Rep. Abigail Spanberger is casting herself as a tough-on-crime Democrat to blunt attacks from Republican challenger Yesli Vega, a former police officer who says the incumbent claims to back the blue only when it comes to crunch time in a campaign.
Ms. Spanberger, one of the most vulnerable House Democrats this cycle, boasts about her record in Congress securing federal dollars for law enforcement agencies and police departments in her district, which stretches from the outskirts of Richmond into the suburbs of Northern Virginia and has not been spared from a national crime wave.
“I have been very clear in my support for public safety [and] provisions to support and fund law enforcement,” Ms. Spanberger said at a get-out-the-vote event this week in Woodbridge, about 20 miles south of Washington. “Every single time I have had an ability to vote for not just police funding but also increase police funding, I have.”
The law enforcement refrain is familiar among Democrats who felt the sting of voter backlash against liberals’ calls to defund the police in 2020. Similar pro-police rhetoric can be heard from Democratic Reps. Val Demings and Tim Ryan in their bids for U.S. Senate in Florida and Ohio, respectively.
With less than a month before the Nov. 8 elections, Ms. Spanberger has put a focus on policing and public safety in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District as voters rate crime as a top concern.
“That’s quite important that we go back and treat the police with the respect they deserve,” said Terry Barratt, a voter from Dumfries, Virginia, who said she is supporting Ms. Vega partly because she supports law enforcement. “Yesli has a good understanding that [police] have a strong responsibility to uphold the law and that it is a tough job.”
Virginia State Police reported 562 homicides last year, a 6.4% uptick from the 528 reported in 2020. More than 80% involved a firearm.
The violent crime category, which includes rapes, sexual assaults, robberies and aggravated assaults on top of homicides, increased 7.1% across the state.
Spanberger campaign ads highlight the incumbent’s support for law enforcement and attack Ms. Vega for voting against local police funding while serving on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
“Yesli Vega won’t keep you safe” is the end note in one ad.
The charge stems from Ms. Vega’s opposition to county budgets from the Democratic-dominated board. She objected to tax increases in the budget, which she said were particularly dangerous with high inflation.
Ms. Spanberger, a member of the House Democrats’ centrist Blue Dog Coalition, was among one of the most vocal opponents of cries from the far left to “defund the police” after it cost her party seats in 2020. She continues to call the slogan “a terrible idea.”
She is also among a handful of Democrats who have put forward police funding bills in Congress.
“I have been very vocally opposed to the notion that you address any challenges within a community department by cutting off all funding,” Ms. Spanberger said at the get-out-the-vote event.
Ms. Vega insists the incumbent is a fake moderate who has voted along party lines under the Biden administration.
Part of her critique of Ms. Spanberger included her acceptance of a campaign donation from a political action committee tied to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and member of Congress’ far-left “Squad” who has supported stripping funding from police.
Ms. Spanberger received a $5,000 donation from the Courage to Change PAC, which asks candidates to pledge to reduce funding for law enforcement.
“She was vocal against [defunding the police] when she barely won her reelection. … It’s typical Spanberger to talk about this again during the election,” Ms. Vega told The Washington Times. “Crime is a top issue for voters. Now, she has to do damage control because she wants to save her tail.”
Ms. Vega also highlighted her record as an auxiliary deputy in the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office and her multiple endorsements from sheriffs and the Virginia Police Benevolent Association.
If elected, Ms. Vega said, she will make priorities of restoring public trust in the police, shoring up police departments and expanding community policing.
Virginia’s 7th District remains one of the country’s most competitive.
Mr. Biden won the district by 7 percentage points in 2020, and Republican Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial vote there last year.
Forecasters are giving Ms. Spanberger a slight edge in the race.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report last month moved the race from a “toss-up” to “lean Democratic.” Inside Elections, a separate nonpartisan forecaster, rated the race as “Tilt Democratic.”
• Mica Soellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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