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by Brandon Jarvis

Virginia’s congressional candidates are using a mixture of national and local talking points to try and garner support for their campaigns heading into 2022. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Henrico) has notoriously avoided campaigning on national politics by focusing on district-based issues in an area that has historically supported Republicans prior to Donald Trump. She is now the center of attention for a long list of candidates looking to unseat her next year. 

With national headwinds now blowing in the opposite direction, Spanberger has to hope that her focus on issues within the district can be enough to combat the national Republican momentum.  

During her campaign to unseat the Republican incumbent Dave Brat in 2018, Brat referred to Nancy Pelosi 21 times in a one-hour debate. Spanberger eventually beat him later that year and won reelection again in 2020 over Del. Nick Freitas, a state legislator that often focuses more on national politics compared to issues at the local level.

For 2022, however, the environment will be different. Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin just provided Republicans with their first statewide win since 2009.  Additionally, as Youngkin’s victory proved, Donald Trump is no longer in office to help drive Democratic voters to the polls. 

Youngkin avoided the national political scene and focused mostly on local issues like gas prices and parental involvement in schools during the final days of the election. His Democratic opponent focused largely on tying him to Trump and nationalizing the race with big political figures on the trail.

But with an analysis showing that Youngkin won Spanberger’s district by double digits, her potential opponents are wading into the national scene with much more frequency. 

“Why isn’t banning travel over COVID ‘xenophobic’ when Joe Biden does it? Could it be that it never was?” tweeted Tina Ramirez, a Republican seeking the nomination in the seventh district. Her comment is a veiled defense of Trump, who faced criticism for banning people from other countries in the years prior to the existence of COVID-19. 

Ramirez sought the nomination in 2020 but came in third during the nomination process. A single mom from Chesterfield, she has executed a more conservative campaign during her 2022 campaign compared to 2020. 

“The China-Russia military cooperation deal is more evidence that the weakness Joe Biden projects abroad is emboldening our adversaries,” Ramirez tweeted Sunday. “We need real foreign policy leadership.” 

Some of the other Republican opponents are latching more heavily onto some of the same local issues as Youngkin in an attempt to ride the wave of momentum in Virginia. “Are you offended?” Del. John Mcguire’s (R-Goochland) campaign asked in the subject line of an email Friday. “I hate to break it to you, but if you thought that the attacks on our concerned parents in Virginia would stop after the election, then I have some bad news for you. It hasn’t!”

 McGuire’s campaign email then referenced the ongoing situation involving the Loudoun County school board and parental backlash over than handling of two sexual assaults within the school system. 

McGuire quietly launched his campaign recently with just an email to supporters. In the announcement, he mixed national and local issues as a means to attack Spanberger. “Under Democrat Abigail Spanberger our borders are open, the FBI is targeting parents for speaking up at school board meetings, we botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan and gas prices are crippling working class families.” 

In the email Sunday night, McGuire’s campaign used unique language to talk about the current momentum behind the Republican party as he was fundraising for his bid. “Make no mistake they are feeling the breeze coming off of the Red Wave, but they need to feel the water crashing down on them. Right now they are dipping their toes in the water with the Red Wave crashing just before them. We have to keep up the pressure to put them in the impact zone.”

In a statement earlier this month accompanying an endorsement from Freedom Works, seventh district congressional district nominee state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) blamed national Democrats for some of the same kitchen table issues that helped Youngkin win. “We have seen failed leadership from Abigail Spanberger and Democrats in Washington that has led to astronomical cost increases in gas, groceries, and other basic necessities,” Reeves said in the statement. “We need Republicans who will stand up for our police, for our parents and children, and for safe and secure elections.” 

Reeves did not exclude Speaker Pelosi in his candidacy announcement, however. “Unfortunately, Congresswoman Spanberger spends far too much time coddling up to Nancy Pelosi and the far left,” he said. “I believe the hard-working people of the seventh district deserve to be represented by someone who will stand up for their interests and not the interests of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and the tax and spend, cancel culture that is poisoning our education system and destroying our economy.”  

Rob Wittman, a sitting Republican congressman in Virginia’s first congressional district has also used the Pelosi tactic to raise money recently. In an email complaining about the delayed redistricting process in Virginia that is keeping every potential congressional candidate in limbo over where the final lines will be drawn, Wittman’s campaign mentioned the potential of being put into the same district as Spanberger. “The Democrats are even trying to draw Abigail Spanberger into the First District. More proof that they are trying to take the First District and turn it BLUE. We CAN’T LET THAT HAPPEN,” the email from Wittman’s campaign reads. 

In Virginia’s second congressional district where state Sen. Jen Kiggans is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va Beach), Pelosi has also been mentioned already. “Elaine Luria and Nancy Pelosi are terrified at what’s in store for Democrats in 2022,” Kiggans wrote before citing the numbers showing that Youngkin won in the second district by eight points.  

Kiggans also hit the local talking points in the same email. “Unlike Elaine, I won’t compromise our shared values or turn my back on Virginia families. I will stand up for life, defend our Second Amendment rights, stand with law enforcement, and ensure parents have a say in their child’s education.” 

It is unclear what the winning strategy is for candidates in Virginia with an entirely new political environment compared to 2020. It’s not even clear where exactly the lines will be drawn either with the Supreme Court of Virginia currently working to create the legislative district for the next decade. 

Nationalizing politics worked well for Virginia Democrats in 2017 and 2019 when they flipped more than 20 legislative seats and won every statewide race. Nationalizing the election this year was unhelpful for them, however, as Republicans flipped seven House seats and won all three statewide races. 

Youngkin won Spanberger and Luria’s current districts and the national headwinds do not appear to be getting any better for Democrats as Biden’s approval rating continues to fall. A lot can happen between now and midterm elections, however, as one year in politics can be quite a long time. Just ask Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat that lost to Youngkin earlier this month by two points after Democrat Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points in 2020. 

The 2022 congressional midterms take place on Nov. 8.


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