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Democrats Think They Have a Winning Issue in This House Race: Abortion

New polling shows that Rep. Jen Kiggans may have a real problem with abortion in her Virginia district.

Jen Kiggans
Jen Kiggans gestures during a debate. Steve Helber/AP

If Democrats take down incumbent Republican Rep. Jen Kiggans in one of the most competitive districts in the country, they’ll likely have one issue to thank: abortion.

According to a new polling memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that was obtained by NOTUS, Democratic candidate Missy Cotter Smasal is down by 4 points to Kiggans at the moment, 44% to 48%. But once voters are briefed on Kiggans’ abortion positions, the race flips — with Cotter Smasal pulling in 50% and Kiggans getting 44%.

“This polling confirms that Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District is a key flippable seat on the battleground,” Lauryn Fanguen, a spokesperson for the DCCC, told NOTUS.

“We know that abortion is a motivating issue, and Jen Kiggans’ indisputable anti-abortion record is grossly out of touch with coastal Virginians,” she added. “Voters will reject Kiggans and her anti-abortion extremism this fall.”

In the past, the DCCC has used polls to help refine their messaging — and it’s clear from this latest batch of polling that abortion isn’t going anywhere as a motivating issue for Democrats.

Kiggans, particularly, may have an issue. She has called abortion a “shiny object,” voted to reverse a Pentagon policy that provides abortion access for military members and celebrated the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Kiggans has also called abortion an “elective surgery,” particularly taking issue with a Defense Department policy allowing service members to get reimbursement for travel if they need to cross state lines to obtain an abortion.

“If I wanted to get a Hollywood nose job in California, I do not expect the Navy to pay for my travel expenses to get there,” Kiggans said in July 2023.

In the Virginia district where Kiggans is running for reelection, the Partisan Voting Index is R+2, meaning the district leans toward Republicans by 2 percentage points. But the district has flipped between both parties in the last few elections. Former Rep. Elaine Luria was one of three Virginia Democrats who upset Republicans in the 2018 midterms when she defeated Scott Taylor. Four years later, Kiggans took the seat from Luria in the 2022 midterms.

The first-term Republican was one of the GOP’s stronger recruits in the 2022 cycle. While Biden won the district by 2 points in 2020, Kiggans was able to defeat Luria by 3 points in 2022.

The suburban district is near the largest naval station in the country, Naval Station Norfolk. And both Kiggans and Cotter Smasal have Navy experience — Kiggans as a helicopter pilot, and Cotter Smasal as a surface warfare officer.

But even with the strength of abortion as an issue for Democrats, Cotter Smasal has an uphill climb. In the most recent FEC filings, Kiggans had $1.8 million on hand, while Cotter Smasal only had $367,660.

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.

Correction: A previous version of this article mistated Cotter Smasal’s role in the Navy.