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Kiggans, Vega win GOP primaries in key Virginia House districts

A photo of Yesli Vega and a photo of Jen Kiggans
On Tuesday, Republicans chose Yesli Vega (left) and state Sen. Jen Kiggans as their nominees in two key Virginia House districts. Vega will face Rep. Abigail Spanberger in November's general election, while Kiggans will face Rep. Elaine Luria. (Photo of Vega courtesy of Prince William County; photo of Kiggans from Steve Helber/AP)

Republicans have chosen a sheriff’s deputy and former Navy helicopter pilot as their nominees in two key swing House districts. Both women are attempting to claw back Congressional seats flipped by Democrats in 2018.

Yesli Vega won a divided race to become the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 7th District, anchored in Fredericksburg. Vega, an auxiliary deputy in the Prince William County Sheriff's Office, is the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants.

Vega defeated a field of five other candidates, including a former Army Green Beret and current state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania).

Vega will face Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) in a redrawn district that’s shifted to the left — and North — from her current seat in Richmond’s suburbs. Spanberger won her most recent election by less than 2 percentage points.

At a campaign stop outside Fredericksburg earlier this month, Vega assailed Democrats for their positions on immigration and rising inflation but didn’t go into great depth about her policy positions. Instead, she painted a bleak picture of the country.

“I'm running because I still believe in America,” Vega said. “And I believe in patriots that are sick and tired of seeing politicians hijack our country and make every single attempt to destroy her.

Vega has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election but stopped short of saying it was stolen at an April forum. She also downplayed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In a statement, Monica Robinson, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called Vega a “a far-right extremist” who has “aligned herself with some of the most radical, far-right personalities in Washington,” pointing to endorsements from arch-conservatives like Rep. Bob Good (R-7th) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).

2nd District

In Virginia Beach, Republicans chose state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) to take on Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.). The partisan makeup of the 2nd District is almost evenly split, according to the experts who drew Virginia’s new Congressional maps.

Kiggans is a former Navy helicopter pilot and geriatric nurse practitioner who won her Senate seat in 2019. This year, she sponsored unsuccessful bills seeking to ban transgender women from competing in women’s sports and forbid the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts” in public K-12 schools. She was one of four Republicans to vote for a $70-million audit of the 2020 elections. And like Vega, Kiggans didn’t respond to VPM’s questions on whether she would have voted to certify that election. Kiggans has attempted to pin Luria to President Joe Biden and historic inflation.

Luria is also a Navy veteran and sits on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Fundraising

Both Democrats enjoy large fundraising advantages. But the gap is expected to narrow as the GOP pumps money into races it sees as crucial to retaking the House of Representatives.

John Whitbeck, a former chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in an interview Wednesday with VPM News that he believed Luria was especially vulnerable, but Democrats faced challenges across the board due to what he called a “God awful economic situation.”

While he said Virginia was especially connected to national politics, including the Jan. 6 hearings, “whatever impact the Jan. 6th hearings might have is eclipsed by the economic situation.”

John McGlennon — a professor of government at William and Mary, and a Democrat who serves on the James City County Board of Supervisors —said Democrats might still find traction in November. An upcoming Supreme Court reassessment of Roe v. Wade and spate of gun violence across the country could serve to galvanize their base, he said, and are reminders that GOP policies on the issues sometimes cut against public sentiment.

“Those are things that the Democrats feel that they can really push the Republicans into such an extreme corner that they can be competitive,” he said.