Inside the precinct at Herndon Middle School in Fairfax County on Nov. 8, 2022 (Nathaniel Cline / Virginia Mercury)
Republicans flipped their easiest Virginia target in Tuesday’s midterm elections but fell short of their high expectations as Democrats successfully defended two other contested seats.
State Sen. Jen Kiggans, a Republican from Virginia Beach, defeated Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria by roughly four percentage points in the Hampton Roads-focused 2nd District, the seat most likely to flip to GOP control.
But Republicans were unable to win back bluer territory to the north, where Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton held off Republican challengers Yesli Vega and Hung Cao in the 7th and 10th districts, respectively.
In prepared remarks she was set to deliver in a victory speech, Kiggans, a nurse practitioner and former Navy helicopter pilot, called the outcome “a new day for our Commonwealth and our country.”
“We’re here to celebrate a renewed commitment to restore American strength, a commitment to restore a strong economy, strong schools, strong communities, and a strong national defense,” Kiggans said.
The Associated Press had called all three races by a little after 11 p.m., but it could take a few days for the numbers to solidify as election officials continue tabulating votes. Virginia enacted same-day voter registration for the first time this year, which could increase the number of provisional ballots to be counted after Election Day.
Democratic losses in two or all three districts would have been another ominous sign for a party that lost races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general last year. But the mixed results gave national Democrats hope they were avoiding the type of worst-case scenario some feared.
“After being stuck in a pandemic, with the burden of rising prices, and in what feels like an increasingly divisive political climate – we’re moving again,” Wexton, an attorney and former state senator, said in a campaign statement. “ I’m proud that we’ve made progress to get the economy back on track and get people back to work, fight inflation and lower prices, and bring our communities together around the issues that matter most.”
As she addressed supporters, Spanberger talked up the need to bridge the country’s divides.
“Tonight we must recommit ourselves to the cause of our country, to the communities we live in, and to our neighbors, whether they align with us politically or not,” Spanberger said. “Our children and our grandchildren deserve that.”
With no surprises among the state’s other eight congressional races, Republicans are set to have five of Virginia’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, with Democrats controlling six.
Republicans sought to tie Virginia’s three endangered Democrats to the policies of President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying Democrats hadn’t done enough to address high prices, crime and border security.
Democrats portrayed Luria, Spanberger and Wexton as bipartisan problem-solvers and called the trio of Republican challengers too extreme for the swing districts they sought to represent, emphasizing the Republicans’ anti-abortion positions and unwillingness to denounce election conspiracy theories that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The focus for Virginia politics now turns to next year’s high-stakes General Assembly contests, which will determine whether Gov. Glenn Youngkin will serve out the second half of his four-year term with a Republican legislature or continue to have key pieces of his agenda blocked by Democrats.
The victory by Kiggans sets up a special election to fill her seat in the Virginia Senate, where Democrats currently have a 21-19 majority.
The swing Hampton Roads district Kiggans represents was decided by roughly 500 votes in 2019, creating an opening for Democrats to pick up an additional seat ahead of what’s expected to be a contentious debate next year over Virginia’s abortion laws. Republicans have proposed banning most abortions after 15 weeks, but Senate Democrats would have an easier time blocking that bill if they could add to their slim majority.
The exact timing of that special election is unclear, but it could occur early next year as the 2023 legislative session gets underway.
This story has been updated to add remarks from Kiggans.
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