A strange case of a legislator being correct in her logic and then voting the other way.
It’s Abigail Spanberger, who won her Virginia district by less than two points in the Democratic wave year of 2018 and then barely held off a Republican challenger last fall. You may remember her as the centrist who reamed out her Democratic colleagues in a caucus conference call three days after the 2020 election, warning progressives to never use the words “socialism” or “socialist” again and predicting that if they didn’t drop their “defund the police” messaging the party would get “f***ing torn apart” in 2022. Because of her brashness in pushing back on the AOCs in the caucus and her tightrope act in winning in a purple district, she’s one of the first names people think of when they think of Democratic moderates.
She’s also one of the most vulnerable incumbents on the ballot next year as a red wave gathers. It’s not a coincidence that this clip, highlighting her sensible criticism of a bill she ultimately supported, was posted and circulated by the RNC.
Democrat Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger blasts Build Back Broke's "incomprehensible" cost estimates.
When people are worried about rising grocery prices "and someone's on television arguing over $3T or $6T, it's kind of a head-exploding moment." pic.twitter.com/4i3ANlXguS
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) December 2, 2021
Spanberger defended her vote for Build Back Better afterward by pointing out that it’s merely a “framework” that’ll be substantially revised by Joe Manchin in the Senate and that it has various popular provisions (e.g., lowering prescription drug costs) that she supports. Okay, but she had been characteristically outspoken earlier last month about her party prioritizing the wrong things as voter anxiety about inflation and the supply chain grew. She even singled out Biden for criticism in a comment that apparently got the White House’s attention:
“We were so willing to take seriously a global pandemic, but we’re not willing to say, ‘Yeah, inflation is a problem, and supply chain is a problem, and we don’t have enough workers in our work force,’” said Representative Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat facing a bruising re-election. “We gloss over that and only like to admit to problems in spaces we dominate.”
More pointedly, Ms. Spanberger said Mr. Biden must not forget that, for many voters, his mandate was quite limited: to remove former President Donald J. Trump from their television screens and to make American life ordinary again.
“Nobody elected him to be F.D.R., they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos,” she said, alluding to the sweeping agenda the president is seeking to enact with the thinnest of legislative majorities.
She’s right. So why didn’t she vote on BBB to send a message about poor prioritizing?
There’s plenty of data around to back up Spanberger’s conclusion on what voters care about. For starters, there’s no doubt that inflation has become a major liability for Biden:
The poll asked: “In general, how responsible are politicians in Washington for recent increases in gasoline and food prices?” The answer suggests coal (or perhaps tiny solar panels?) in many politicians’ stockings this year: 69% of those responding to the poll said politicians were responsible, while just 21% said they weren’t…
The I&I/TIPP Poll asked respondents, “Who or what is primarily responsible for the supply chain crisis?” They were then given five possible responses. Most economists agree that the inflation and supply-chain crises are tightly linked.
Among those queried, 36% blamed “President Joe Biden and his administration” for the monumental supply-chain disruption, while 27% pointed their fingers at “government regulations.” All told, 63% blamed the government as the source of the problem, versus 15% who said the “private sector” and 14% who said “the workforce.” “Other” was selected by 7%.
When the public blames “politicians” for major problems, it’s the governing party that’s almost always held responsible at the polls. Meanwhile, nearly half of Americans say they’ve already suffered some hardship due to inflation, with more than a quarter of those who earn less than $40,000 per year saying the hardship has been “severe.” Bad, bad vibes for a Democrat who’s never won her district by more than two points.
Dems did pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, of course which they were hoping would give Biden and the party a shot in the arm in polling. But that was almost a month ago. So far, nada:
RealClearPolitics does have Biden’s job approval recovering a bit from its mid-November nadir, but only a bit. He’s up to 42.2 percent after sinking to 41.3 a few weeks ago, still well within “Republican landslide” territory. Which means Spanberger’s almost certainly a goner in 2022 unless Virginia’s legislature helps her out with a favorable redistricting map.
All’s not lost for her, though. She’s only 42 and each governor of her state is limited to nonconsecutive terms, which means Glenn Youngkin won’t be on the ballot in 2025. If Spanberger’s ousted from the House next year, she’d be a natural possibility for governor for a party that’s eager to rebuild some suburban-friendly centrist cred in purplish jurisdictions.