Commentary: A red wave stemmed by humility, ideas –

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At the end of the day, ideas won out in Virginia’s 7th District.
When Glenn Youngkin became governor in January, Virginia looked to be abandoning civility and ideas for a laundry list of grievances and fears.
Virginia’s emboldened conservative leaders used the inauguration to air their grievances about liberals, “woke” corporations, school teachers, and “equity” — the four horsemen of the apocalypse, in their minds, coming to strip mostly white conservatives of “their” culture. They also tapped into parents’ fears that schools were recklessly indoctrinating their children with wild ideas instead of teaching them “facts,” unleashing a fierce attack on public education. And most recently, they have targeted transgendered youth, threatening to out them as they struggle with their identity.
Youngkin campaigned with Yesli Vega often in the newly redrawn 7th District, knighting her with his signature red sleeveless vest, while repeatedly calling the names of the four horsemen at campaign stops across the district.
On Tuesday, voters in the 7th District made clear they had heard enough, and re-elected Abigail Spanberger for a third term in the U.S. Congress.
Though Spanberger wasn’t totally above the campaign mudslinging, she mostly avoided the over-the-top accusations, and instead focused on her legislative accomplishments, commitment to bipartisanship, and ideas for how to solve the problems in our district. Just some of the issues she has already made good progress on include: addressing rural broadband access, lower prescription drug costs, and funding for key infrastructure.
Though the margin of her victory was relatively tight — about 4 percentage points — it reflected the region’s growing weariness with culture wars.
Consider some of these election results.
Spanberger lost Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. Youngkin won those counties in 2021 by 11,052 votes and 6,217 votes, respectively. But Spanberger’s margin of loss was far smaller than many would have predicted just a month or two ago, given Youngkin’s romp last November.
She lost Spotsylvania by just 4,502 votes. Because voter turnout for the 2021 election was almost equal to Tuesday’s turnout, this marks a remarkable shift for the Democrat. It’s too early to know if more Dems voted, or fewer Republicans voted. But surely some of this movement toward the Democrat comes from those independent-minded voters who pollsters love to talk about, but have a hard time identifying.
The numbers are even more stark in Stafford County. Spanberger lost it by just 481 votes. Again, what happened to the other 5,800 voters who presumably supported Youngkin just a year ago? As in Spotsy, Stafford’s independent voters may have gone for ideas over culture wars.
None of this seems to be lost on Spanberger.
Because the race drew so much national attention, klieg lights and national TV news reporters were everywhere at the Old Silk Mill for Spanberger’s election night party. If they were looking for her to gloat about about stemming the red wave that had been predicted, they were disappointed.
In her moment of greatest success, Spanberger chose to talk last night about a former Republican house member who sent her a package when she first went to Congress in 2018. Included in that package was a collection of essays by Václav Havel — who led Czechoslovakia from behind the Iron Curtain of communism into the light of democracy — titled “Politics, Morality, & Civility.”
Spanberger then quoted extensively from her favorite part of that book.
“The only politics I am willing to devote myself to is simply a matter of serving those around us,” she read, “serving the community, and serving those who come after us.”
I sincerely hope that Gov. Youngkin and the members of Virginia’s Republican Party leadership were listening last night to those words.
In 20 years of covering politics nationally, and now locally, I’ve come to appreciate that it is the politicians who place community over self who succeed. Worthy representatives think of the world they’re leaving to the next generation more than how they can exploit this world for their own ends.
Most important, it’s the politicians who enter the fray motivated by a desire to serve others who truly understand what it takes to make democracy function.
Gov. Youngkin has a wealth of talent, and contacts, that he can bring to bear to make Virginia a better place.
Let him take the words of Havel to heart. Quit running for the next office, and grace the state with your talents. Stop appealing to the worst in our natures, and create a bounty of ideas that elevate us to our best.
What Spanberger knows, and what Youngkin has still to learn, is that successful politics aren’t about left or right.
Successful politics are built on service, and ideas.
And thankfully, on Tuesday night, both won.
Martin A. Davis Jr.
Martin Davis is Opinion Page editor of The Free Lance–Star. Reach him at
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