The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kiggans projected to oust Luria while Spanberger hangs on in Va. races

Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton also was projected to win reelection

Republican Jen A. Kiggans is welcomed to the stage by supporters in Virginia Beach as she celebrates her projected victory in Virginia's 2nd Congressional District. (Kristen Zeis for The Washington Post)

State Sen. Jen A. Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) ousted Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) from office in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, according to unofficial returns, a race that Republicans saw as a potential pickup in their bid to take control of Congress.

Luria was one of three Virginia Democratic congresswomen targeted by Republicans this year, making the commonwealth a key battleground and a gauge of the strength of Republicans’ anticipated red wave.

Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton were projected to win their races in the 7th and 10th districts, respectively, fending off aggressive challenges from their Republican opponents.

The race between Kiggans and Luria, both Navy veterans, was one of the most competitive in the nation, and Kiggans capitalized on widespread discontent with the state of the economy and President Biden’s low approval rating to drive her campaign.

Surrounded by family late Tuesday, she thanked supporters and Luria for her years of service in Congress and the military, noting that despite their differences, “We certainly share a love for our Navy and our country.” The ballroom at the Westin Virginia Beach Town Center erupted in chants of “USA!”

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“We’re here to celebrate a new commitment to restore American strength in our economy, at our borders, in our communities and on the world stage,” Kiggans told the crowd.

Spanberger’s apparent victory Tuesday over Yesli Vega (R), a firebrand, Trump-endorsed county official, marks the third time she has emerged on top in one of the most watched races in the nation, having first flipped the 7th District blue in 2018.

Running in a new district that shifted to the Northern Virginia exurbs, Spanberger, a former CIA case officer, needed to introduce herself to hundreds of thousands of new voters. Throughout the campaign, she energized Democrats with an emphasis on protecting abortion rights — repeatedly highlighting comments Vega had made appearing to cast doubt on rape-related pregnancy — while appealing to center-right and left voters with pledges to work across the aisle in Congress on kitchen-table issues.

“I stand before you this evening for a deep and abiding love for our country and a profound sense of responsibility, and one I have sought to honor through action,” Spanberger said in her victory speech, before thanking Vega for her campaign, “her family for their sacrifices, her supporters for their engagement in our democracy.”

View Virginia election results

In the next district over, Wexton was projected to defeat Republican Hung Cao, a retired Navy captain and Vietnamese refugee who fought to turn the Loudoun County-anchored 10th District red this year. Wexton, a former prosecutor and a two-term congresswoman, sought to defend the Northern Virginia territory she had flipped during the 2018 blue wave but that had gotten slightly redder during redistricting, contributing to Republican excitement that they could oust her.

All eight other Virginia members of the U.S. House were up for reelection as well. Republican Reps. Bob Good, Rob Wittman, Ben Cline and H. Morgan Griffith were projected to win their reelection bids, as were Democratic Reps. A. Donald McEachin, Don Beyer, Gerald E. Connolly and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott.

National Republicans poured millions into the 2nd and 7th districts to compete with the enormous war chests of Luria and Spanberger, as the candidates put forth dueling messages on marquee issues of the campaign, namely the state of the economy and abortion.

Republicans in the competitive Virginia districts largely framed the races as a referendum on Biden and the economy, repeatedly decrying record-high inflation and high government spending in Washington, while tying their opponents to Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Democrats, meanwhile, warned that a Republican Congress could try to pass national abortion restrictions or bans in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, and pledged to protect abortion rights. They also pointed to the intended achievements of all that spending, such as major investments in infrastructure and lowering health-care costs for seniors.

Luria emerged as the rare Democrat to stake her reelection campaign on democracy issues, which she highlighted in her closing pitch of the campaign. Luria, a retired Navy commander, frequently said she did not care if focusing on her service on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol cost her the race, noting it was the most important work of her professional life.

She had hammered Kiggans increasingly harder in the final weeks for not answering whether Biden was legitimately elected, which Kiggans bullishly avoided, hewing strictly to a message about high prices at the grocery store or the gas station. And Luria hammered her on abortion as well, accusing her of wanting to ban abortion nationwide without exception. Kiggans called the ads a lie and said she did support exceptions to abortion bans. Attorney General Jason S. Miyares told CNN as her surrogate that she would support a 15-week ban.

Luria conceded to and congratulated Kiggans in a statement on Twitter Tuesday, adding that “it has been the honor of my life to represent and serve the people of Hampton Roads in Congress.”

The motivating forces of abortion rights and record-high inflation were on display as voters across the district cast ballots Tuesday.

Alexis Flores, a 23-year-old veteran and a beauty consultant at Sephora who’s taking college accounting classes, decided to vote for the first time in her life. She voted for Luria and noted that after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the right to control her body became a central issue for her in this election.

“The right to privacy as a queer person is really important to me,” she said, fearing the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling could put other rights at risk. “It’s really important to me that we get enough people in the House of Representatives so we can protect all of these rights for people who are not straight White men basically.”

For others, their vote was a statement against the direction the country was headed under Democratic leadership and against the state of the economy.

“Things are bad in this country,” said Bernard Traud, a Navy veteran who came with his wife to vote for Kiggans. “What we got ain’t working.” His wife, Cheryl Traud, ticked off a litany of reasons to vote for the Republican. “I’m tired of the mess,” she said. “I’m tired of what’s going on in schools. I’m tired of the border. I’m tired of the economy. I’m tired of the fuel state we’re in. And I’m tired of this guy sitting up there trying to pick a war with everyone. Why are we defending someone else’s border when we can’t defend our own?”

Even some Democrats feeling the burn in their wallets decided it was time for a change of pace.

Irvin Navarro, a 32-year-old logistics manager in Virginia Beach, said he voted for Biden and Luria before. But for the first time in his life, decided to vote Republican on Tuesday. It wasn’t easy, he said, still thinking about the GOP’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. But this election, he said, his bank account trumped everything. And he didn’t feel Democrats had done enough to create change.

“You can’t shy away from that,” he said. “I hate to sound selfish, but at the end of the night when I go to bed and I check the bank account one last time to make sure we’re okay for the next week or two, that’s when the final decision comes into play. It’s not so much what’s going to be the abortion laws in a year or two or immigration or the border patrol. It’s going to be more, do I have enough money?”

For some of Luria’s supporters, however, getting to the bottom of Jan. 6 remained top of mind.

Jenessa Evans, a 36-year-old Postal Service employee, said Luria’s role on the Jan. 6 committee was part of her appeal, leading her to vote in a midterm election for the first time. “I would like them to get to the bottom of that because I know the Republicans want to tear that [committee] apart,” she said.

Similar choices played out in Virginia’s 7th District in the bid between Vega and Spanberger.

Spanberger made broad appeals to centrist voters, focusing on aiding small businesses and boosting U.S. manufacturing to compete with China, while touting some crossover endorsements, including from Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the former House Republican Conference leader largely exiled from the party for her disavowal of former president Donald Trump after his false claims of voter fraud.

Vega was vying to become the state’s first Hispanic member of Congress, leveraging a compelling backstory as the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants to make inroads in the diverse, Democratic-leaning eastern portion of Prince William County, which anchors the newly drawn district. A former law enforcement officer and an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy, Vega also earned Trump’s endorsement in the final leg of the race, though she avoided trumpeting his support.

But Spanberger went on the offensive on abortion rights early in the campaign and seized on comments that Vega, who is staunchly against abortion, was caught on tape making that falsely cast doubt on whether rape could lead to pregnancy, according to the tape published by Axios. Vega later said the comments had been misconstrued.

Across the district, many voters said the comments factored into their vote.

Brittany Asbury, 35, said “if you do not know basic biological functions, that would make you someone I wouldn’t vote for on principle.”

One self-identified “liberal,” Fernando Ramirez, 67, said he was inclined to vote for Spanberger, agreeing with her on supporting abortion rights and other Democratic positions. But he said the relentless attack ad campaign against Vega started to rub him the wrong way, angering him to the point that he decided to vote for Vega instead. He found the attacks focusing on her leaked comments distasteful, believing that Vega’s comments were taken out of context, and that she was being portrayed unfairly. “I don’t like that kind of propaganda,” he said.

In Northern Virginia’s wealthy Dale City suburb, the state of the nation’s economy was at the forefront of voters’ minds as they strolled into Woodbridge’s Hylton High School in the 7th district. But how they voted depended on whom they blamed for the record-high inflation rates.

Rich Reuter, 71, said Vega seems like she’d work harder to help retirees like him. Over the past year, his 401(k) balance has “gone in the toilet” due to the dropping stock market that has accompanied higher inflation, he said. “She’s actually talking about the issues,” Reuter said of Vega.

But Tim McTaggart, 66, said the higher cost of living fueled his vote for Spanberger. “Spanberger can get the job done,” McTaggart said. “Vega is way out there.” He wasn’t swayed by Republican messaging that the inflation was Democrats’ fault, and his reasoning was simple: The economy isn’t something Congress can control, he said. “There’s more to it than just Democratic or Republican policies.”

In Virginia’s Loudoun County on Tuesday morning, some voters cast their ballots purely along party lines, with little knowledge of or enthusiasm for the candidates they chose.

Gregory Robosky, a 52-year-old Leesburg resident, said he didn’t really like either candidate in the 10th District race, nor did he feel confident that either will tackle the major issues he’d like to see addressed, chief among them rising inflation and interest rates. “I’m not really a big fan of the liberal agenda, and Wexton was just too far left. Hung Cao? He was the lesser of the two evils,” Robosky said.

Ken Bucher, a 60-year-old accountant in Leesburg, likewise arrived at Tolbert Elementary to vote for Cao. But mostly out of habit; these days, Bucher is unhappy with the direction of the Republican Party as a whole. He dislikes that party leaders are unwilling to break with Trump and to forcefully deny his false claims of a stolen election.

“I do generally vote for Republicans, but it was much harder this year, just because of the Trump idolism,” he said. Bucher feels lukewarm about Cao, he added, although he respects Cao’s military record and veteran status.

Some of Wexton’s supporters were motivated to support her over concerns about guns. Rachael Hixon, a 53-year-old graphic designer, showed up to her local library with American flags and kittens on her shirt and TV commercials running through her head.

She could barely name her sitting congresswoman — “What’s her name? Wexel?” Hixon asked — but said she was determined to ensure the Republican candidate who touted his love of guns would not end up in Congress. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate thing to be putting into a political ad,” she said. “That’s not a good look for a politician.”

A few minutes later, John Doty, a 55-year-old IT manager, flipped through the fliers he had been handed by campaign volunteers nearby. Guns were on his mind, too. “I’m not too crazy about either of them,” he said of the candidates, adding that Wexton seemed to be the less extreme of the two. Even though he owns a semiautomatic weapon himself, Doty said, “no concealed carry permit is a little much.”

Spanberger, Luria and Wexton, a former Loudoun County prosecutor and state senator, had all rode the blue wave into office in 2018, largely powered by anti-Trump sentiment in their suburban districts. But after redistricting, Luria’s district got redder, giving Republicans a slight built-in edge. And while Spanberger’s district shifted to the bluer Northern Virginia exurbs, she was drawn out of the district, requiring her to introduce herself to hundreds of thousands of new voters. Considering Youngkin won both those districts and came close in the 10th, Republicans have been predicting that this would be the year for blue-wave payback.

Antonio Olivo, Jim Morrison, Laura Vozzella, Teo Armus and Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.

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