Virginia CD 2: First-Ever US House Race Between Women War Veterans

Virginia CD 2: First-Ever US House Race Between Women War Veterans
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) speaks with reporters in Washington on June 23, 2022. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
John Haughey

According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index (CPVI), Virginia’s Congressional District 2 (CD 2) is the nation’s ultimate “median” district. By Cook’s rating, 217 of the country’s 435 congressional districts are regarded as more Democratic and 217 as more Republican. 

That places Virginia CD 2 firmly among 36 Ballotpedia “battleground” districts and among 22 “tossup” Nov. 8 races across the country for congressional seats now held by Democrats, according to Cook, FiveThirtyEight, and other election analyses services.

That also makes the congressional election in Virginia CD 2, as well as in the commonwealth’s CD 7, among the nation’s two most-watched 2022 midterm bellwether U.S. House races.

While a “median” swing district, CD 2 also has unique features that make it distinct. 

For one thing, on Nov. 8 it will be the scene of the nation’s first-ever general election where both U.S. House candidates are women military combat veterans.

For another, the Democratic incumbent has won back-to-back races in the purple district but may have stepped over the line with some GOP voters who had backed her in the past by serving on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.

Two-term Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) is a retired Navy commander who served more than two decades as a combat specialist, including during Iraq and Afghanistan war deployments aboard aircraft carriers based in CD 2. 

Republican challenger state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) served 10 years in the Navy as a submarine-hunting helicopter pilot during combat deployments also aboard ships based in the district.
Virginia Republican Congressional District 2 candidate state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) speaks with voters in a Virginia Beach diner during a February breakfast meeting as part of her now 20-month campaign to unseat two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) in November. (Courtesy of Jen Kiggans for Congress)
Virginia Republican Congressional District 2 candidate state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) speaks with voters in a Virginia Beach diner during a February breakfast meeting as part of her now 20-month campaign to unseat two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) in November. (Courtesy of Jen Kiggans for Congress)

Those backgrounds are important to winning CD 2, which spans Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, and parts of Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base with 82,000 active-duty sailors stationed within a dense population of military retirees where veterans’ affairs are a paramount issue.

Post-2020 Census reapportionment appears to benefit Kiggans, who defeated three fellow military veterans in the commonwealth’s GOP June 21 primary.

Under new maps that shift Democrat-leaning Newport News, Williamsburg, and Norfolk out of the district and shift parts of Republican-leaning Tidewater areas into it—including all of Isle of Wight County and parts of Southampton County—CD 2 now receives a slightly red CPVI R+3 rating.

With a new slight Republican lean, FiveThirtyEight gives Kiggans a 57 percent chance of winning the election, although the race is otherwise still near-uniformly rated a “tossup” because Luria is a well-funded, tough campaigner who edged favored incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), a former Navy SEAL, in 2018 and then beat him again by a more convincing margin in a 2020 rematch.

Since then, Luria has accumulated an incumbency advantage among the district’s constituency with a track record of advocating aggressively on behalf of veterans while supporting defense budgets. 

A self-described moderate, Luria sits on the House Veteran’s Affairs panel and serves as vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee, a prestigious position for a still-junior congressional rep, and also sits on the Jan. 6 panel, which she touts in campaign literature, arousing ire among Republicans.

Luria has also accumulated a significant fund-raising advantage over Kiggans. According to her June 30 Federal Elections Commission (FEC) campaign filing, her campaign had raised more than $5.927 million, spent $1.747 million, and had $4.322 million in cash on hand. 

Kiggans’ campaign in its June 30 FEC filing reported raising nearly $1.566 million, spending $1.152 million, and having $413,729 in cash on hand.

Both candidates are strong defense proponents and advocates for veterans, but their platforms then vary down party lines.

Kiggans Campaign

Kiggans completed nursing school and became a certified geriatric nurse practitioner after leaving the Navy. She was elected to the state Senate in 2019, representing the chamber’s 7th district, while working full-time as a nurse.

Her campaign’s platform calls for increased border security, lowering income and corporate tax rates, encouraging school choice expansion, and opposing critical race theory being taught in public elementary and secondary schools.

Kiggans, who defeated a party rival endorsed by former President Donald Trump, Jarome Bell, in her GOP primary, opposes abortion while backing gun-owners’ rights and slashing federal spending and regulation

She told The Epoch Times in June she’d been campaigning directly against Luria since she decided to run in spring 2021. Her aim, she said, was to make the Nov. 8 election “a referendum on Joe Biden’s and Nancy Pelosi’s disastrous policies.”

She said she would hammer Democrats on the economy. “The economy, the economy, the economy is the number one issue,” she said. “Virginians are as frustrated, as all Americans are, with gas, grocery prices at all-time highs, and the economy in shambles. It is time to put conservative Republicans back in charge” to foil the “danger and insanity of one-party rule” under Democrats.

In her campaign’s first ad, ‘Restoring American Strength in Our Economy,’ released Aug. 25,  Kiggans pounds on that theme, claiming policies Luria supports have fostered rising gas and food costs.

“Nowadays, from food to fuel — everything costs more,” Kiggans said in the ad. “But how did we get here? Elaine Luria and Joe Biden have spent trillions of dollars, leaving us with the highest inflation in 40 years.”

An Aug. 24 TV ad financed by a super PAC affiliated with the Republican House Congressional Leadership Fund directly ties Luria to Biden and Pelosi.

“You'd have to be pretty out of touch to praise the economy, but that’s just what Elaine Luria did,” the ad states. “While you’re struggling, Luria is spewing liberal talking points, making excuses for Biden and Pelosi.”

Luria’s Campaign

Luria’s campaign has already run three ads. Luria’s first two ads highlight her participation in the Jan. 6 committee, which may—or may not—be a gambit in securing needed Republican votes to win the purple district. 

The first ad links the oath she took to the Constitution upon joining the Navy and the second mocks Republican elected officials and conservative media talking heads.

The latest, released on Aug. 4, focuses on abortion access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court in late June repealing Roe v Wade and kicking abortion regulation back to the states.

“When millions of women lost their right to choose, Kiggans celebrated, because she wants to make abortion illegal and allow politicians to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother,” the ad states.

Luria has called the Roe ruling “a rollback of the rights of women in the United States. A woman’s right to choose should be made between a woman, her health care provider, and her faith.” 

The Roe repeal is another reason why Virginia’s CD 2 remains a “tossup” in most forecasts. The outlier is FiveThirtyEight’s 40,000-time simulation in which Kiggans wins 57 of every 100 repetitions. Those simulations were run in August. In late June, before the Roe repeal, Kiggans won 74 of every 100 race simulations.

John Haughey reports on public land use, natural resources, and energy policy for The Epoch Times. He has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government and state legislatures. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and a Navy veteran. He has reported for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida. You can reach John via email at [email protected]