After Election Day, Rep.-elect Jennifer T. Wexton sent a message to her soon-to-be colleagues, telling them that the back of Virginia’s state seal is inscribed with a word that means “persevering” — and the images of three goddesses.
“Virginia elected three badass women to Congress last night,” she tweeted to Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria, who, like her, had flipped congressional districts from red to blue. “Can’t wait to serve with you!”
During a grueling campaign season, Wexton, Spanberger and Luria developed a quiet camaraderie as they helped make history.
Never before has Virginia’s 11-member congressional delegation included three women at once. Their victories place them among more than 100 women projected to win seats in the House of Representatives as of Monday, smashing the previous record of 84 women and helping Democrats win the majority in the 435-seat chamber.
Virginia’s three congresswomen-elect, who are in Washington this week for new-member orientation, texted regularly and tracked one another’s races on election night.
They said the low-key support provided a lift in an election season defined by the #MeToo movement and resistance to President Trump. (Three other Democratic women, Leslie Cockburn, Jennifer Lewis and Vangie Williams, lost their Virginia congressional races last week.)
“For me,” Wexton said, “it’s just been nice to know that they’re there and they are going through the same stuff that I am, because it’s different for women than it is for men running for office.”
Facing the reality of governing and the looming challenge of reelection, she, Spanberger and Luria are wary of being defined solely by the “pink wave” that buoyed their campaigns.
They say that they won on the strength of their ideas — health care, gun control — as well as their personal stories, and that their platforms will guide their votes.
But still, each candidate’s race was bolstered by women’s activism.
In her victory speech, Wexton — a state senator who defeated Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock — gave shout-outs to Network Nova and Moms Demand Action, local progressive groups driven largely by women.
“The mobilization of women and women’s groups was huge in my race,” she said the day after her win.
Spanberger’s background as a former CIA operative, Girl Scout leader and first-time candidate caught the attention of the women’s magazine Elle nearly a year before she won the nomination.
Luria, a former Navy commander and one of the first women whose entire military service was on combatant ships, defeated Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R) in a district anchored by Virginia Beach.
Luria and Spanberger appeared together in a Serve America PAC video that featured candidates with military and law enforcement backgrounds who also happened to be women.
They locked arms and, in unison, promised their service would continue after Election Day “in Virginia.”
In the weeks leading up to the election, they texted each other “every other day, at least,” Luria said. “We share similar backgrounds and really hit off a good friendship.”
Wexton already knew Spanberger’s mother, a longtime advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment who had lobbied the legislature in Richmond for its passage.
During the campaign, she got to know Spanberger and Luria.
“All of us are moms,” Wexton said of the trio. “All of us are career women, all of us know how important it is that we just put on our big-girl pants and do our jobs — and maybe more people in Congress need to do that, too.”
On election night, Wexton’s race was the first Democratic takeover in the nation to be called.
She defeated Comstock by 12 points, giving Democrats hope that they will hold on to the seat for years to come.
By the time Spanberger’s much closer race was called hours later, Wexton was home in her pajamas. She had already texted Spanberger: “You’re going to win I know it.” Now she heated up a slice of pizza and watched Spanberger’s victory speech on Facebook Live.
Across the Potomac, Republican Amie Hoeber was losing to Democrat David Trone in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. But a near-record number of Democratic women were being elected to the Maryland General Assembly, mirroring a historic jump in the Virginia legislature the year before.
The congressional wins in Virginia drew the attention of national leaders of the women’s movement.
“Don’t mess with these new women,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted after hearing Wexton on the radio on Friday. “They know what’s up.”
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who hosted a fundraiser at his Alexandria home in September for Luria, Spanberger, Wexton and Cockburn, said he felt a twinge of guilt about working to unseat Comstock. He knows she is currently the only woman in Congress from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania or West Virginia, and he thinks the United States would benefit from having more female lawmakers.
But he was comforted by the knowledge that she would be replaced by another woman — and a Democrat, to boot.
“I was so glad none of them were running against me,” Beyer said he was thinking while watching the female Democratic hopefuls speak.
Post-vote, the congresswomen-elect are focused on hiring staff, establishing district offices, finding housing and researching their first bills.
But Luria said there’s one more item on the agenda.
“I’m sure we’ll have a chance to have a toast,” she said, “and celebrate the fact that we all made it there.”
Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.