The parties’ fortunes likely won’t change if these lines are adopted: Republicans will still be underdogs in a majority of the blue-leaning state’s districts, except in a wave election. But some Democrats are frustrated with how the mapmakers handled the three women in the delegation: Spanberger, Luria and Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton.
Spanberger is the only incumbent left without a home. She currently represents the 7th District but was grouped with GOP Rep. Rob Wittman in the new, red-leaning 1st District. The new 7th District, meanwhile, heavily favors Democrats but is nestled in the suburbs of northern Virginia, roughly an hour or so north of Spanberger’s home in Glen Allen.
Walking to the House Chamber for a vote on Wednesday night, Spanberger declined to comment on the new map and said she was focused on serving her current constituents.
Besides Spanberger, the next most affected incumbents are Luria and Wexton, whose northern Virginia district would become significantly more competitive. It does still favors Democrats, though, according to an aggregation of election results over the past four years provided by the special masters. Wexton keeps her home county of Loudoun but picks up a huge swath of new territory to the south.
Luria, meanwhile, will have the most competitive district in the state, though her seat would get slightly less Democratic.
“I think the most obvious thing is it seems to be very hurtful for the three Virginia women,” said Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, reflecting on the map. “I know we’re not supposed to have elected officials pick their voters, but it is unfortunate the way they’re drawn that incumbents like Abigail Spanberger, who had a difficult district to begin with, is tossed in a completely different district.”
The map was drawn by two special masters, Sean Trende, the GOP’s pick, and Bernard Grofman, the Democratic choice. They submitted their plan to the state Supreme Court — which was charged with drawing the map after a newly created independent commission was mired in dysfunction — with a memorandum detailing their effort to operate in “an apolitical and nonpartisan manner.”
“These maps reflect a true joint effort on our part,” they wrote. “We agreed on almost all issues initially, and the few issues on which we initially disagreed were resolved by amicable discussion.”
If the court approves this map, it will lock in the House battlegrounds ahead of what is expected to be a hotly contested battle for the majority. Republicans would have two targets — the same number as under the old lines — though Wexton’s district would come back onto the map.
Wexton currently holds a Northern Virginia seat that Joe Biden carried by 20 points, but the proposed new district takes in a swath of counties that previously fell in Spanberger’s district. That could earn her some of Spanberger’s current challengers, like state Del. Nick Freitas, who lost narrowly to Spanberger in 2020.
Wexton was first elected in 2018 after winning a crowded Democratic primary that perhaps proved more challenging than her landslide victory against then-GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock. Wexton is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a moderate group.
But it’s Spanberger who finds herself in the trickiest spot. Without major changes to this map, she will have to choose between running against Wittman in a red seat or moving to the new 7th District. (She could also vie against Wexton for the new 10th District, which took in some of her turf.)
The new 7th District, anchored by Prince William County, would be significantly more Democratic than her current district. But it will also likely draw a slew of other interested Democrats who currently live within its boundaries. Democrat Ann Wheeler, who replaced firebrand conservative Corey Stewart as the chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, is interested in the district, according to a source familiar with her plans.
State Del. Elizabeth Guzman is also considering a run, according to a person close to her. She could be the first Latina to represent Virginia in Congress. Another possible candidate: state Del. Hala Ayala, who represents the county and recently lost a bid for lieutenant governor.
Spanberger splashed onto the political scene in 2018, beating Republican Dave Brat, a House Freedom Caucus member best known for felling then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor four years earlier. She quickly became a leading voice of the Democratic moderates — a faction that she watched shrink in the last election. A member of the Blue Dog Coalition, the Virginia Democrat has shown a willingness to buck party leaders over issues such as fiscal policy, immigration and national security.
As she works to protect swing seats like her own, Spanberger has also at times been a vocal critic of her own party’s messaging strategy. After more than a dozen of her centrist colleagues were wiped out last November, the Virginia Democrat critiqued her party’s direction on cultural issues, including the “Defund the Police” movement.
Republicans are ascendant in Virginia after the 2021 elections, winning the governorship and control of the state House. But Democrats would likely still have been able to draw the new congressional lines this year had they not ceded control to a redistricting commission.
That group, made of politicians and citizens, failed to produce a map and was rife with partisan bickering. Much of the Virginia Democratic delegation predicted that outcome from the start and warned that redistricting would then revert to the Republican-leaning state Supreme Court.
In an interview, Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) expressed hope that the court could still tweak the map. “I think there could be improvements,” he said, name-checking the new 7th District as well as the new version of seats held by Wexton and Luria. “I think they could be drawn better.”
McEachin, who is set to continue representing a Richmond-based seat under the new lines, said its a misnomer to suggest the state’s Supreme Court skewed toward the GOP: “They’re not partisan in nature. I mean, I know them personally.”
Heather Caygle, Sarah Ferris and Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.