WOODBRIDGE, VIRGINIA — The red wave of 2022 ran ashore before it reached the elevated suburbs around Washington, D.C., inhabited by well-heeled lawyers, government contractors, and bureaucrats.
In these low-crime, affluent suburbs, residents may be insulated from the inflation and crime felt by much of the country. But Republicans were energized after they moved rightward in 2021 following prolonged school closures, implemented by Democrats at the behest of their teachers union backers — culminating in the election of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin that year.
Republican Yesli Vega, a law enforcement officer and the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, received 48% compared to 52% for Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who positioned herself as a moderate Democrat, in Virginia’s seventh congressional district, perceived as a national bellwether.
In Loudoun County, the national capital of the school culture wars, Democrat Jennifer Wexton prevailed with 53% over against immigrant and combat veteran Hung Cao, a Republican. The seat was long in Republican hands until Wexton snatched it from Barbara Comstock, a moderate Republican, in 2018.
However, further from D.C. in Virginia Beach, Republicans took back a congressional seat from a Democrat after far-left ideology made its way into the schools of a military town. State Sen. Jen Kiggans ousted two-term incumbent Elaine Luria — a member of the House’s January 6 committee — 52% to 48% in the second congressional district. J. Miles Coleman, a political analyst with Sabato’s Crystal Ball, in September described the district as the exact median of the 435 House seats, calling it “the Florida of Virginia.” Youngkin carried the district with 55% in his 2021 victory.
The failure for Republicans to win D.C. suburbs is not surprising. Sabato’s Crystal Ball had predicted that while all three seats were in play, Luria’s seat was a true “toss-up,” while Spanberger’s “leans Democratic,” and Wexton’s would “likely” remain in Democrat hands. Non-political forces also impacted the area. The continuous concentration of wealth and jobs around the political capital has led to rural voters being displaced by more numerous urban ones living in newly-constructed dense housing. Decennial redistricting also changed the boundaries of some districts.
Still, the results call into question whether the backlash to the school shutdowns of 2020 and 2021, along with other educational controversies like Critical Race Theory and parental rights in schools, consisted of traditional Democrat voters sending a one-time message before reverting to old patterns, or whether the schools issue could lead to a lasting recalibration in the suburbs.
In 2018, Spanberger defeated Republican Dave Brat, who had in turn previously knocked out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a fellow Republican, after running to his right in the primary. It was a sign that the district was willing to elect members of either major party, as long as they were not too far from the center.
That left Spanberger in a precarious position as the center of gravity in her party moved increasingly to the left. After Democrats’ poor showing in 2020 House races, Spanberger unloaded on her fellow Democrats: “No one should say ‘defund the police’ ever again… Nobody should be talking about socialism.” She said if her fellow Democrats did not move away from the fringe, they would “get f****** torn apart” in November 2022.
Shortly before then, Spanberger faced backlash for campaigning with a state delegate, Elizabeth Guzman, who pledged to introduce a bill that could allow teachers to call Child Protective Services on parents who did not affirm their child as transgender, subjecting them to criminal charges. Spanberger said she would not support Guzman’s bill, but she also dropped out of a debate against Vega, in what Vega said was an attempt to avoid being pinned down on her position on parental rights.
In Woodbridge, Virginia, near where Vega held her election watch event, inflation and taxes were front of mind. At a barbeque joint filled with Hispanic workers, a sign on the front door railed against Democrats who “just added an Additional 4% Tax on Food while Inflation is Running Rampant!”
Santos Parada, a teacher, said he believed many older Hispanics supported Vega because of the economy, but that the same did not apply for younger Hispanics. And upper-middle class white women were repelled from Republicans because of the abortion issue, he said, adding that Vega should have fended off attacks by making clear that she shared Youngkin’s moderate position.
Vanessa Athena, a mother of two, said, “They were mad about parents rights, but then they made abortion a thing.” She said younger voters may have been groomed to have left-leaning politics by ideological school environments — though Parada said he believed social media was the larger influence on young voters.
One attendee at the Vega event, who did not want to be named because he works for a liberal employer, said, “The analysis is, this is the swamp. This is the D.C. area the rest of the country hates.”
Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears told The Daily Wire that the fact that Vega, the child of immigrants, came within striking distance of a seat in Congress showed that Democrats’ rhetoric about America is flawed. “What a wonderful country. You can come here with nothing and gain everything with hard work. This is not 1963. The people who want you to believe it is, you don’t see them leaving.” She said that Virginians will see the results of Republican policies with more time, with plans to introduce legislation creating school vouchers next year.