congressional level anymore. However, the district is not as Democratic down-ballot, and now-Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) only lost it by 2 points last November.

We’re adding it to the competitive board at Likely Democratic; given how grim things appear to be for Democrats in the overall race for the House, we’re trying to cast a somewhat wide net in identifying potentially competitive districts.

Kyle Kondik is managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ nonpartisan newsletter on American campaigns and elections, where this piece first appeared.

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