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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

October 23, 2018

Better Know a Congressional Race: VA’s Fightin’ 2nd

National / Elections / Midterm / State

Virginia Congressional District 2

Virginia’s second congressional district has been shaping up to be a competitive midterm race in 2018. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzalescategorizes the race as a toss-up; however, the Cook Political ReportLarry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Wason Center for Public Policy has categorized the race as lean Republican.

Virginia’s second congressional district has consistently elected Republican candidates to office. In 2016, the district carried President Trump by 3 points. VA-2 has a Cook Political Index rating (PVI) of R+3, which means that Republicans have a 3 point partisan advantage in the district. However, unlike other congressional districts with similar PVI scores, Virginia’s 2nddistrict is unique because of the high number of active and former military members who reside in the district. Thus far, these military voters appear to be buffering Taylor from backlash to Donald Trump that is hindering the reelection prospects of other Virginia Republicans such as Barbara Comstock in the 10th district, and David Brat in the 7th. Taylor is a former Navy Seal. Democrats were hoping that nominating a candidate with her own military background might offset some of Taylor’s advantage among this group but our survey released last Monday finds that Taylor is beating Luria among voters from military households by 22 points.

Incumbent Republican Scott Taylor was elected to Congress in 2016 and won by a margin of 23 percentage points. Prior to his congressional term, Rep. Taylor held a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2014-2016. In the Republican primary, Rep. Taylor secured 76.05% of the vote against his challenger, Mary Jones, who closely embraced Donald Trump and attacked Taylor for not supporting the president enough. During his congressional term, Rep. Taylor focused on increased funding for the military, reducing tax rates, and supported the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare. Additionally, Rep. Taylor is on the Appropriations Committee which is responsible for developing the government spending plan. Regarding endorsements, Vice President Mike Pence has announced that he would be doing campaign events with several Virginia congressional candidates, including Rep. Taylor.

The Democratic challenger to Rep. Taylor is Democrat Elaine Luria. Luria has not held political office; however, she joined the Navy when she was 18 and has started her own small business. Luria states that her background in the Navy “makes her the clear choice to represent this military-rich district with the world’s largest navy base and among the highest concentration of veterans.” In the Democratic primary, Luria secured 62.33% of the vote against her challenger, Karen Mallard. Luria was recently endorsed by former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Luria has also been endorsed by Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-04), and Rep. Bobby Scott (VA CD-03).

According to the Federal Election Commission, Rep. Taylor has raised $3,417,865 while Luria has raised $3,192,746. Both candidates raised significantly more in the last quarter. As of June 30, Rep. Taylor had raised $2,741,096 while Luria had raised $1,318,926. The increase in campaign contributions and disbursements further outlines how competitive the race in the 2nd district has become. Furthermore, it illustrates how the race could end up being a toss-up if the candidates continue to match advertising and grassroots campaigning in the district.

Taylor has strongly supported President Trump in the past. According to FiveThirtyEight, Taylor has a “Trump Score” of 97.8%, meaning he has voted in line with Trump’s policy positions nearly 98% of the time. While this mattered greatly to voters in Virginia’s 10th congressional district with Rep. Barbara Comstock, it does not seem to have a great effect on voters in the 2nd district. According to a recent poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy, President Trump’s approval rating is “upside down” among likely voters in the district. 46% of respondents in the 2nd district approve of President Trump while 51% disapprove. The presidential approval rating in the 2nd district is higher than the national approval rating, which is at 43% approval and 52% disapproval. Thus far, the Luria campaign has largely avoided framing the election as a referendum on Trump, instead choosing to focus their messaging on a pending investigation into forged signatures gathered by members of Taylor’s campaign staff in an effort to get 2016 Democratic Party nominee Shaun Brown on the ballot as an Independent in order to siphon off votes that may have otherwise gone to Luria. The signatures included the names of deceased citizens or voters that do not live in the district. Rep. Taylor conceded that he was “aware of the effort to pay staffers to collect signatures for Brown,” but was not aware of “any wrongdoing by anybody at any time.” In addition, Rep. Taylor stated that when he heard of the accusations, he took “swift action and fired senior staff.” Luria responded to the allegations by stating that it is “obvious that people call into question his integrity, his ability to lead, and to stand up for what is right.” On August 14, the Democratic Party of Virginia filed a suit with the Richmond City Circuit Court calling for the removal of Shaun Brown from the ballot. On September 5, the Circuit Judge ordered Brown’s removal from the ballot.

According to the recent poll by the Wason Center, 72% of voters in the district are aware of the investigation into the Taylor campaign but a majority of respondents say that it does not matter to their vote choice. Furthermore, 68% of independents report that the scandal does not matter to their vote. One reason the issue is not resonating may be due to scandal oversaturation from the ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election as well as several scandals that have occurred involving members of Trump’s cabinet. Another factor may be the high levels of political polarization plaguing American politics, which has reduced political accountability as voters are more likely to rally around a member of their own party when political power is at stake.

The scandal from the Taylor campaign gave Luria momentum shortly after the court hearing. In late September, an internal poll from the Luria campaign showed that Luria was leading Taylor 51% to 43%, with 6% of voters still undecided. However, in the last month, the Taylor campaign has regained momentum and Rep. Taylor is leading in the most recent polls. The Siena College, sponsored by the New York Times, conducted a poll from September 26-October 1 and reported Taylor leading Luria 49% to 41%.

According to the Wason Center poll, 62% of respondents are very enthusiastic about the congressional race in VA-2. Because this race is categorized as both a toss-up race and a lean Republican race, the actual turnout on Election Day will determine who will secure the congressional seat. Dr. Bitecofer predicts that “if Democratic turnout reaches its 2017 level, this race could narrow or even flip unexpectedly to Luria.” 

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