GOP primary is a doozy

Published 6:33 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

It’s getting little attention in a seemingly uneventful election year locally, but Suffolk voters have a say this spring in arguably one of the most important races in the entire country: the Republican primary to decide who will oppose U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., for the 2nd Congressional District seat.

Early voting began Friday for the June 21 primary, in which four candidates are running.

Inclusion in the newly drawn, Tidewater-centric 2nd District as a result of redistricting after the 2020 Census is a big change for Suffolk voters, who’ve been divvied up for the past decade between the Peninsula-oriented 3rd Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, and the Richmond-centric 4th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Donald McEachin.

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Both of those districts were solidly Democratic, while the new 2nd District will be among the handful of battleground districts nationwide that determine which party controls the House of Representatives starting in 2023. Put simply, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

State Sen. Jen Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, is considered by most pundits to be the favorite to secure the GOP nomination, but political newcomer Jarome Bell is doing his best to add some intrigue. Tommy Altman, an Air Force veteran, businessman and minister, and Andy Baan, a Navy veteran and former prosecutor, round out the Republican field.

The 2nd District GOP race gained some national prominence last weekend when Bell traveled to Florida and made an appearance on stage with former President Donald Trump. Bell used the opportunity to declare Kiggans a “RINO,” or “Republican in Name Only,” one of Trump’s favorite descriptions for party officials who’ve been disloyal to him.

Trump stopped short of endorsing Bell, so all eyes will be on Mar-a-Lago over the next couple of weeks to see whether the former president picks a candidate in the Hampton Roads race. Kiggans has been reliably conservative in the General Assembly but very much from the establishment wing of the party, while Bell works to outflank her on the right. An unabashed defender of gun rights, Bell held a drawing for an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in the early stages of his campaign, “in defiance of Biden, Pelosi, and the rest of the Socialists.”

Conventional wisdom suggests the more moderate Kiggans would have a better chance to unseat Luria in the “purple” 2nd District come November. Regardless, the primary will be one of the nation’s first looks at the post-Trump-presidency GOP.

We encourage Suffolk Republicans to cast their votes in a primary that could help shape the national Republican Party for years to come. The deadline to register to vote or update one’s voter registration in time for the primary is May 31. The deadline to apply for a ballot to be mailed to you is June 10.