Sep 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Spanberger's working class pitch

Abigail Spanberger
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Rep. Abigail Spanberger's (D-Va.) visit this week to a union training facility for workers learning skills to become electricians illustrated the nuances of campaigning for the blue-collar vote in swing districts this year.

Why it matters: Democrats have lost significant ground with blue-collar workers, even as trade union leadership has remained aligned with the party. President Biden has tried to revitalize Democrats' historic ties to labor, making two Labor Day campaign appearances last week in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

  • While few of the apprentices at the event said they went to college — or had much interest in a traditional, four-year education — the union-backed electrician jobs offer a healthy salary of $51 an hour along with generous benefits.

The big picture: Spanberger is facing a competitive re-election against Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega, in a state that for years was shifting blue before Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2021 to become governor.

  • The Cook Political Report upgraded Spanberger's re-election chances this month, citing a controversial remark Vega made about the likelihood of pregnancy following rape. The redrawn district backed Biden by seven points in 2020.

Details: During the training facility tour, and in an interview afterward, Spanberger's focus was on jobs and the economy. She kept some distance between herself and Biden when asked what she thinks of his student loan forgiveness order, or whether she wants him on the stump for her.

  • She also steered clear of Biden's recent "semi-facism" label for Trumpism when asked to describe Vega.
  • Instead, she said her rival "has really extreme views. My opponent has doubted whether women can get pregnant from rape. My opponent has defended the Jan. 6 insurrection. ... I'll choose to go with 'extremist' because that's a word in everybody's repertoire."
  • In a statement to Axios, Vega responded: "Abigail Spanberger is to the far left of even her own party which has gone from safe, legal, and rare, to abortion on demand, anytime, and at the taxpayers' expense."

Zoom in: I asked Spanberger whether she supports Biden's student loan forgiveness plan, given that the federal bailout overwhelmingly goes to students who incurred debt in pursuit of white-collar work without helping the investments that blue-collar workers need for these well-paying jobs.

  • "The basic question is will it impact and help people? But it's also not getting at the larger scale challenge, which is college affordability," Spanberger told Axios.
  • "Costs for those who choose to go to college continue to skyrocket. And frankly, as a society and culture, we're not doing all we should be doing to say that there are extraordinary jobs in incredible fields that are well paid that offer a pension and health care program," she added.

Notable quotable: When I asked Spanberger whether she would welcome Biden into the district to campaign for her, she avoided a direct answer. "My name's on the ballot," she said, "and I'm the one campaigning every day."

Go deeper