Inflation, abortion rights twin whirlpools for congressional candidates | Govt-and-politics

Turning hotter early next week

The same day that the Consumer Price Index showed the stubborn persistence of inflation, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proposed a national ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The twin announcements on Tuesday pose competing hazards for congressional candidates trying to navigate treacherous political currents in the midterm elections that will determine control of Congress. That includes  key races for the House of Representatives in redrawn Virginia political districts.

For Democratic incumbents, such as Rep. Abigail Spanberger in the 7th and Rep. Elaine Luria in the 2nd, the 0.1% increase in consumer costs in August – 8.3% higher than the same month a year earlier – revived Republican attacks on an issue that might have begun to fade as gasoline prices fell and President Joe Biden’s popularity rose.

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But Graham’s surprise announcement of his proposed national ban on most abortions after 15 weeks immediately put Republican challengers Yesli Vega, in the 7th, and state Sen. Jen Kiggans, in the 2nd, on the defensive on the issue that could motivate Democrats and independents in November, especially in suburban districts such as theirs.

“The midterm election is turning into a tug of war,” said Larry Sabato, president of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Republicans are pulling with inflation and Democrats are pulling with abortion rights. The question is, which will dominate?”

Other unforeseen events also could play a factor in the elections. Biden appears to have narrowly averted  a potentially crippling railroad strike, while Vega may have tripped in telling a conservative radio host that she would vote to shut down the government, despite the heavy concentration of federal employees and veterans in the new 7th District, which is based in Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.

The annual fight over funding the government could be complicated by inclusion of oil and gas permitting reforms, but Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Thursday that he expects Congress to pass a continuing resolution on spending to fund the government after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. “I’m not worried about a government shutdown right now,” Kaine said in a press briefing.

But the issue also could affect the race in the 10th District, where Republican Hung Cao is challenging Rep. Jennifer Wexton, an incumbent Democrat in a district anchored by Loudoun County and dependent on federal spending. Cao has sidestepped the government funding question and focused on education issues that remain a flashpoint in the Loudoun public school system.

“Republican messaging has not been favorable to federal employees in Northern Virginia,” acknowledged Chris Saxman, a former Republican delegate who is executive director of the influential business organization, Virginia FREE.

On the other hand, Saxman said, the economy could deal Democrats an untimely blow at the beginning of October if a third consecutive quarter of negative growth heralds a recession.

If that happens, he said, “The word ‘recession’ is going to dominate the final three or four weeks of the campaign.”

But for now, the words “inflation” and “abortion” are likely to drive midterm campaigns, as candidates attack on one issue and defend on the other.

Graham’s proposal to nationalize the issue may play well in South Carolina, where Sabato said it could help the incumbent senator fend off GOP primary challenges from his right, but it put Virginia Republicans in a bind.

“This helps him, but it certainly doesn’t help his party,” Sabato said.

Kiggans, who is trying to upend Luria in a redrawn 2nd District that no longer includes the Democratic stronghold of Norfolk, has tried to emphasize inflation and other parts of Biden’s legacy that are unpopular with conservatives. Graham’s abortion proposal undercut her position that states, not Congress, should decide restrictions on the procedure.

“The vast majority of Virginians — and Americans — support common-sense restrictions on abortion such as protecting babies from 15 weeks on,” Kiggans said in a statement that was first reported by Virginia Scope.

Campaign spokesman Bryan Piligra told The Washington Post, “While Sen. Kiggans believes the states should make these decisions, Rep. Luria voted for her extreme position to have Washington tell Virginians what to do.”

Luria supported the Women’s Health Protection Act, a federal effort to protect abortion rights that had been guaranteed under Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the legal doctrine in June.

Virginia Democratic Party spokesman Gianni Snidle said the senator’s statements show her intention. “Coastal Virginians know, that given a chance, Jen Kiggans would vote with Lindsey Graham to institute a national abortion ban.”

On June 24, the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said he will push in Virginia for a bill to prevent most abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, head of the state Senate’s Education and Health Committee, has pledged to block such legislation when the legislature convenes in January.

Vega already had drawn fire on abortion early in her campaign for celebrating the Supreme Court ruling and appearing to question the biological possibility of impregnation by rape.

On Thursday, Spanberger’s campaign attacked the Republican for pledging to support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion and federal legislation to ban the procedure from the moment of conception, based on a new report by NBC4 in Washington.

“The majority of Virginians believe a woman’s right to choose should be a decision between a woman and her doctor – not by politicians – and especially not by politicians like Ms. Vega who doubt that women who are raped can become pregnant,” Spanberger spokesman Justin Chermol said.

Vega defended her position in the NBC4 report as in line with the majority of Virginians, but generally has sought to focus on inflation, crime and education.

On Wednesday, for example, her campaign sought to capitalize on Tuesday’s inflation report, which came hours before Biden held a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans have attacked the law, which Biden signed last month, as inflationary.

“There is nothing more tone deaf than watching a career politician like Abigail pat herself on the back as the American people continue to suffer,” Vega said in a news release. “It’s a slap in the face to the hardworking Virginians who are struggling to feed their families, pay rent, and keep the lights on at home.”

Youngkin made the same point Thursday while campaigning in Nevada with Joe Lombardo, that state’s GOP candidate for governor.

“What they are doing is making it worse, not better,” Youngkin said, citing higher costs for groceries and housing, and Nevada gas prices hovering around $5 per gallon.

“And with all of that, what does the liberal, progressive White House do? They have a garden party.”

Spanberger says she is proud of supporting the $739 billion package, which includes a cap on prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients at $2,000 a year, frees the national health care program to negotiate prices for some medications and extends federal subsidies for insurance premiums that she estimates would save $2,832 for a family of four earning $75,000 a year.

The package also commits $369 billion to combat climate change, relies on a corporate minimum tax and enhanced IRS enforcement for new revenue, and reduces the federal budget deficit by more than $300 billion. (Budget hawks say the savings are offset by Biden’s partial forgiveness of student loans).

The August inflation numbers dampened Democrats’ claims of progress against inflation, which had peaked at a 40-year high of 9.1% in June, compared with the same month a year earlier. Inflation was flat in July, subsiding to 8.5% year over year, but the uptick in August was “a shocker” for Wall Street, said Kent Engelke, chief economic strategist and managing director at Capital Securities Management Inc.

“It’s not declining,” Engelke said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘It’s increasing.”

The Dow Jones Index fell by 3.9% on Tuesday, as investors saw the higher inflation numbers as a sign that the Federal Reserve Board would continue to raise interest rates, possibly beyond the 0.75% increase expected next week to cool the national economy and relieve pressure on consumer prices.

Politically, the report “gives [Republicans] a reprieve from the string of victories” for Democrats, said Saxman at Virginia FREE, adding that it would “change some of the winds behind Democratic sails.”

Spanberger quickly tried to shift the focus to her efforts to reduce prices and help local industries hurt most by rising costs. “Rep. Spanberger recognizes that high prices continue to impact Virginians,” a spokesperson said Tuesday after the inflation report emerged.

“That’s why she is focusing on solutions — not just talking points – including through pushing for passage of her bipartisan bills to lower meat prices at the grocery store, level the playing field for Virginia livestock producers, and address workforce shortages in the American trucking industry,” the spokesperson said.

Spanberger and Luria hold sizable fundraising advantages over their opponents, but the Congressional Leadership Fund, run by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is spending up to $3.2 million to attack Luria in the 2nd.

This week, the National Republican Congressional Committee said it is committing $3.7 million to help Vega in the 7th.

“That’s a lot of money in that district,” Saxman said.

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