WASHINGTON — At least one Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee was defeated in Tuesday night’s midterm elections, but Democrats managed to avoid broader losses as their members surpassed analysts’ expectations.
Democrat Elaine Luria, a Virginia representative who used her seat to fiercely advocate for a larger Navy, lost her seat to Republican state senator Jen Kiggans. The district boasts a large number of shipyard workers, service members, veterans and their families given its proximity to Naval Station Norfolk — a base that services nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines.
Luria was one of four Democrats considered military and foreign policy leaders and labeled as vulnerable in what was expected to be a Republican-friendly election. However, Democrats generally outperformed those predictions.
Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin will return to Congress and the defense policy committee next year after winning a close race. Fellow committee member Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine, also appears to be in line for a victory in his reelection bid, although the race still has not yet been called. Golden currently leads Republican Bruce Poliquin by more than 4% with 80% of the vote counted, according to the Associated Press.
Golden’s district includes the Bath Iron Works shipyard, which House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., toured in September to highlight the Maine Democrat’s defense work for his constituents.
And Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also defied national expectations and kept her seat.
Republican Don Bacon of Nebraska, another House Armed Services Committee member, ran in a race the Cook Political Report labeled a “toss-up,” but he managed to hold onto his seat as well.
Whether they’ll serve in a Republican-controlled Congress or a Democratic-led one remains to be seen. Dozens of House races across the country have yet to be settled, according to the Associated Press.
Kiggans is a Navy veteran who received significant help in the race from national Republican leaders. On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin traveled to the district to campaign for Kiggans, calling a victory for her key to a Republican majority in the House.
Luria — a former Navy commander — has used her position as the House Armed Services Committee’s vice chairwoman to criticize President Joe Biden for proposing Pentagon budgets she views as too low and to push for large topline increases to boost the Navy’s fleet.
She bluntly said Biden’s proposed $813 billion defense budget for fiscal 2023 “sucks,” arguing the Pentagon budget should grow 3% to 5% every year over inflation.
Luria and Golden in June offered an amendment to the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act to boost the defense budget topline by $37 billion, in part to build five more ships and procure other hardware. Luria also co-sponsored a similar Republican amendment in 2021 that added to Biden’s proposed FY22 defense budget.
Kiggans has also called for a stronger military.
“I think of the unsafe world that they’ve inherited and the weakened state of the military and so now, I’m a mad mom and I talk about being a mom on a mission and that’s one thing you don’t want to mess with,” she said at her campaign rally Monday.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.