Hampton Roads could help decide control of the House of Representatives
If you wanted to draw a swing district with the most middle-of-the-road electorate possible, you’d come up with Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District.
That’s according to Jesse Richman, a political scientist from Old Dominion University.
The recently redistricted 2nd had several Democratic-leaning areas, particularly parts of Norfolk, stripped out of it. It lost areas on the Peninsula in favor of picking up segments of western Tidewater — like Suffolk, Isle of Wight and Southampton County.
As a result, the very slight Democratic lean of the already moderate district has been all but eliminated.
At its core is Virginia Beach, a city that regularly elects both Republicans and Democrats to state and federal offices.
Now, the struggle for this swing seat, one of several throughout the country, might decide which party controls the House of Representatives.
The candidates meet
Elaine Luria and Jen Kiggans took the stage in front of Hampton Roads’ business leaders for their first public debate on Oct. 12. The back and forth largely followed the contours that the campaigns have outlined in mailers and video ads for the past several months.
Luria, the two-term Democratic representative from Virginia Beach, touted her service on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, as well as her role as vice-chairperson of the Armed Services Committee.
Kiggans, the Republican challenger and a freshman state senator also from Virginia Beach, said Americans were hurting because of President Joe Biden’s economic policies. She tied Luria to Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Luria steered away from economic questions to jab her anti-abortion opponent over her stance on abortion.
Kiggans applauded the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and has signaled support for a 15-week abortion ban. She’s said she supports exceptions for rape, incest and where the life of the mother would be endangered.
But Kiggans also said during the Oct. 12 debate the issue should be left to the states, not Congress.
Luria said she supports codifying the standards formerly in place under Roe v. Wade into federal law. The incumbent also called Kiggans an election denier.
The New York Times reported in June that Kiggans “would not say that Mr. Biden was the lawfully elected president” during an interview
“Joe Biden is in the White House — living in the White House, and I wish he was not,” the Times quoted her as saying. The newspaper noted the response “has become an increasingly standard answer from Republicans who will not repeat Mr. Trump’s lie that the election was stolen but are unwilling to cross their supporters by saying truthfully that it was not.”
Kiggans was one of four state senators to vote in favor of a $70 million forensic audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results.
Asked by reporters after that first debate if she believed Biden was fairly elected as president in 2020, Kiggans refused to answer. When pressed, her handlers whisked her away from the media.
Each candidate framed themself as the moderate alternative to the partisan extremist at the other end of the stage.
Luria voted with her party about 88% of the time in 2020, according to CQ Roll Call’s party unity studies. That put her among about a dozen Democrats least likely to vote with her party at the time.
Since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, however, political forecasting website FiveThirtyEight shows Luria has voted in line with Biden 99% of the time.
In her time as a state senator, Kiggans was generally viewed as low-key and relatively moderate until the most recent session. This year, she introduced several unsuccessful bills aimed at right-wing culture-war issues, including legislation targeting critical race theory and a ban on transgender students participating in girls’ sports.
A poll from Christopher Newport University's Wason Center released Oct. 21 showed Kiggans and Luria tied among likely voters with fewer than three weeks until Election Day. Of those voters, 8% were still undecided.
Political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight also lists the 2nd District race as a dead heat.
The site had Kiggans as a 3-to-1 favorite early in the summer. The pro-life Republican lost a lot of ground after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June.
Luria and the Democrats have spent months and millions of dollars hammering Kiggans over abortion and worries that a Republican Congress could implement national abortion bans.
Richman, the political scientist from ODU, said there might be something to be gleaned by the lack of poll numbers coming out of the campaigns.
He said it suggests that neither side “has internal polling that is looking sufficiently strong for their campaign.”
Meanwhile, Luria is greatly outpacing her Republican competitor in fundraising.
According to the most recent financial disclosures, Luria had raised nearly $8.8 million, compared to about $2.6 million by Kiggans.
Even with a combined $11.4 million, this tight race doesn’t even approach the most expensive House races of the 2022 midterm election season. In Georgia’s 14th District, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her Democratic challenger have raised a combined $25.8 million.