Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) says he is opposed to drilling off the coast of his Virginia Beach district, breaking with President Trump who last week moved to erase a ban on oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere.
The freshman congressman, who represents all of Virginia's oceanfront land as well as the Navy base in Norfolk, said drilling could interfere with military training and faces stiff opposition from coastal communities and industries in his district.
"The reality is, in my district every locality has opposed it," he said in an interview Monday. "Business and industry oppose it. The Navy has problems with it. I have to listen to my people."
It is the first time since taking office in 2017 that Taylor has taken a position on the issue.
Both political parties consider Taylor's district the most politically vulnerable in Virginia, after the northern Virginia district represented by Republican Barbara Comstock.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to U.S. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), last week announced it opened a field office in Taylor's district, signaling the importance of the House seat.
It has been on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's target list for a year. So far, five Democrats are vying to challenge Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, including retired Navy commander Elaine Luria of Norfolk.
Luria announced her candidacy Monday and has the backing of Sen. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack) and Dave Belote, a democratic candidate for congress who dropped out of the primary for family reasons.
Luria retired from the Navy last summer after 20 years, which included six deployments to the Middle East and the Western Pacific, and she commanded an assault craft unit. She owns a paint-your-own-plaster-mermaid business with locations in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
"Washington is in chaos and we desperately need leaders who can be good and do good work, which is really the philosophy I had in the Navy and have in business," she said.
The DCCC is targeting Taylor — as well as Republican Reps. Dave Brat in the Richmond suburbs and Rep. Thomas Garrett in central Virginia — and has highlighted their votes last year for a House bill that would have overhauled the nation's health-care system and the tax overhaul that Trump recently signed into law.
"Scott Taylor is embracing the Washington Republican agenda at a time when Democratic energy in his district is surging," DCCC spokesperson Jacob Peters said.
Democrats hope to take advantage of Trump's low approval ratings statewide to energize voters and flip the U.S. House in the same way they made sweeping gains in the Virginia House of Delegates in November.
Taylor's district voted for Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) and flipped two House of Delegates seats from red to blue.
Although he lost the state, Trump won 48 percent of the vote in Taylor's district to Hillary Clinton's 45 percent. Seven percent voted for other candidates.
Trump on Thursday unveiled a proposal to permit drilling in most U.S. continental shelf waters, including protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic, which is opposed by governors from New Jersey to Florida, including Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) of Maryland.
Taylor, who last year was undecided about offshore drilling, said Trump's announcement had nothing to do with his decision.
Rather, he cited opposition within his district, much of which he said has to do with the offshore drilling industry's "perception problem" as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion off the coast of Louisiana.
Proponents of offshore drilling — including the six other Republicans representing Virginia in Congress — say it would create jobs and drive economic development. The state's four Democratic members of Congress oppose it.
In 2010, Taylor said he supported offshore drilling. He said Monday that position predated the nation's extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin, and other deposits.
Taylor credited Trump's broader energy policy, including his support of pipelines and natural-gas fracking, for increasing domestic production and safeguarding the nation's energy independence.
Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said Taylor's announcement takes an issue off the table for Democrats and will appeal to the military-heavy district where offshore drilling is a real concern.
"[Taylor] is reflecting his district," he said. "Military voters are mixed on Trump. They like that he wants to fund the military more, but they're really uncomfortable with his bombastic rhetoric, the sense that he might stumble us into a war. There's real concern about that."