A trio of Democratic women defeated Republican incumbents in Virginia congressional districts Tuesday, and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine cruised to reelection as voters turned out in strong numbers around the state.
State Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton defeated incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock in the 10th District in suburban Washington, and newcomer Elaine Luria unseated Rep. Scott W. Taylor in the Hampton Roads area’s 2nd District.
In a close race that went down to the last few precincts, Democrat Abigail Spanberger pushed past Rep. Dave Brat in the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs.
The wins exceeded expectations of even Democratic leaders and boosted the party’s successful efforts to regain control of the House of Representatives — in a state that only a generation ago was reliably Republican. Yet again, female candidates delivered big for Democrats in Virginia, just a year after another slate of women made huge gains in House of Delegates races.
Comstock failed to win a third term in a district that had been comfortably Republican for almost 40 years. Wexton, a state senator and former prosecutor, rolled up wide margins in the increasingly diverse suburbs of Loudoun County.
Kaine, a popular former governor and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, easily defeated Corey A. Stewart, the Prince William County supervisor who had promised a vicious campaign in the style of President Trump.
National Democrats had spent heavily to defeat Comstock as part of a bid to regain control of the House. Virginia was an early test of that strategy, with an unusual number of competitive House races and polls that closed before many others around the country.
Democrats had targeted four of Virginia’s 11 congressional seats as potential flips, and Wexton led Comstock in public polls for months. But the prospect of two more pickups in Richmond and Hampton Roads made Democrats giddy.
“Virginia showed who we are and who we aren’t,” Kaine said at his victory celebration at a hotel in Falls Church where he was joined by Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and former governor Terry McAuliffe. “It will be the Democrats who will eventually make sure women are represented in all our legislative bodies,” Kaine said.
Luria, a business owner and former Navy commander, said Tuesday’s victories were about more than gender. “I think this is a moment for our country, and it just happens that a lot of the people who stood up were women,” she said after celebrating in Virginia Beach. Luria said Taylor had called her to pledge to work together for a smooth transition.
Outside Richmond, Spanberger’s supporters shed tears, smiled and held hands as their candidate declared victory. “They said this district was unwinnable, but this campaign was always about giving people something to vote for,” Spanberger said after becoming the first Democrat to win there since at least 1968.
Republicans held on to an open seat when Denver Riggleman beat Democrat Leslie Cockburn in the 5th District near Charlottesville. But that was little solace for some.
“I’m a veteran of the blue wave of 2017. It’s clear the blue wave is still around,” said John Whitbeck, former chairman of the Virginia GOP, referring to Democratic gains in last year’s state election. “Republicans have to figure out how they’re going to respond. It’s clear we didn’t this time around. I can’t think of a better candidate and message than Barbara Comstock. We’ve just got to figure out how to be better than we’ve been in this climate.”
Stewart conceded defeat just before 9 p.m., when Kaine was ahead by roughly 10 points with many Democratic precincts in vote-heavy Northern Virginia yet to be counted.
“I don’t regret anything we did,” Stewart told a crowd of cheering supporters, after calling Kaine to congratulate him. “We gave it a good fight, and we have a great president of the United States.”
Riggleman won the seat being vacated by Rep. Thomas Garrett, who announced he was battling alcoholism, and said his campaign showed a new blueprint for Republicans in Virginia.
“We proved that we can run a campaign with class, integrity and dignity,” Riggleman said during his victory party at a brewery in Afton. “I think we proved that we can run a campaign on the issues. I think you’re seeing a new day, where we’re seeing a new kind of civility in politics, coming from this campaign in the 5th District.”
Brat declined to address the crowd assembled outside Richmond as returns came in and did not concede.
Turnout was reported to be heavy around the state — in some places even rivaling presidential election years. Despite heavy rain in much of eastern and central Virginia, voters at some polling places waited as long as two hours to cast ballots.
Mohammed Moutaouakil, 47, arrived at McLean High School shortly after 6 a.m. “to see if everyone is excited as I am,” he said. Driving his excitement: “Trump,” said Moutaouakil, who voted Democratic across the board.
“I don’t agree with anything he’s done so far, from immigration to fiscal policies,” he said. “In two years, things have gone downhill pretty dramatically.”
But in the rural exurbs of Spotsylvania County, along Interstate 95 between Washington and Richmond, Kim Mandzak, 61, a reading teacher, was eager to vote for exactly the opposite reason.
“We’ve got to save this country,” said Mandzak, who voted a straight Republican ticket to fight back against elements that are “pushing us to think so differently.” Working people have seen jobs dry up and savings disappear, she said, as Democrats “have been giving our country away, not standing up to anyone.”
As Virginia’s cities have become more prosperous and its suburbs have spread in an arc from Fairfax down to Richmond and across to Hampton Roads, the formerly red state has become more competitive — sought by Democrats as a possible new source of votes.
It was the only Southern state to go for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — when Kaine served as her running mate.
Last year, in the first closely watched elections following Trump’s surprising victory, Virginia Democrats nearly wiped out the long-standing GOP majority in the General Assembly. That gave Democrats cause to believe they could gain more ground this year — but also served as a wake-up call to Republican voters, who were less likely to show up at the polls last year.
This year’s outcome “looks a lot like 2017 when angry suburban white voters pushed out Republican incumbents,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. “This is in part a Trump effect, but it’s also a Corey Stewart effect.”
If Republicans had run a more mainstream candidate than Stewart at the top of the ticket, Farnsworth said, that might have been enough to help Taylor or Brat hang on in their tight races. “It’s clear the Republican Party has to retool in Virginia,” he said.
Democrats’ top target this year was Comstock, whose race against Wexton was the most expensive congressional contest in the state and whose district has become steadily more blue.
But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also targeted Taylor, and the first-term representative and former Navy SEAL was embroiled in a scandal during the campaign.
Several of his staffers are under state criminal investigation, accused of turning in fraudulent signatures to help an independent candidate get on the ballot, apparently to water down votes for Luria. Though that made headlines in late summer, voters were mixed on whether it had affected their decisions.
Amy Lander, 43, a self-employed teacher from Norfolk, said wrongdoing had no effect on her support for Taylor. “I don’t think he had anything to do with it,” she said. She voted Republican “because I am for keeping government small and lowering taxes. I don’t like the socialistic policies I see the Democratic Party is headed toward. I don’t like that they’re making this illegal immigration such an issue.”
But for Eric Mitchell, 26, a student at Norfolk State University and health-care worker, the scandal cast Luria in a better light. “She seemed more honest to me versus Scott Taylor with this whole scandal deal. It’s a big thing for me to have something that’s kind of questionable happen like that. I feel like you should own up to it. I just didn’t feel like he was being honest.”
Outside Richmond, turnout was heavy in suburban precincts where former CIA operative Spanberger mounted a well-funded challenge to Brat.
Voters waited as long as two hours to cast their ballots at Robious Middle School in Chesterfield County, suburban Richmond swing territory that proved the difference in the race.
When heavy rains and winds blew in around noon, school officials allowed a line of voters that wrapped around the building to move inside. By late afternoon, the line snaked all through the school.
“That’s not normal,” Renita McKnight, chief officer of elections, said of the turnout.
National Democrats watched the Virginia numbers closely for early clues to whether that message has caught on.
“We have always believed that Virginia was very, very important to the battlefield and important to our ability to take back the House,” said Dan Sena, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Winning two of Virginia’s congressional seats would constitute a “great night,” Sena said before the election. Nationally, the party has seen an uptick in enthusiasm among communities of color and in suburban areas, which has played out in districts held by Comstock, Taylor and Brat.
Jenna Portnoy, Laura Vozzella, Antonio Olivo, Jim Morrison, Michael Brice-Saddler, Steve Thompson, Mark Ferguson, John Harden and Hawes Spencer contributed to this report.