Abortion backlash could cost Republicans crucial Virginia House seat

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger was first elected to Congress in 2018, flipping a Republican seat in what was later dubbed “the year of the woman” for the number record number of women elected to federal and state offices.

Four years later, Spanberger, a moderate Democrat from an exurban Virginia district, is running for re-election to her swing seat amid a different kind of women-focused movement — one spurred by the backlash of the decision. of the Supreme Court of the United States annulling the right to abortion.

Her opponent, Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega, is a tailor-made foil for the moment, a staunchly anti-abortion Republican who appeared to play down the possibility of pregnancy after rape in surreptitiously taped comments from of June.

Spanberger has tackled abortion rights as a galvanizing issue for Democrats and swing voters, making her opening argument in an ad that called Vega “too extreme for Virginia” for supporting a total ban on abortion without exception for rape, incest or the life of the mother.

“This is an issue that has become a major concern for many people across the country. In our district, that’s especially on the mind, given my opponent’s positioning and the things she’s said,” Spanberger, 43, told HuffPost in an interview over the weekend.

“She’s just extreme. The fact that she thinks it would be appropriate to go to Washington and dictate what happens in women’s lives in what could be some of the most difficult times of their lives – that’s an extreme position” , she said.

Election forecasters are giving Spanberger the edge as Republicans’ midterm advantage appears to be shrinking. A leading election forecaster has reassessed Virginia’s new 7th congressional district “Leans Democrat” after calling it a “Toss-Up” earlier this year, reflecting the rollback of abortion rights rollback by the Supreme Court and the perceived positive reception of President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.

“It’s been choppy,” Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said of his party’s campaign prospects for Spanberger on Saturday. “But I feel a lot better than I did 60 days ago. I think people know what’s at stake. It’s the growing weirdness of some of these candidates.

Abortion, however, was a footnote for both candidates on the campaign trail this weekend after early midterm voting began – nearly a year since Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin won. on a pro-parenting platform as tensions erupted over mask mandates, “critical race theory” and transgender students. The tussle over schools is still front and center in this year’s election, voters from both parties told HuffPost, along with the pressure of rising inflation on families and the threat of ‘extremism’ as defined by both parties.

“People are worried about the collapse of the economy, aren’t they? People are worried about the big opening of the border, aren’t they? People are worried about the safety of their children, right? People and parents and grandparents are concerned about their children’s education, yes?” Vega, a law enforcement officer, shouted at a rally on Saturday in Prince William County.

“We started a movement here in the Commonwealth of Virginia last year where we said parents absolutely matter.”

Vega called Spanberger someone “without backbone, without courage to defend the inhabitants of the 7th district”.

At one point, Vega mentioned her “all-time favorite president” and drew an “oh man” from the audience when she quoted Ronald Reagan and not, presumably, Donald Trump, which she didn’t. not mentioned at all during his remarks.

Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega is locked in a close race against Abigail Spanberger, who has described Vega as an anti-abortion hardliner.

Vega bristled when asked if he seemed to agree with an inaccurate theory that pregnancy is less likely after rape. “Those comments were not the comments I ever made,” she told reporters, though audio of his remarks has been made public. She added that the question was asked by a Democratic tracker about a specific study.

“I’ve been very clear about my position,” she said. “I am pro-life. I will always stand up for the helpless, the voiceless… Abigail’s party has gone from safe, legal and rare to anywhere, anytime, anytime taxpayer funded. It’s my contrast between me and my opponent, that she’s an extremist when it comes to the issue. I’m not.”

Vega supporters agreed that they weren’t the ones with far-fetched opinions. “I am pro-life. If you want to call me an extremist, that’s fine. But I’m very proud to feel that,” Kathleen Dwight, a retiree from Fredericksburg, Va., told HuffPost.

Vega’s comments were an obvious dig at Spanberger, who portrayed Vega as out of touch with a moderate district that includes many active-duty military, veterans and government officials. Democrats cite a radio interview in which Vega agreed with the conservative host that Republicans should try to shut down government in order to stifle Biden administration spending, and campaign posts where Vega called the FBI of “corrupt” following his forensic search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.

As the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, Vega’s supporters say she espouses the values ​​of a region with a growing Latino base that prioritizes safety, education and immigration reform.

“I believe his message is about the US Constitution,” said Bolivian-born former GOP candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, Maria Martin. “We are prepared to preserve the beacon that is the United States.”

In 2018, Spanberger rose to prominence for election night photos that showed his young daughter at his feet during an election dubbed the "Year of the Woman."
In 2018, Spanberger rose to prominence for election night photos that showed his young daughter at his feet during an election dubbed “the year of the woman.”

If 2018 was “the year of the woman”, then 2022 could become “the year of the Latina”. Record numbers of Latinas are running for House seats this year, and Vega is one of many GOP members to enter key races that will determine control of the chamber, where Democrats cling to a narrow majority .

Spanberger played the candidate who ran and won in 2018 – a moderate who was photographed giving her victory speech on election night with her 4-year-old daughter playing at her feet. The photos came to illustrate the growing ranks of women and mothers entering the male-dominated halls of Congress.

Spanberger has won his previous two races by less than 2 percentage points. Youngkin, not yet a full MAGA warrior, won what is now the new 7th congressional district by 5 points, making it difficult for Spanberger this year again. The district spans suburban Richmond and suburban Virginia, with 53% of residents identifying as white and 17% as Latino. Prince William County, where 62% of residents identify as non-white, makes up one-third of the district.

“Many of us [Latinos] moved to Prince William County with the dream of having our own property, and that might mean having to qualify by having to work three jobs, or it’s a single parent household or both parents work and that’s what they can afford,” said Virginia Democratic Delegate Elizabeth Guzman. “We want to be respected like any other member of the district.”

Unlike other Democrats at risk, Spanberger isn’t distancing herself from Biden or her party — she refused to hit Biden for his student loan forgiveness order, which some Democrats have called well-intentioned but poorly executed. Instead, she emphasizes her desire to cross the aisle.

“What I do is I tell people who I am,” said Spanberger, an awkward member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who worked on counterterrorism cases as an officer. of the CIA. “I am a Democrat. I am pragmatic. I focus on getting things done. I am a coalition builder. I am proud to be a bipartisan member of Congress.“

Despite a deeply divided Congress, Spanberger told HuffPost she wants to get along with Republicans — a sure message for a divided district. “The idea that you walk into Congress and all of a sudden you don’t have to talk to half the people you work with or half the people you represent, is a terrible reality,” he said. she declared.

Spanberger delivered that message to voters during a canvassing kickoff in Prince William County, a once red and now purple county that is new to the district, where Vega happens to be a local official.

Gathered in a supporter’s driveway in a suburban subdivision, Spanberger, dressed in a bright blue blazer, prepped volunteers by encouraging them to highlight her office’s ability to help veterans and social security issues , and to talk about his efforts to pass a congressional stock-trading ban.

“If you look at the Democrats who have won here – Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Joe Biden – these are people who have a strong track record of being bipartisan, a strong track record of being workers and not partisan warriors,” he said. said Ben Litchfield, a lawyer and Democratic candidate for the state Senate.

“There are a lot of Biden-Youngkin voters talking about her very positively,” he said.


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