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Opinion Democrats find the right person to champion battleground districts

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) celebrates in Fredericksburg, Va., after winning reelection on Nov. 8. (Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images)

House Democrats are in need of a leader who can champion moderates in the party in battleground districts. Thankfully, they have Abigail Spanberger.

The Virginia Democrat won reelection in her swing seat in November — despite her district’s lines being redrawn and Republicans placing her high on their list of incumbents to target — by a stunning 4.6 points. That’s even greater than her nearly two-point margin of victory in 2020.

Spanberger has been a vocal advocate for her colleagues in competitive seats who strain at times to differentiate themselves from more progressive national figures. So in the wake of the midterms, her caucus created a new post — battleground leadership representative — and promptly elected her to it.

Roll Call reports, “Only battleground Democrats — defined as caucus members who were on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline and Red to Blue candidate lists at the end of the cycle — were allowed to run or vote in the election.” Spanberger won by a reported 33-20 vote margin over Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.).

Eight colleagues explained their support for her in a letter: “To make the intent of this new position a reality, we need a Representative who will unashamedly be the voice of Battlegrounders in the rooms where our agenda is steered and the conversations where strategic decisions are made.” They added that this representative must “understand the needs of our communities and make our message, a Democratic message, accessible to voters who may have never voted for a Democrat before” and “work collaboratively across the Caucus to build coalitions that advance democratic policies while ensuring we can be competitive — and win — in battleground seats across the country.”

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Spanberger certainly fits that description. She has not been shy about chiding the caucus’s most left-wing members, castigating the “defund the police” tag line after her narrow win in 2020. And in the run-up to the midterms, she pushed hard against leadership for failing to put a bipartisan measure on the floor for a vote to ban individual stock ownership for members of Congress and their spouses. (That vote still hasn’t happened.)

In a written statement after her win, she vowed to use her “knowledge of the priorities of the Virginians I represent — and Americans across the country — to help the Democratic Caucus make informed decisions, get things done, and better serve Americans of all backgrounds and who hold a variety of viewpoints.”-

What might that look like? Ethics reform not only for Congress but also for the Supreme Court will likely rank high on her priorities. She will also likely favor a no-nonsense message on crime and immigration, support abortion rights and focus on bread-and-butter economic issues — a winning formula for Democrats in tough races.

Moderate Democrats — the ones who actually flipped seats and defended toss-up districts in the midterms — made a smart choice in choosing Spanberger, says Jim Kessler, executive vice president of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “She is absolutely fearless, consistently wins tough races and is widely respected by her colleagues. She will not hesitate to be heard by Democratic House Leadership or the Caucus.” He adds, “In an environment where the majority rests on the fate of House moderates, it is essential that her voice by front and center in the Caucus.”

If Democrats manage to net about five wins in 2024, they would be back in the majority. That victory would run through districts where Democrats narrowly held on in 2022 and others where Republicans eked out wins but remain vulnerable. In both types of districts, Democrats who will be vying for those seats in 2024 will have to persuade some independents and Republicans to split their ballot.

Democrats might get an assist from MAGA incumbents who engage in obnoxious or destructive stunts, or a flawed GOP nominee. But Democrats will also need a positive message. On that, Spanberger is well-positioned to lend a hand.