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How the Jan. 6 hearings are landing in one Virginia swing district

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who's seen here on Feb. 10 in Culpeper, Va., faces reelection in a competitive district this fall. Her Republican opponent will be decided in a primary Tuesday.
Alex Brandon
/
AP
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who's seen here on Feb. 10 in Culpeper, Va., faces reelection in a competitive district this fall. Her Republican opponent will be decided in a primary Tuesday.

Kimberly Berryman lives in the countryside outside Fredericksburg, Va., but drives 20 miles to the suburbs to do her shopping. She keeps a cooler in the trunk to keep her corn cold as she travels from store to store, trying to find the best deals on groceries.

For Berryman, it's worlds away from the hearings about the Jan. 6 insurrection going on at the U.S. Capitol.

"I got other things to do," she said with a laugh.

Berryman, who works with special needs students, said she was shocked and scared by the attack at the Capitol. But she said she's more worried about price hikes and supply shortages than litigating Jan. 6.

"Just move on to something else," she said.

Berryman said she usually votes for Democrats, including Abigail Spanberger, who currently represents the competitive 7th Congressional District in Congress. But Berryman said she'll consider voting for a Republican if they do a better job addressing her concerns about high prices.

"There are people out here that really can't afford it. And I'm one of them," she said.

Voters like Berryman are testing whether Democrats can focus attention on the Jan. 6 committee's findings, while also convincing voters they're trying to address issues like rising prices. Their ability to balance that may determine if the party can get its coalition to show up in the November midterms.

The six Republicans running in Tuesday's primary to take on Spanberger face a different challenge with the hearings. There's not a clear frontrunner, but the leading candidates have played down the Jan. 6 attack and won't say whether they would have voted to certify the 2020 election. And they've rushed to align themselves with former President Donald Trump in a redrawn district that now leans more Democratic.

Mike Ongstad, a former Republican staffer who is now a spokesperson for the pro-democracy group Renew America, conceded those views may not in and of themselves disqualify the GOP candidates in the eyes of voters. Renew America has backed Democrats like Spanberger, as well as a smaller clutch of Republicans, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney.

"Things like economic issues like security and safety, those are always going to trump broader democratic issues," Ongstad said. Still, he argues the two are connected: "The only way you can solve for kitchen table issues is to make sure that you still have the ability to vote for the new and better candidate in the future."

Spanberger argues she's addressing both concerns. She regularly touts her bipartisan bona fides and collaboration with Republicans, including recent legislation designed to prevent future baby formula shortages and another bill to recruit more truckers to address supply chain issues.

"In addition to that, I'm focused on our democracy, the health of our democracy, and ensuring that something like we saw on Jan. 6 doesn't ever occur in the future," Spanberger said in an interview.

Still, the two-term Democrat wouldn't say whether she supports a second run by President Biden. "I'm focused on November '22, and continuing to serve my constituents," she said.

The six Republicans vying to take on Spanberger have worked to pin her to Biden. Yesli Vega, a sheriff's deputy running for the 7th District's GOP nomination, railed against the president and Spanberger to a crowd of a couple dozen Republicans in a gated community outside Fredericksburg.

"Tell me one thing they've done good — aside from electing and converting more Republicans," Vega joked at the recent event.

Yesli Vega, a sheriff's deputy running for the GOP nomination in Virginia's 7th Congressional District, speaks at a recent event alongside Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert.
Ben Paviour / VPM
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VPM
Yesli Vega, a sheriff's deputy running for the GOP nomination in Virginia's 7th Congressional District, speaks at a recent event alongside Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert.

Despite the moderate lean of the district, Vega has gone all in on Trump and racked up endorsements from some of his high-profile supporters, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. She's vowed to back another Trump presidential run and said she supports impeaching Biden.

She's hardly alone. Two other Republicans in the field, state Sen. Bryce Reeves and Army veteran Derrick Anderson, a self-described "Trump conservative," have made the former president a focus of recent TV ads. Reeves, who was one of just four Republicans in the state Senate to vote for a $70 million audit of the 2020 presidential election, says in his ad that Trump "shows how to stand up for the principles and values that make America great."

"I'm ready to finish what he started," Reeves says in the ad.

Most of the GOP candidates in the district have downplayed the Jan. 6 attack. Some Republican voters at Vega's event, like dairy farmer Deanne Marshall, contended the hearings aren't fair.

"They're not showing the whole story," Marshall said. "And they have no opposition. There's no true Republicans on that forum."

But for other voters in the district, like Democrat Courtney Deboise, the Jan. 6 hearings drive home the stakes for the health of the country's democracy.

"I believe it's important because everybody needs to know, you know ... what has happened and what are the steps we can take to prevent this from happening again," she said.

With so much else on voters' minds, Deboise said she can only hope the hearings cut through the noise.

Copyright 2022 VPM