Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Henrico-VA07) flipped a historically red district in 2018 with a wave of Democratic voters reacting to the first half of a Donald Trump presidency. She won reelection by a slightly larger margin in 2020, providing her with two more years in D.C. to convince her constituents to hire her again in 2022. She faces the national headwinds, however, that are far from her control.
Democrats lost statewide last week for the first time since 2009, worrying party strategists that the fallout will continue into the 2022 midterm elections. This is especially important for Spanberger who represents a district that appears to be a 50/50 split. That is before it will be redrawn for redistricting in the new few months.
The collapse of the redistricting commission in Virginia left the process up to the Supreme Court of Virginia to complete. The odds of Spanberger’s district becoming more favorable seems small with not many Democratic pockets of voters around her surrounding her district for gain.
“Everything depends on the lines for this district,” said Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “There is going to be a significant adjustment of the lines in the Washington suburbs to take account of population growth. That may change the seventh district, that may change the first district.”
But even with the redistricting process leaving people in the balance, the national environment for Democrats is not great. “The results of Nov. 2 demonstrate that this is not an optimal time for a Democratic candidate,” Farnsworth said. “In these partisan times, the tide goes in and out for the president’s party depending on circumstances.”
Presidents Obama and Trump saw a huge backlash to their party during their first midterm election as president. President Biden is hoping to stave off the same reaction.
“Right now there are three potential problems for Spanberger,” Farnsworth continued. “The district may change, the unfavorable political environment may remain in place, and the general elections are always tough for the president’s party.”
Richard Meagher, a professor of political science at Randolph Macon College echoed that sentiment. “Spanberger is in a tough position. She’s in a “purple” district that she’s won by very narrow majorities. And the Biden drag effect is real,” Meagher said. “Still, there’s a long time between now and next November. It’s possible for Biden‘s numbers to bounce back a little bit, especially after the recent deals in Congress. Plus we have no idea what effect the new district lines will have on her district – with that process in the hands of the Virginia Supreme Court, anything could happen.”
Meagher pointed to two other potential factors in the race that would impact Spanberger’s chances: a new governor; and her potential 2022 opponent. “First, how do Youngkin’s first few months go? If Virginians start feeling a little buyer’s remorse, that might help Democrats running for national office in the fall,” Meagher said. “Second, who is nominated to oppose her? If Amanda Chase wrangles the nomination out of the hands of her colleagues, for example, that would be an immense help to Spanberger’s efforts to appear like the reasonable alternative to extreme partisanship.”
So far, State Sen. Amanda Chase, state Sen. Bryce Reeves, state Del. John McGuire, former McConnell official Taylor Keeney, and 2020 candidate Tina Ramirez have filed to run for Congress. It is unclear, however, which district each of them will be residing within when the final lines are drawn.
Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria (Va-02) is also facing a tough cycle after also flipping a Republican seat in 2018 and then winning reelection in 2020. She is facing a challenge from a slate of challengers including state Sen. Jen Kiggans and 2020 candidate Jarome Bell.
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