SUFFOLK, Va. — In the final days of her campaign, Rep. Elaine Luria stood on a wooden porch in a remote part of her newly drawn precinct, microphone in hand and a 7-year-old black girl by her side, to graduate case for the, what is at stake in the midterm elections.
The Virginia Democrat, quoting the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, pointed to the girl and said, “Our children are a window to the future that we will never see.” That future, Luria argued, will look much bleaker when her Republican challenger wins one of the most competitive house races in the country.
In her first two congressional races, Luria, a former Navy commander, would have been more likely to be featured in environments with a military background or theme. But this time she’s in Suffolk, a new part of her district and one with a 40% black population whose votes could well decide her getting a third term.
“If Luria is to have any chance of winning, it’s imperative that she win over black voters,” said Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, research director at Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center. “Even in our polls, we see that black voters are more likely to say they’re undecided than white voters, and that suggests there is some vulnerability in Luria there and a need to come forward.”
Luria has gained notoriety over the past year due to her seat on the House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 riot in the US Capitol. But there’s little evidence it helped her politically, and it may even have hurt her support.
Yet she also portrays this race as a referendum on democracy itself. It’s a nationwide appeal being tested in a district that has one of the highest concentrations of military-connected families in the country.
“This is about much more than Virginia’s 2nd congressional district. It’s certainly about much more than Elaine Luria’s re-election,” she told a mostly black crowd of voters on Sunday. “It’s really about the future of our country and the direction we’re going. It’s about our democracy.”
Recent Wason Center polls showed that Luria and her opponent Jen Kiggans, a state senator, tied among the likely voters at 45%, with 8% undecided. Kiggans declined to be interviewed for this story.
“Suffolk is really key to win this race and keep this seat,” Luria said in her closing remarks. “And that seat is key to maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives.”
The 2nd congressional district ranks 217th on the Cook Political Report bipartisan electoral index, the median between the seats most Republicans and most Democrats have in the nation’s House of Representatives – effectively the most swinging district in the country.
The district that first elected Luria in 2018 was recently redrawn to be more Republican. Donald Trump, a Republican, wore it in his successful 2016 presidential campaign, but in 2020 Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 to wear Virginia Beach, a portion of the district.
Luria’s dovish stance and record seem suited to the district, but Kiggans has emphasized economic issues and attempts to tie Luria to Biden, both appealing to a broad cross-section of voters for the first time.
“The year after the constituency election is always interesting, the slash challenging, because in some cases you have to reintroduce yourself to new voters, to a new constituency,” said Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Virginia Democratic Party.
And that’s what Luria has done over the past year with the 40% of voters who are new to the sprawling borough, including voters in Suffolk who face different problems than other parts. The 2nd District of Southeastern Virginia continues to include Virginia Beach and curves from the east coast to Suffolk, the Isle of Wight, and other locations.
Luria’s campaign has refined her pitch to focus on access to abortion, military and veteran issues, and what she calls the ongoing threat to American democracy. She has called her service on the Jan. 6 Committee “the most important thing” she has ever done professionally — more than the two decades she has served in the Navy, including as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer, serving the 400 crew members on the Persian commanded golf.
“People said to me, ‘Elaine, you’re the only Democrat in a Republican district on this committee, what does that mean? If you go home, that might not be popular,'” Luria told volunteers at an Oct. 29 event. “And I said it doesn’t matter. This is the right thing.”
“And if that means I won’t be re-elected,” she added, “that’s fine. Because I’m on the right side of history.”
Luria has cited her oath of service as the primary reason she chose membership of the committee, which is a message that has reached some in a district where the population is overwhelmingly made up of active-duty military, veterans, and residents who are on the local shipyards work.
But according to the Wason Center poll, voters said economic concerns influenced their voting decisions, with nearly 40% considering it the most important issue, followed by abortion at 17% and threats to democracy at 14%.
Luria’s opponent Kiggans, also a Navy veteran, said the election will not be decided by the Jan. 6 committee.
“I’ve never had a single voter or person whose door I’ve knocked on or a civic league I’ve attended or an event I’ve attended. I’ve never had a single person come up to me and say that’s the main issue they’re focusing on,” Kiggans told The Associated Press in July. “Every day I hear over and over again about gas prices and food prices and food shortages and how much it all costs.”
But for a number of black voters in the district, the economy is not the most important issue on the ballot.
“We understand that the economy will see ebbs and flows. But when we start looking at overcoming women’s rights, it brings us back to the issue of our civil rights,” said Ebony Wright, a Navy veteran and black Suffolk resident. “And when we start shrinking, it’s scary. And then we wonder what’s next.” She said she’ll vote for Luria.
Her neighbor Selena Thornton, who is also a black veteran, said the reality and history of the Suffolk area, miles from where Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion took place and near sunset areas, reminds her constantly that she is not as distant from her ancestors as some might think. And she said that’s why Luria was her choice too.
“If you want to know that Black Vote is right there, there’s always going to be a fear that we’re going backwards instead of forward,” Wright said.
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin of Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/11/04/luria-makes-final-case-for-democracy-vies-for-black-voters/ Luria makes a final pro-democracy case and vie for black voters