Luria and Kiggans to square off in battleground race

Published 11:34 pm Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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By Joe Banish

Contributing Writer

Virginia’s Second Congressional District is one of the many midterm elections that will shape the composition of the 118th Congress. 

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Two-term incumbent Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, faces off against sitting state Sen. Jen Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, who easily won this year’s Republican primary. 

With Democrats holding a slim 10-seat majority in the current Congress, this race is being watched closely by political pundits across the nation.

Second District electoral history

The district was redrawn last year after the 2020 Census to include Suffolk and the Tidewater region, while losing the cities of Norfolk, Newport News and Williamsburg. From 2010 to 2018, the congressional seat was held by Republicans. However, Luria defeated former Rep. Scott Taylor in a closely contested 2018 election, then secured her incumbency in a 2020 rematch. 

Republican Primary

Virginia operates an open primary system, meaning voters are not required to be registered to a party in order to vote in its primary. In the June 21 primary, according to the Virginia Department of Elections, Kiggans won 23,300 of 41,839 votes casted, or 55.69 percent. 

Significantly, she carried each of the Western Tidewater localities that were only recently added to the district. She won 50.19% to challenger Jarome Bell’s 32.83% in Franklin, 52.91% to 35.91% in Isle of Wright County, a tight victory of 44.89% to 43.22% in Southampton County, and 45.31% to 37.17% in Suffolk, according to the primary results. 

Kiggans’ other Republican opponents, Andrew G. Baan and Tommy Altman III, did not garner more than 15% of the vote in any locality.

Candidate biographies and platforms

Representative Luria is a retired naval commander, who served for more than two decades as a combat specialist, primarily in the Navy’s nuclear power department. She serves on the House committees on veteran’s affairs, homeland security, and is vice-chair of the Armed Services Committee, according to her information under the “About Congresswoman Luria” page on her website.

Luria bills herself as a moderate Democrat, and is a staunch supporter of the defense budget and veteran’s affairs. She also supports renewable energy initiatives for Virginia, reducing prescription drug prices, and co-sponsored the “Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) Act” of 2019. This bill would allow law enforcement, health professionals or immediate family members to petition a magistrate to block a firearm sale, should they believe the purchaser is an imminent danger to themselves or others, according to her website. Luria has also expressed support for universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. 

With regards to abortion rights, her office released a statement calling the reversal of Roe v. Wade, “…a rollback of the rights of women in the United States,” the website states. “A woman’s right to choose should be made between a woman, her health care provider, and her faith.”

Like Luria, state Sen. Kiggans is a Navy veteran, having served 10 years as a helicopter pilot, Kiggans’ issues page on her website states. 

Following her retirement from the Navy, she completed nursing school and became a certified geriatric nurse practitioner. She continues to practice nursing while serving in the senate for Virginia’s Seventh District, according to her website.

Although the two candidates are stalwart supporters of the military, Kiggans’ platform differs significantly on abortion and gun control. She is a strong advocate for increased border security, favors lower income and corporate tax rates, supports school choice, and opposes critical race theory curricula in classrooms, the Kiggans’ website states.

Election analysis

Pollsters across the nation view this race as one of the most closely contested in the nation. 

Dr. Olusoji Okomolafe, chair of the department of political science at Norfolk State University, believes last year’s redistricting plays a major role in the race’s competitiveness. 

“The loss of Norfolk voters in exchange for Chesapeake voters who are notoriously Republican may prove to be Luria’s Achilles heel in this race,” he said. Okomolafe also pointed to the relatively moderate platform of Kiggans as an advantage. He compares her candidacy to that of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who kept a “lukewarm embrace” of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. 

“On the contrary, Jarome Bell unabashedly embraced the former president’s endorsement and lost. It is not entirely unreasonable to assume that his appearance with (former national security advisor) Michael Flynn may have actually hurt his bid in the primary election,” Okomolafe explained. 

However, he says that Luria maintains strong advantages — notably, incumbency and participation in the Jan. 6 Select Committee. Although Okomolafe concedes that “…members on that committee are still vilified by some, many more think that they are serving to save what is left of our democratic experience.”

While this race may be extremely difficult to predict, its implications hold the potential to be monumental. Control of the House hangs in the balance, and with that the legislative agenda for the remainder of President Biden’s term. 

Contentious issues such as abortion, inflation, and energy security are likely to galvanize voters in a manner unseen in years. Regardless of the victor, come Nov. 8, Virginia’s Second District will be prime political theater.