Jennifer Wexton and Ralph Northam

Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D) stands with Gov. Ralph Northam (D) after her election in 2018.

Three freshman Democratic congresswomen are in demand to campaign for candidates for the state legislature in Virginia this year since the party’s top officeholders have been sidelined by scandal.

Reps. Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton are busy fundraising and endorsing Democrats in their districts. It’s a mutually beneficial situation for the three, who face reelection in 2020.

This is a pivotal election year in Virginia, where all 140 seats in the General Assembly will be on the ballot in November. Republicans maintain control by the thinnest of margins — just a two-seat majority in each chamber. In addition to shaping the legislative agenda, the party that controls the General Assembly will oversee the 2021 redistricting process.

Going into this year, the party had expected its three statewide officeholders — Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark R. Herring — to campaign often and enthusiastically for legislative candidates.

But those plans were derailed by February revelations that Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook featured a racist photo and his admission that he wore blackface for a dance contest that same year, as well as sexual assault allegations dating from the 2000s against Fairfax and Herring’s disclosure that he, too, wore blackface as a young man.

Luria, Spanberger and Wexton provide a welcome respite from issues of race and sexual assault, and they remind Democratic voters what they can accomplish in the era of President Trump, party observers say.

“You’ve got three guys who are in trouble and three women who are on fire,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.). “The freshman Virginia Democratic women are the success story this year at a time that there’s been some rough news for our party in Virginia.”

Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Virginia Democratic Party, said the women helped flip control of the House and the state’s congressional delegation, meaningful turnabouts for voters angry about Trump’s election.

“That was a big win for us,” she said. “There was nothing more devastating and heartbreaking for us than election night of 2016. After that, it was the women who stood up to run. I think women had just had enough.”

The female lawmakers expect to ramp up their campaign work during recesses and after the June 11 primary.

They will be joined on the campaign trail by Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine as well as Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Gerald E. Connolly, Don Beyer and A. Donald McEachin. Former governor Terry McAuliffe, who decided against a presidential bid, is also working on behalf of Democratic candidates for the legislature. McAuliffe said he made the call in part because Virginia Democrats had asked for his help.

The Democrats are all expected to attend the state party’s June 15 Blue Commonwealth Gala, its biggest fundraiser of the year.

Republican Reps. Rob Wittman, H. Morgan Griffith, Ben Cline and Denver Riggleman are also campaigning for their party’s legislative candidates, and their work will increase this summer. The state GOP seized on Democrats’ troubles as soon as the session ended and will continue to try to capitalize on the scandals ahead of Election Day.

This year’s races give the Democratic women a chance to build profiles that could put them in contention for statewide office, although none have raised the possibility publicly and they are careful to say their home districts are the priority.

“There’s no doubt that with Northam and Fairfax weakened, Democrats are turning to other elected officials, especially female newcomers, as the future of their party,” said David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “It’s possible that Luria, Spanberger and Wexton have leapfrogged the current Democratic leaders at the state level for future statewide openings.”

Of the three, Wexton has the most leeway to endorse candidates in contested primaries without fear of alienating voters because of her 12-point victory in a Northern Virginia district long thought to be moving left.

She has attended more than a dozen events for candidates since December and plans nine more.

“I have a bigger, better platform as a member of Congress than I did a state senator, and I take that very seriously,” Wexton said of the post-scandal political landscape.

Luria, a former Navy commander who owns a business in Norfolk, and Spanberger, a former CIA agent from the Richmond suburbs, won districts that voted for Trump and will probably be targeted by Republicans in 2020, making their task more delicate.

Each said they would campaign outside their districts if needed, especially considering that on drives to their home districts they pass through competitive territory.

“We are thrilled to be an asset to our 2019 races because you don’t win an election or flip a chamber alone. Many of the 2019 candidates fought for us last year, and we’re ready to have their backs in 2019,” Luria said in statement.

“Recognizing some of the challenges we’re facing at the state level, it’s important for me to uplift all voices,” Spanberger said in an interview.

All three won their races in the 2018 midterm elections thanks to strong suburban and exurban turnout that the party wants to replicate this year.

Right after the scandals broke, Spanberger, Luria, Wexton, the state Democratic Party and nearly every prominent Democrat called on Northam and Fairfax to resign. Swecker, the state party chairwoman, sidestepped questions about why they remain in office.

“We’ve moved on,” she said. “We’ve got important elections ahead to take back the House and Senate and to have a General Assembly that can do good things and move Virginia forward, so that’s what we’re focused on.”

(18) comments

feathers

What are the Freshman Congresswomen going to run on? Border security, immigration reform...nope. Oh, our bombing economy...which they had nothing to do with. I got it, Climate Change, even though we had one of the coldest, snowiest Oct-May's on record. But Virginia loves it's swamp so I concede they are the frontrunners.

romano

That they must rely on the likes of Wexton tells you just how perilous the state of the Democrat party is. The party of identity politics, men in women's bathrooms, radical abortion, socialism, impeachment, 70% taxes and reparations. I can't wait to watch the Dem debates. It is going to be priceless.

LetSanityPrevail

I attended Congresswoman Wexton’s town hall and she actually seemed tohave some measured and reasonable positions on energy and healthcare. While I disagree with some of her positions on abortion and gun control I don’t consider her radical. What I do fault her on is the fealty to the Democratic Party talking points rather than speaking for herself. For example when asked about the antisemitism coming from her side of the aisle from her colleagues like Tlaib, Cortez and Omar the response she gave was that hate comes from the top (sic Trump). The inability to honestly call out members of your own party and deflect the criticism to an opponent is not courageous or honest. Similarly when asked about late term abortions her response was pure party line...’the woman has the right to choose at any time’. This is nit a very nuanced response considering the person asking the question asked how it was morally correct to abort a baby even up until birth. What we need are politicians who do not parrot party lines but can put a middle of the road answer to bring different views to a compromise,

Loudoun4Trump

The only thing I can think of that Wexton supported in any level of government were the absurd toll increases....that is the spokesperson for the democrats..toll booth wexton….Duncan, the GOP is losing its appeal b/c the candidates they put up, Trump will win in 2020 on his record which is quite better than Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Carter, Nixon, Ford, Johnson, Kennedy.....might even be better than reagan's

amerigirl

It was the republicans that claimed Wexton was for outrageous toll increases, she voted against it when they said it could surpass $17 round trip. They just ran ads on it anyway. You can easily fact check this. I guess that makes your little nickname obsolete. Trump probably won't win unless he cheats again. But at least some republicans like Joni Ernst, John Thune and Chuck Grassley are finally telling him that if he doesn't stop the tariffs they won't approve his trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Now McConnell and Romney are joining in. His record of what? devastating farmers, steel workers, killing babies at the border? They got lucky none of the 37 kids they locked in the vans in July for up to 39 hours didn't die.

tolerantleft

And don’t forget the commonwealth’s Dem Guvner Norrham’s support for post-birth abortion. We won’t forget!

amerigirl

[offtopic] You won't forget the lies you're spreading? Well good for you[wink]

loudounwatcher

It's sad that Wexton puts fundraising and glad handing above doing the people's business for which she was elected and for which she is being paid a hefty sum. Whether you believe it or not the crisis at our southern border grows more critical ever single day. Congress should get off their worthless asses and fix our problems, NOT OUR POLITICS. What the heck were you elected to do? BTW love the happy happy picture of the disgusting governor with Jenny. Great pals.

Duncan Idaho

I suppose when Trump is "fundraising and glad handing", instead of doing the "people's business", that's perfectly OK?

Loudoun4Trump

understand the decision to shelve the racist governor...but Wexton….BAHAHAHAHA, what has she accomplished in her time in office -- Nothing!....she should be worried about her own seat....

amerigirl

• Well since you asked, she has passed Virginia legislation for the protection of children and the elderly (SB897) , fought the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic (SB848) and (SB1086), Victims of revenge porn or surreptitious photos or videos will now be able to sue their perpetrator for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs (SB1210), expanding consumers’ access to community solar energy in Virginia (SB1208). Since in the house she has had more bills than I can list here, a few are. She Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to equal rights for men and women. (HJRes35), a First Responders Survivors Support Act of 2019 (HR1210) , American Family Act of 2019 (HR1560), kept the USPS delivering mail 6 days a week (HRes54), Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act of 2019 (HR569), Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions and Making Health Care More Affordable Act of 2019 ( HR1884), Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (HR553). Disability Integration Act of 2019 (HR555). That barely scratches the surface. Would you like more or the info for how to find it yourself?

Duncan Idaho

You can thank the ineptitude of the Virginia GOP, and the clown show of the Republican standard bearer Donald Trump, for the upcoming GOP losses in the VA House of Delegates.

swampfiller

AH, a talking potato. I think both parties in VA are inept.

Duncan Idaho

I guess you don’t read science fiction.

John M

The ineptitude of the Virginia GOP? Have you watched the news at all the past year? Do you think the Gov, Lt. Gov and AG are Republicans? Also, does Trump pay for all the space he rents in your head?

Duncan Idaho

Trump is bankrupt, he doesn’t pay anything.

That will be the only positive legacy of the Orange Julius Caesar...

John M

Six more years of TDS for you and Duncan!

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