Luria campaigns to defeat incumbent: Taylor defends seat in wake of forgery scandal

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COURTESY PHOTO / LAWRENCE JACKSON

The race for Virginia’s 2nd District House seat will be decided Nov. 6 in what has become one of the most highly competitive races in the country. The voters, which include students registered to vote at the College of William and Mary, will be deciding between the incumbent Republican, Scott Taylor, and the insurgent Democrat, Elaine Luria.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for reelection this November. With Democrats seeking to win back the House and the Senate and Republicans struggling to retain their majorities in a tumultuous climate, this close race is under scrutiny. Moreover, President Donald Trump won this district narrowly in 2016, and Governor Ralph Northam took it in 2017, which adds to the uncertainty about which way it will go this year.

Government professor John McGlennon said that the race could be an early indicator of which way the country is leaning politically.

“Both sides have received a lot of financial support, both from donors to their campaigns and from outside interests. Polling shows Taylor with a very slight lead but with a fairly large undecided vote, which will probably decide the outcome.”

“This race is very close,” McGlennon said in an email. “Both sides have received a lot of financial support, both from donors to their campaigns and from outside interests. Polling shows Taylor with a very slight lead but with a fairly large undecided vote, which will probably decide the outcome. This race is seen as an early indicator of the national results, since polls close in VA at 7 [p.m.] EST, among the earliest in the nation. If Taylor holds on, it should be a better night for Republicans, who might be able to hang on to a House majority. If Luria wins, it probably means the Democrats are on their way to taking control of the House.”

Both candidates have a background with the U.S. Navy, which reflects well on them in a district that encompasses Norfolk Naval Station, the world’s largest naval base. Scott Taylor worked as a Navy SEAL before being elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for the 85th District in 2013 and then to the House of Representatives for Virginia’s 2nd District in 2016. Elaine Luria worked as a surface warfare officer and nuclear engineer in the Navy before retiring to start her own small business and run for office.

Luria said that she decided to run for the first time because she has observed what is happening in Congress right now, and she feels it is her duty to step forward and make a change.

“If we want to change the conversation in Congress we need to change the people in Congress,” Luria said. “So I decided to step forward and run. I also look at my daughter who is 9 … I don’t want her to look at me and say, ‘What did you do?’ I want to know that I stepped forward and did the most I could to help our district and help our country.”

The retired Navy officer said that her experience in the military has taught her to be able to work across the aisle. She stressed that she believes her ability to see beyond party lines will be valuable in a climate of political polarization.

“I think having served in the military is a very mission-driven thing,” Luria said. “When you’re on an aircraft carrier for example and operating nuclear reactors … I would have never turned to the person next to me and said, ‘Are you a Democrat, are you a Republican?’ We had a mission to get done and I think that ability to work with people from different backgrounds, different parts of the country, different perspectives is very important.”

McGlennon said he thinks the biggest issues that have come up in this election are over health care and tax cuts, issues which are reflected across the country.

“Luria has been stressing her promise to work across party lines to get things done in Congress, and has criticized Taylor for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and failing to provide affordable coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions,” McGlennon said. “Taylor has stressed his support for tax cuts, and has run ads warning voters against Luria because, he says, she will take her orders from Nancy Pelosi.”

During Luria and Taylor’s first debate Oct. 23, Taylor emphasized his follow-through on campaign promises, including rebuilding the military, protecting veterans, cutting taxes and repealing the Affordable Care Act. Though it largely benefited business and the upper class, Taylor argued that last year’s Republican-led tax overhaul was beneficial. The average tax cut middle class Americans received was $688. He noted that being raised by a single mother on modest income taught him the true value of this amount of money.

“I can tell you right now that $688 could be the difference between the lights going on or off,” Taylor said, according to the Daily Press. “Nine out of [10] people in this district have seen more money in their own pockets … I know the benefit of that tax reform here and I’m proud I supported it.”

Taylor has also received backlash and become the subject of an investigation for illegal campaign tactics. In August, his staff had gathered signatures for a third-party candidate, Shaun Brown, to be added to the ballot. This would have split the Democratic vote in November. However, a judge ruled that while gathering signatures for another candidate is legal, forging them is not, and many of the signatures collected were proven to be forgeries.

McGlennon explained that while Taylor had momentum in the beginning of his campaign, this scandal has slowed him down and created a much closer race.

“Taylor got off to a good start to his first term in 2017, holding a well-publicized town hall where he faced angry voters but got good marks for listening to opponents of President Trump,” McGlennon said. “He did try to separate himself from Trump on some issues, but as the term has worn on, he has been more defensive. In June, a group of his paid staff were charged with falsifying petitions trying to get his 2016 Democratic opponent on the ballot as an independent in an effort to split the Democratic vote. A special prosecutor has been appointed and a judge ordered the candidate off the ballot, saying that the case was clear-cut attempted fraud.”

Taylor reacted to this scandal by firing his campaign consultant Rob Catron and threatening legal action against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for airing attack ads framing him as a criminal, insisting his campaign has a “zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate activities.”

Luria’s odds have been vastly improved in this election as a result. She has positioned herself as a better alternative to Taylor and encouraged young people especially to vote for her to represent their interests.

“When I look at young people and their futures and their opportunities I think you need to look at a candidate who really cares about the future of our country,” Luria said. “I think it’s a clear choice between the things that I stand for and the things that my opponent has said that he stands for by his votes while he’s been in Congress.”

“When I look at young people and their futures and their opportunities I think you need to look at a candidate who really cares about the future of our country,” Luria said. “I think it’s a clear choice between the things that I stand for and the things that my opponent has said that he stands for by his votes while he’s been in Congress.”

However, policy positions are not everything in this race — voter turnout, especially for young people, could be the deciding factor. McGlennon said he encourages every student to get out and vote if they hope to influence the outcome of the election.

“Voting rates for young people lag behind those of older voters, so guess who elected officials listen to,” McGlennon said. “In midterms especially, voter turnout is lower so every vote matters more.”