Paid subscribers to the Virginia Political Newsletter received this story first on Tuesday.

by Brandon Jarvis

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are two of the most polarizing figures in American politics today. The baggage they are bringing into the November election is making it tough to stay on message for candidates down the ballot looking to win races in tight congressional districts. This is no different than elections during presidential years historically. Still, one nominee being a recently crowned convicted felon and the other’s viability as the nominee being questioned this late in the game are unique issues, to say the least.

Trump’s troubles are well known, and the list is too long to even begin to delve into, with being a convicted felon due to attempts to influence an election and an insurrection attempt by his supporters topping the list. He also lost Virginia to Biden by 10 points in 2020, and his election in 2016 led to a blue wave across the commonwealth in the following years, ushering in big Democratic wins at the state level.

For Biden, it is not a question of his character but his state of mind and whether he is fit to serve another four years after a dismal performance in the first debate. The apprehension within the Democratic party towards him being the nominee also comes from fear of a weakened candidate losing to Trump in November, and not so much a dislikening for the man himself or his policies.

In tight races, like VA-02 and VA-07, nominees must walk a tightrope. Either way, the constant debate over Trump’s criminal activity and Biden’s viability as a candidate knocks candidates off message and distracts from local issues.

“This whole ‘should I stay or should I go’ debate is a debacle for Democrats,” said Richard Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph Macon College. “It makes it that much harder for the Virginia Congressional candidates to make the case in what will surely be nationalized elections – this will not be decided by local issues.”

But even as Democrats grapple with the conversations about Biden’s viability, Republicans still have to deal with the many issues that come with Trump.

“Still, the dynamics for Republicans are similar to the Democrats – a very flawed top of the ticket makes it very difficult for them to navigate,” Meagher said. “Kiggans so far has managed to split the difference in her party – seeming a ‘reasonable’ Republican without alienating the Trumpist base in her district. But as we get closer to the election and Trump’s crimes become more salient, that will prove harder to do.”  

In 2022, when Rep. Jen Kiggans was the Republican nominee trying to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Elaine Luria, she stayed out of the conversations about Trump as much as possible — while Democrats did everything they could to link her to him. Without cozying up to the Trump-MAGA base, Kiggans convinced voters to elect her by a three-point margin, making her the only Virginia Republican to flip a Democratic-held seat in 2022. She also had some assistance from the redistricting process that made VA-02 friendlier to Republicans than in previous elections.

However, now she seems to be warming up to Trump and endorsed him earlier this year. She spoke at the Trump rally in Chesapeake last month and mentioned Biden’s debate performance.

“What we saw last night was elder abuse,” Kiggans said.

Trump also gave Kiggans his “Complete and Total” endorsement last month.

Kiggans’ Democratic challenger, Missy Cotter Smasal, has not publicly stated whether she believes Biden should remain the Democratic nominee. To this point, she has remained focused on abortion and healthcare access, veterans’ rights and attacking Trump.

While not directly answering if she believes Biden should run in November, in a statement to Virginia Scope Tuesday, Smasal said that Biden is the nominee and contrasted him to Kiggans and Trump.

“Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee,” she said. “Voters in Coastal Virginia have a clear choice this November. Anti-choice Jen Kiggans will work to advance the dangerous, MAGA agenda that includes banning abortion and cuts benefits that veterans have earned. Kiggans eagerly endorsed convicted felon Donald Trump and has befriended people in Congress like Marjorie Taylor Greene, going as far as to call Greene her ‘teammate’ and that they ‘want the same things’.”

Kiggans’ campaign says the race is over, and running away from Biden will not help her Democratic opponent.

“Voters from across the political spectrum recognize the phenomenal job that Jen Kiggans has done during her first term in Congress and will reelect her in November,” said Reilly Richardson, a spokesperson for Kiggans. “This race was over before Missy even announced her candidacy. I’m not sure why she thinks running away from Joe Biden and Virginia Democrats will help her campaign, but it’s dead either way.”

As for continuing to support Trump, even as he deals with many legal issues, the Kiggans campaign referred Virginia Scope to her past comments.

“Our great nation simply cannot afford another four years of the disastrous Biden Administration,” she said in March. “I’m supporting President Trump because it is now time to unify as a party, turn our attention to defeating Joe Biden, and strengthen our majority in the House.”

In VA-07, Republican Derrick Anderson and Democrat Eugene Vindman are running for an open seat after the incumbent, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, chose to forego a reelection bid to instead run for governor next year. Spanberger was elected in 2022 by a five-point margin.

Anderson and national Republicans have been attacking Vindman for his silence on whether he believes Biden should remain the nominee.

“Mr. Vindman is failing the leadership test on the biggest issue of 2024,” Anderson said in a statement to Virginia Scope. “He has refused to answer multiple questions about Biden’s fitness for office. That means he’s playing politics to try and get elected rather than telling voters where he stands.”

Vindman is a national figure who has raised a large pot of cash using his profile. He was a key figure in Trump’s second impeachment.

While on the National Security Council (NSC), his twin brother, Alexander, also on the NSC, listened to Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president when he attempted to extort information about Joe Biden. Alexander and Eugene reported the call together, which resulted in Trump’s second impeachment hearing. 

After Trump was acquitted, he fired the Vindmans. 

Since launching his campaign, Vindman has raised large amounts of cash from Democrats nationwide.

Trump recently endorsed Anderson and took shots at Vindman for his involvement in his impeachment.

“Derrick is America First all the way, and he is running against a weak and pathetic Democrat named Yevgeny ‘Eugene’ Vindman who, along with Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff and others, lied to push the Ukraine Impeachment Hoax, a continuation of the greatest and most dangerous Political WITCH HUNT in the History of our Country,” Trump said.

When asked by Virginia Scope, Vindman’s campaign did not directly answer whether he believes Biden should remain the nominee.

“Eugene Vindman, who has raised a family and has lived in VA-07 for longer than his opponent, is running a campaign focused on protecting rights and freedoms including abortion rights, getting politics out of classrooms and moving VA-07 forward,” said Jeremy Levinson, a spokesperson for the Vindman campaign. “Eugene will be the candidate to win this seat because of his track record of dedicated service and his positive vision for this district.”

Anderson says he still supports Trump as the nominee despite his continuing troubles with the legal system.

“It’s sad to say, but Joe Biden clearly can’t do the job physically or mentally, and his policies have made life worse for my friends, family, and neighbors here in the 7th District,” Anderson said. “In contrast, Donald Trump’s policies gave us lower taxes, a stronger economy, a secure border, and actual leadership on the world stage. We need to reverse the disasters of the current administration and Joe Biden’s weakness here at home and abroad and that starts with a change in the White House in November and electing Donald Trump.”

With the Trump interactions in his background, the nationalization of congressional races could benefit Vindman while also hurting Smasal.

“Vindman has so much money and has the advantage of national name recognition in an open seat. Plus his background really matters here – because of how he rose to prominence, he has the ability to keep Trump in people’s minds,” Meagher says. “Smasal has a much smaller war chest and is facing an incumbent, which is always a tall order. She can try to reinforce the Democratic position on reproductive rights, but there is a continuing danger of policy being drowned out by concerns about who is heading the ticket.”

By vascope