- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2019

Democrats’ chances of defending their House majority next year could depend on the fate of three freshmen women — and none of them is named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib.

Instead, three women who won seats in suburban districts in Virginia are helping power the Democratic takeover. Reps. Abigail Davis Spanberger, Elaine G. Luria and Jennifer Wexton are all striving to keep their seats amid the chaotic politics of Washington and the national Democratic Party.

While Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her cohorts make waves joining the push for impeachment, the three Virginia Democrats have taken a less-combative approach to their new jobs, focusing first on ending the government shutdown that began the year and then supporting Democrats’ bills on gun control and campaign finance reform.

“They know that their greatest challenge is not within the party, nor is it clear that they have a sure bet at reelection,” said John McGlennon, a government professor at the College of William & Mary. “So they’re going to be focusing on local matters. They’re going to be visible in the community. They’re not going to be focusing on getting national attention.”

That shouldn’t be hard. Where Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has nearly 4 million followers on Twitter and Ms. Omar has nearly 1 million, none of the Virginia Three has more than 40,000.

They also had different paths to Congress. Though Ms. Ocasio-Cortez toppled a senior Democrat in a primary, all three of the Big Three liberals won their general elections with better than three-quarters of the vote in their districts.

The Virginia Three, meanwhile, defeated incumbent Republicans in much closer races.

Ms. Wexton had the easiest time, ousting Rep. Barbara Comstock with 56% of the vote in a race defined heavily by opposition to President Trump.

Ms. Luria defeated Rep. Scott Taylor with 51% of the vote, while Ms. Spanberger won slightly more than 50% in her race against Rep. Dave Brat in what had been considered a safe Republican district.

Since taking office, Ms. Wexton has been a more reliable warrior for her party’s leadership. The other two have found opportunities to split with fellow Democrats.

Ms. Luria and Ms. Spanberger voted for an amendment that would report illegal immigrants who try to buy firearms, which is against the law, to deportation authorities.

Ms. Spanberger cast a vote against Rep. Nancy Pelosi and backed another Democrat for House speaker.

Still, they are clearly tied to their party, political analysts said.

“The very factors that swept them into office are also, in a sense, a limitation on the effectiveness of efforts to carve out your own personal constituency,” Mr. McGlennon said.

Though freshmen, Ms. Spanberger and Ms. Luria were rewarded with chairmanships of subcommittees — a sign that party leaders are looking to help build their legislative resumes.

Ms. Spanberger leads an Agriculture subcommittee on conservation and forestry, and Ms. Luria heads an Armed Services subcommittee on veterans.

“I’m proud of what we’ve already achieved in the first 100 days, and we’re just getting started,” Ms. Luria told The Washington Times. “From introducing legislation to protect and preserve the Chesapeake Bay to ensuring our veterans get the benefits they’ve earned, I’m working hard to deliver results for the Virginians I have the honor of representing in Washington.”

Ms. Wexton does not lead a subcommittee, but she has written legislation that has cleared the House: a bill requiring the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to expand coordination with tribal and international law enforcement agencies. The House approved her bill on a voice vote, and it awaits action in the Senate.

“My job is to get things done for [Congressional District] VA-10, so that’s exactly what I’m doing,” the congresswoman told The Times in a statement. “The first bill I passed was bipartisan, and my first amendment passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.”

She suggested that bipartisanship could continue on issues such as infrastructure and prescription drug costs.

Political analysts in Virginia said it is better for the lawmakers, particularly Ms. Luria and Ms. Spanberger, to stay off the national radar than be the face of the party in attacks ads like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her liberal colleagues.

“It’s easier to make waves when you have zero worries about reelection,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

The women have mostly stayed away from big liberal debates such as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s push for a Green New Deal and “Medicare for All,” which has helped keep their names out of the national news.

During floor debate on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, Ms. Luria, who is Jewish, delivered a speech rebuking Ms. Omar’s comments suggesting that some Jewish members of Congress had dual loyalty to Israel and the U.S.

“Am I to look back on my military career and the sacrifices it meant for my family and remain silent in the face of people questioning my loyalty to my country?” the Navy veteran said. “The recent accusations of dual loyalty call into question the equal footing of Jewish members in elected office and, by extension, all Jews living in America.”

Republicans say at least two of the three Virginia women are prime targets for campaigns next year.

“While Rep. Spanberger and Luria are doing what they can to portray themselves as Democrats willing to cross the aisle, it’s clear that the Democrat Party in Congress is pulling everybody so far left,” Jack Wilson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, told The Times.

No Republican has announced a challenge, but Mr. Wilson said President Trump’s name at the top of the ballot could draw out more Republican voters in those districts.

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