Developing strong, experienced candidates should remain the lesson of Election Day for Virginia political party leaders.
An upbeat assessment of November’s results, particularly gains and losses in minority communities, confirms the importance of candidate character and quality.
Examining the campaigns of Democratic 7th District Congressman Abigail Spanberger, Republican 2nd District Congressman Jen Kiggans, and Ist District Congressman Rob Wittman could provide policy blueprints for future candidates who earnestly win want.
Wittman, who was elected to his eighth full term in Congress, and Democratic Congressman Don Beyer received the highest number of votes of any congressional candidate in Virginia.
With extensive defense budget experience, Wittman aspires to become vice chair of the powerful Armed Services Committee and a leading contender to chair the Tactical Air & Land Forces Subcommittee.
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In Virginia’s 7th Circuit, Prince William Supervisor Yesli Vega failed to extradite the state’s largest constituency of eligible voters, despite Governor Glenn Youngkin’s intense campaigning efforts.
This was especially notable as GOP exit polls showed Hispanic votes increased by a third compared to 2018 and 2022 to nearly 40 percent of the vote nationally. This compares to a 1% national increase in Latino votes, who accounted for 11% of the total vote. The GOP Black vote rose from 9% to 13%. Such percentages affected close Virginia and national races.
Spanberger showed her strength by defeating Republican delegate Nick Freitas in 2020 by 8,270 votes. She increased her lead over Vega by 12,771 votes in that election later this year, despite support from former President Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, which critics say is a serious burden.
Her victory margin of 28,744 votes in Prince William County and her loss of Stafford County by just 121 votes also speak to Spanberger’s reach and dominance.
In contrast, Kiggans won by 10,119 votes with no Trump support, but she received Youngkin’s endorsement and the very visible support of former Gov. George Allen, his wife Susan, and former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Kiggans’ future legislative plan, strong presentation of the debate, and election night visit by Speaker-elect Kevin McCarthy helped seal her election and perhaps a seat on the Armed Forces Committee.
“I think experience is important,” Susan Allen said of Kiggans, a veteran who served in the State Senate. “Most people want some kind of balance.”
Then there is the question of veterans. Questions remain about the nation’s Ukrainian involvement. Navy veteran Hung Cao, whose family immigrated from Vietnam, lost to 10th District Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton.
Candidates Cao and Vega opposed funding for the Ukrainians, while Spanberger, Kiggans, Wexton and Wittman all advocated their support.
So what must parties do in the future to remedy deficits and cultivate voter support?
Voters are realizing that character, experience, and cognitive presentations are more important than color, cosmetics, or machismo. They should.
That’s why former governor Allen suggests nominating “quality candidates who can win.”
It’s hard to disagree with Allen, despite calls for new leadership in the Virginia Republican Party.
Democratic Party officials are trying to recruit more independent candidates. Hopefully they are candidates who see the need to actually discuss the issues and respond to media inquiries.
While Democrats can brag about stemming the tide of “red tide” expected on Election Day, conservatives can stress their positives while the politically ambitious drool over next year’s election due to the redistribution of constituencies.
Beware of new candidates with little reputation, experience or ethics who are sadly in full attack mode trying to be the face of local and regional politics.
The harmful effects of poor candidate quality validate my constant call to vote for the person, not the party.
Come the new year, political change with an independent electoral focus sure sounds like victory to me.
DAniel P. Cortez is a Stafford-based President-Elect and serves as the Volunteer Co-Chair of the Latinos for Youngkin Coalition