RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When polls close on Election Day, all eyes will be on Virginia’s congressional races.
Experts say results in a few key contests will provide early clues about the reach of a possible “red wave” that could shift the balance of power in Congress and block President Joe Biden’s agenda.
Most of Virginia’s races are considered safely red or blue. However, the Cook Political Report says Virginia’s 2nd and 7th District House races are “toss-ups” and recent polls suggest the candidates are tied. The 10th District is expected to remain under Democratic control but the seat has “the potential to become engaged,” according to the non-partisan campaign tracker.
In all three races, Democratic incumbents have raised more money than their Republican opponents but they’re competing in a harsh political climate driven by President Biden’s low approval rating, according to University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato.
“This is a classic midterm election for an unpopular Democratic president. What’s saving Democrats in many parts of the country is the reaction to the overturning of Roe v. Wade but, is that enough to change the nature of the election? I don’t think so,” Sabato said.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Rep. Elaine Luria (VA-02) and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (VA-10) all flipped their seats from red to blue in 2018, amid backlash to then-President Donald Trump’s administration.
Biden won Virginia by more than 10 points during the 2020 Presidential Election but, last year, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin led a GOP sweep of statewide races. Many warned that was a sign of trouble for Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterms, especially since the party in power in the White House historically sees losses at halftime.
Redistricting is further complicating the picture for returning Democratic candidates, according to Sabato. He said recently redrawn district lines are particularly problematic for Luria, who running against state Senator Jen Kiggans in “conservative-leaning” District 2.
“In fact, if Republicans aren’t winning that, Republicans are going to have a long night or week in counting the votes for the House of Representatives,” Sabato said. “Redistricting has been a disaster for Democrats in Virginia.”
In District 7, which no longer includes the Richmond suburbs, Spanberger has had to introduce herself to new swaths of voters. Sabato still gives her a slight edge over her opponent Yesli Vega, a Board of Supervisors member and law enforcement officer in Prince William County.
“If Spanberger wins substantially, or even if she wins by just a little, it suggests there won’t be a GOP wave, even though there is a GOP tide. There is a big difference. A wave sweeps away everything that is not nailed down. A tide simply pulls in the direction of the winning party,” Sabato said.
Spanberger is hoping to cash in on a last-minute endorsement from Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Cheney lost her own re-election bid after becoming a vocal critic of former President Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, which have never been proven.
Vega was recently endorsed by President Trump, though it’s not something she has trumpeted on the campaign trail.
Notably, Vega and Spanberger never faced off in a debate, despite being in one of the most competitive races in the country.
Sabato said District 10, where First Lady Jill Biden campaigned on Monday for Congresswoman Wexton, is expected to stay blue. He said if Republican Hung Cao, a retired Navy Captain, can pull out a win there on Election Day, it’s a bad sign for Democrats nationwide.
“If, in fact, that race is even very close, it suggests that Republicans are going to win more, rather than fewer, U.S. House Seats,” Sabato said.