Voices: After her star turn at a Jan 6 hearing, Elaine Luria comes out swinging against Donald Trump

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Virginia Congresswoman Elaine Luria (AP)
Virginia Congresswoman Elaine Luria (AP)

Over the weekend, after a jury found former Trump adviser Steve Bannon guilty of contempt of Congress, Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia tweeted out two images of the former Trump adviser: one as a handsome, well-built Naval officer and another in his more well-known incarnation as a disheveled and haggard civilian wearing far too many shirts for a DC summer. As the caption put it: “This is what hate does to you.”

The source of the tweet was surprising. Ms Luria, a former US Naval officer herself and a graduate of Annapolis, has historically been incredibly reserved. Most days on Capitol Hill, Ms Luria is averse to speaking to the press and oftentimes, she will pull out her phone to record conversations with reporters, lest she be misquoted (your dispatcher has reached out to her in twice the past year to set up a time to talk about her work on the select committee).

She’s often incredibly careful with her word choice. Even after the 6 January committee’s prime-time hearing on Thursday, she didn’t speak much to the assembled press pack, saving much of what she had to say for big television interviews – a major contrast with her Democratic committee colleagues Adam Schiff of California and Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

Nonetheless, her vocal denunciations of former president Donald Trump as she led the last hearing by the January 6 select committee were a major break from her typical tendency to step back. And this louder, more assertive persona has appeared just as she faces the fight for her political life.

So far, the congresswoman has mostly benefited from a political climate that has benefited Democrats while Republicans now hold a significant advantage. She first won her seat in 2018, one of three Democratic women – along with Jennifer Wexton and Abigail Spanberger – to flip a red congressional district when she beat scandal-marred Representative Scott Taylor. Her victory was remarkable: in 2016, the district, which includes Virginia Beach, home of three US military bases, went for Mr Trump.

(Incidentally, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Trump White House adviser who testified to the committee how Mr Trump wanted to go to the Capitol with the would-be rioters after his speech on the White House Ellipse, attended college in Ms Luria’s district at Christopher Newport University, based in Newport News.)

Ms Luria’s win likely tilled the ground for Joe Biden to win the district in 2020, when she also beat Mr Taylor in a rematch. But those victories came in the heady days when people thought Virginia would become a permanent Democratic bastion – that is, before Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governorship in 2021 and the GOP flipped the commonwealth’s House of Delegates. Now, with Mr Biden much more unpopular than when he was elected, Ms Luria faces an arguably much tougher task in holding her seat.

Similarly, last year, a bipartisan commission to draw new districts in the commonwealth completely collapsed, which led the Virginia Supreme Court to draw new lines. That left Ms Luria with a district with a 6 per cent partisan lean toward Republicans–for context, she moved from a district that voted for Mr Biden by 4.9 per cent to one that voted for him by 3.1 per cent. Republicans know they have a shot at winning back the district and nominated state Senator Jen Kiggans, who like Ms Luria is a US Navy veteran.

That could spell trouble for Ms Luria. While many recent surveys of the generic ballot – which measures whether voters prefer Republicans or Democrats – show Democrats appear to have gained an advantage since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, an AARP poll conducted by former Trump pollster firm FabrizioWard and former Biden polling firm Impact Research showed that Republicans have a four-point advantage in the 56 most competitive districts.

But it doesn’t seem Ms Luria doesn’t fear that the increased spotlight will endanger her. Yesterday, she was on Meet the Press to talk about the work of the select committee. When moderator Chuck Todd asked about a criminal investigation into the Trump administration’s actions (and inaction), she did not mince words.

“I sure as hell hope they have a criminal investigation at this point into Donald Trump”, she said.

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