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Opinion Rob Wittman’s reelection strategy

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) in 2017 in Washington. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
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House Democrats were busy sending messages to the voters back home this month. They did so through a series of messaging bills — pieces of legislation that establish talking points and voting records that can be very useful on the campaign trail.

That’s especially true in places like the Richmond suburbs, where redistricting brought a new congressman to the area — Rep. Rob Wittman (R) — whose voting record on these message bills might not sit well with the same voters who turned their backs on the GOP in 2018 and 2020.

The messaging bills approved this month were the Women’s Health Protection Act, the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, the Right to Contraception Act and the Respect for Marriage Act.

All are social issues, and all were approved, backers say, to counter a Supreme Court majority that is seemingly intent on rolling back existing precedent on issues such as same-sex marriage and contraception and to prevent red states from making it illegal for women to seek abortion care across state lines.

Though Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) crack team of GOP legislators has yet to present the details of its abortion restriction proposal — Youngkin wants a ban after 15 weeks and says he will settle for 20 weeks, but he also believes life begins at “inception” — the House messaging offers a window into the political calculus of Republicans who are on the ballot this November.

How did Virginia’s four Republican House members vote on the bills mentioned above?

For the Health Protection act, which passed the full House 219-to-210, all four Virginia GOP House members — Ben Cline, Bob Good, H. Morgan Griffith and Wittman — voted “no.” That comes as no surprise because Republican orthodoxy will not allow any deviation on abortion. And, lest we forget, among the leading antiabortion maximalists in the House and in Virginia is the 5th District’s Good.

What about the abortion access bill? That seems a little more nuanced. It guarantees women the right to travel across state lines to get safe, lawful abortions. It passed the full House 223-to-205. Cline, Good, Griffith and Wittman all voted against it.

Moving on to the Right to Contraception Act. The full House approved it 228-to-195. Again, Cline, Good, Griffith and Wittman voted against it.

And on the Respect for Marriage Act, which the full House approved 267-to-157, Virginia’s four Republican House members voted “no.”

The message they are sending to the voters back home is very clear: We’re against abortion rights, contraception and same-sex marriage.

For Cline, Good and Griffith, who represent the western part of the state in which Democrats do exist but aren’t a real electoral threat to the honorable members, their career prospects or their pensions, such votes have no political downside.

Recall there was also no political downside when Cline, Griffith and Wittman signed on to the cockamamie amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in 2020 seeking to invalidate the slates of electors from four states.

But now, there might be a political downside to all this for Wittman — not just hopping in line behind the antiabortion maximalists but also for that earlier decision to try to overturn the 2020 election.

One might think that post-redistricting, in which the 1st District was redrawn to include the populous western Henrico and Chesterfield counties, Wittman would be a bit circumspect on how he’s voting on message bills.

Obviously, Wittman’s calculus is that these suburban Richmond areas — once the bulwarks of GOP pols such as former governor Jim Gilmore, former House majority leader Eric Cantor and even former congressman Dave Brat — will be just as friendly to him.

Particularly if no one knows how Wittman is voting on items like the message bills, never mind his dalliance with election denialism.

Being a cipher to 43 percent of the people in the 1st District isn’t an accident. It’s a political strategy.

But now you know.

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