VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Kevin McCarthy chose an election-eve destination and campaign partner that perfectly fit his party’s confident mood, rallying here Monday night alongside Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who flipped the commonwealth red one year ago.
The House GOP leader appeared with Youngkin to stump for Jen Kiggans, the state senator trying to topple Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) in this battleground district, alongside a crew that included another Republican congressional challenger as well as former Speaker Newt Gingrich — who has advised McCarthy on this fall’s House GOP agenda.
By choosing Virginia, where Youngkin’s victory last year marked the start of a GOP resurgence in the once-blue-trending battleground state, McCarthy sent a self-assured signal on behalf of his party. Republicans are now angling to take back as many as three seats in the state that powered Democrats’ 2018 midterm gains, should they prevail in the Kiggans-Luria race, Yesli Vega’s challenge to Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Hung Cao’s campaign against Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.).
And McCarthy clearly understood Virginia’s importance as an early indicator of a potential GOP wave on Tuesday.
« This is the Number One race I’m gonna watch tomorrow night, because when Jen wins, we win the majority,” McCarthy said to applause and whistles.
« The Number One place I want to be the night before the election: I want to be with Jen Kiggans, » he added.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), who also spoke at the rally, agreed that the 2nd District, in particular, is « one of those bellwether districts. »
“This essentially being the last stop [for McCarthy] shows that they’re laser-focused on Virginia,” Wittman said in an interview before the rally started.
Should the GOP claim all three battleground-district seats in Virginia, the party could take back a majority of the state’s 11-seat House delegation. Underscoring the importance of protecting Democrats’ trio of incumbents, First Lady Jill Biden appearedwith Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a former governor, on Wexton’s behalf earlier Monday.
While talk of an imminent Donald Trump presidential campaign launch swirled in Washington, McCarthy also made a conspicuous choice in appearing alongside Youngkin, who won the governor’s mansion while embracing a policy-first persona that avoided avidly embracing the former president. Other Republican candidates in the state have since sought to replicate Youngkin’s playbook, and discussion of a potential 2024 presidential run is also beginning to trail the governor.
Wittman drew parallels between Youngkin’s and Kiggans’ campaigns, noting they’ve both been focused on the issues.
Luria, a Navy veteran, is considered one of Democrats’ more vulnerable incumbents after she was drawn into a new district that went for President Joe Biden by just 3 points in 2020. The GOP views Kiggans, also a Navy veteran and a nurse practitioner, as a talented candidate well-positioned to reclaim the seat after Luria defeated a scandal-plagued GOP incumbent in 2018.
But Luria is seeking to contrast herself with Kiggans when it comes to last year’s Capitol riot by Trump supporters, touting her work on the Jan. 6 select committee while arguing that her GOP opponent has yet to condemn the former president’s false claims of election fraud. The Virginia Democrat is also banking on her national security bona fides to appeal to voters in a district defined by its local naval base as she competes against another navy veteran.
And Luria has been pulling in surrogates of her own, including Kaine and Virginia’s other well-liked Democratic governor-turned-senator, Mark Warner — as well as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a top contender to succeed Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the top House Democrat. POLITICO rates the Luria-Kiggans race a toss-up.
McCarthy will also be in Virginia on Tuesday, campaigning in the 10th District on behalf of Cao, a Navy veteran. Youngkin lost the district last November, but only narrowly — a close enough defeat to signal to the GOP that if the political environment trended further away from Democrats, the seat could end up theirs. POLITICO rates the seat as leaning Democratic.
The Vega-Spanberger race counts some parallels to the Luria one, with the incumbent running on her national security background as well as her bipartisan record. Spanberger has run ads rebuking her own party leadership to burnish her appeal to independents, hoping to win a third term after prevailing in 2020 by just 2 percentage points.
She got boosted by redistricting that left her district slightly more Democratic than before, reaching north into the Washington exurbs, but her race is still among the most competitive in the state. Spanberger has sought to paint her GOP challenger as an extremist, running ads that portray Vega — also a military veteran — as siding with pro-Trump rioters after Jan. 6.
And Spanberger may benefit from the endorsement of outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who lost her role in leadership and later her seat in Congress over her vocal criticism of Trump after Jan. 6 but who is now lending what cross-aisle appeal she might have to a handful of battleground races. POLITICO rates the race a toss-up.
Asked in a short interview about his chances of winning the three Virginia seats, as crowd members leapt to get selfies with him, McCarthy replied: “Look, they’re all competitive, and you didn’t think we could win any of them.”