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Cameron Webb Says 2020 Polarization Led to His Defeat

Webb gestures at parking lot rally
Cameron Webb at a rally last month. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

In the runup to Election Day, Virginia Democrats saw Cameron Webb as their best hope of picking up a House seat. It would be tough: President Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016. So the 37 year-old University of Virginia doctor and academic tried to position himself as a bridge-building moderate in the sprawling central Virginia district. 

But in an interview with VPM, Webb said that Republicans found success by painting him as an ordinary Democrat. He lost to former Liberty University athletics director Bob Good by about five points, though he out-performed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by about two points.

“I think Americans at this point in time just see our polarization to be insurmountable,” Webb said. 

The first-time politician said he’s now taking time to rest, spend time with his family, and consider his next political steps. “I’m not taking anything off the table,” he said.

Webb and other Virginia Democrats are assessing the party’s fortunes in the wake of a mixed showing on Tuesday. In a caucus phone call obtained by the Washington Post, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) said Democrats should avoid talking about socialism or “defunding the police.” The former CIA operative, who narrowly won re-election, said the rhetoric put off some voters and helped cost Democrats at least four seats in the House of Representatives rather than the pickups they’d hoped for. 

“If we don’t mean we should defund the police, we shouldn’t say that,” Spanberger said. “And so when there are millions of people in our community [who] are concerned, we need to recognize that that is on us.”

In TV ads, conservative groups painted both Spanberger and Webb as a socialist-leaning liberals who would defund the police -- in Webb’s case, based on comments he made to a Charlottesville TV station. But Webb downplayed the effectiveness of the attacks, and said Democratic candidates needed latitude to speak to different constituencies. 

“They can run a very different campaign, and that still fits within the Democratic Party,” he said. 

Spanberger’s comments frustrated local progressives like Henrico County activist Melissa McKenney, who said she’d volunteered for Spanberger and was pleased by her win.

“A lot of Democrats who pushed really progressive policies, like Medicare for All and Green New Deal, did fairly well,” McKenney said, pointing to candidates like Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA).

Randolph Macon political science professor Rich Meagher said centrists like Spanberger were unlikely to be able to police the broad, often fractious members of the Democratic Party. And he said the debate was not especially new to the party. 

“It’s surprising to me that it happened so quickly,” Meagher said. ”But this is going to be the conversation in the Democratic Party for the next two years.”

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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