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Spanberger: Rhetoric about defunding police, socialism at root of House Dem underperformance

Abigail Spanberger
Abigail Spanberger

Freshman Democrat Abigail Spanberger won re-election in the Seventh District that she had flipped from Republican Dave Brat back in 2018.

She trailed in the counting most of the night on Tuesday into Wednesday, actually only surging ahead late in the day on Wednesday when mail-in votes from Spotsylvania County and Henrico County pushed her past Republican challenger Nick Freitas, giving her a 1.1-point, 5,132-vote win.

That made her among the lucky ones from her House Democrat freshman class, which could be on pace to lose as many as 15 of its members from similar red-to-blue districts in Tuesday’s voting – this as Joe Biden is on the verge of a win in the race for the White House.

The net loss for Democrats will see their House majority reduced significantly. Several races are still too close to call, but it’s looking like the party will caucus with between 220 and 226 members, giving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a working margin of between five and 17 in January.

This, needless to say, wasn’t in the thinking heading into Election Day, which was supposed to be a Democratic sweep – Biden up eight points on Donald Trump at the top of the ticket in the final polls, the House expecting to grow its majority, the Senate projected to flip, instead of coming down to two runoffs in Georgia.

Spanberger has some, you could say, rather strong thoughts on how things ended up the way they did.

The Washington Post is reporting this morning on a private conference call between House members on Thursday in which Spanberger was among those venting frustrations.

The cutting statement from Spanberger on the call: “If we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a congressional standpoint, we are going to get fucking torn apart in 2022, and excuse the profanity, but that’s the reality.”

“We lost members who shouldn’t have lost,” said Spanberger, before recommending that Democrats and their strategists take the time to watch the scores of attack ads run by Republicans and their allies in districts across the country, “that we look at the things they say about us, what they say about the Democrats, what they say about how we talk to people, and the way we talk about things.”

The number one concern that Spanberger said she heard from constituents on the campaign trail in the Seventh District was rhetoric around defunding police, which stemmed from the summer of protest in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers.

The city council in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed on Memorial Day, spawning weeks of nationwide protest, set itself on the course of defunding and dismantling its police department, in favor of creating a new community safety and violence prevention department, though that effort has since been tabled.

“Defund police” became a flash point for people both on the left and the right, though – and Republicans seized on the notion that Democrats had no plan for what to do to protect public safety behind the rallying cry.

“I’ve heard from colleagues who have said, Oh, it’s the language of the street, you should respect us,” Spanberger said. “We’re in Congress. We are professionals. We are supposed to talk about things in a way that we mean what we’re talking about. If we don’t mean we should defund the police, we shouldn’t say that. And so, when there are millions of people in our community are concerned, we need to recognize that that is on us.”

Democrats flipped the House in 2018, according to Spanberger, “by being hyper local.”

“If we want to talk about funding social services, and ensuring good engagement and community policing, let’s talk about what we are for. And we need to not ever use the word socialist or socialism ever again. Because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of that,” Spanberger said.

“I would hope that moving forward, we will not just work to hold the majority, but we will actually work to communicate to the American people that our policies are what’s good, our policies are what will work for them, and our policies will move this country forward,” Spanberger said. “There needs to be far more strategy in how we can do that. And we need to watch every single attack ad and recognize the weaknesses that people saw and the way they exploited them in order to knock out quite a few good members.”

Story by Chris Graham