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Liz Cheney endorses Democrat Abigail Spanberger in high-stakes Va. race

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/5/2022 Meagan Flynn
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). © Rebecca Cook/Reuters Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the GOP’s most vocal critic against Trumpian politics’ threats to democracy, has endorsed Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) over Spanberger’s Republican challenger in one of Virginia’s most consequential races this year, transcending party lines to push for the vulnerable Democrat days before the election.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Cheney acknowledged that she and Spanberger have policy differences, but said she was “honored” to back Spanberger, describing her as a lawmaker “dedicated to working across the aisle to find solutions” while criticizing her Donald Trump-backed Republican opponent, Yesli Vega, a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

“We don’t agree on every policy, but I am absolutely certain that Abigail is dedicated to serving this country and her constituents and defending our Constitution,” Cheney said. “Abigail’s opponent is promoting conspiracy theories, denying election outcomes she disagrees with, and defending the indefensible. We need our elected leaders to be honest, serious, and responsible, which is why I would urge voters in Virginia’s 7th District to support Abigail Spanberger.”

A spokesman did not make Cheney available for an interview. A spokesman for Vega pointed to a previous statement from Vega that she did not believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

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Spanberger is the third congressional Democrat that Cheney has backed this year, a remarkable evolution for the former House Republican Conference leader who espoused staunchly conservative politics for the duration of her career. But since Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election and the resulting Jan. 6, 2021, riot, Cheney has been willing to set aside ideological differences to thwart Trump-backed candidates and promote others she views as defenders of democracy, even if they’re Democrats.

Cheney, who lost her Republican primary earlier this year, was excised by GOP leaders for her outspoken disavowal of Trump’s false stolen-election claims and her service on the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

She campaigned against Arizona’s election-denying gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and the Republican candidate for secretary of state, later chiding Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) for flying there to stump for Lake. She formally endorsed and stumped for Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin in Michigan over Republican opponent Tom Barrett, and while in Ohio this week said she would support Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan over Trump-backed J.D. Vance.

Spanberger’s opponent, Vega, was endorsed by Trump last week — an endorsement she downplayed — and she has previously sympathized with Jan. 6 rioters as unfairly persecuted, calling them “a group of people exercising their First Amendment right,” according to audio the Virginia Democratic Party released early in the campaign of an April 20 candidate forum.

In a recording of the same forum obtained by VPM, Vega additionally said “there’s evidence that continues to come out that indicates that the election of 2020 was interfered with.” She said she would not call the election “stolen.” But the comments also led ex-Republican Virginia congressman Denver Riggleman to appear in a campaign ad backing Spanberger, calling Vega’s comments about the election “coded language for everybody on the stop-the-steal bus.”

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In an interview with The Post in September, when questioned if she acknowledged President Biden as legitimately elected, Vega answered, “He is the president of the United States.” She would not give a yes or no answer when pressed, bristling that the line of questioning was irrelevant to voters in her district who were concerned about the economy. She reiterated Biden is president and added that “the American people elected him.” Asked what she thought of Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, Vega said, “I am not Donald Trump, I don’t know what goes on in his mind, and I can’t speak to what he stated.”

Vega has otherwise avoided discussing Trump, whose unpopularity in Virginia suburbs largely powered the blue wave that in 2018 carried Spanberger into office, along with two other Democratic colleagues, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton, who are now in tight races.

Cheney has developed a rapport with several of the Democrats with national security backgrounds elected that year, including Luria, who serves with Cheney on the Jan. 6 committee. Spanberger, in fact, has said that she and Cheney were huddled in the same safe room together as violence enveloped the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Speaking at a forum at Harvard Kennedy School last month, Cheney described Spanberger, Luria, Slotkin and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.) as “women whom I may have big disagreements with on some issues, but man, they are there for the right reason.”

“They work hard, and I know that they want what’s best for the country,” Cheney said, according to the Harvard Gazette. “And I know that we can have a discussion and a disagreement and figure out where we agree. Those are the kinds of people that you can trust with the future of this country.”

In a statement, Spanberger said she valued that Cheney “has consistently put the safety and security of our country and defense of our democracy above party allegiance, and I thank her for demonstrating principled leadership in doing so.”

“I am grateful for her support of my reelection campaign, and while she and I may often disagree on policy, we share a commitment to public service, governing with integrity, and protecting the strength of our democracy,” Spanberger said. “She understands that my work for Virginia is grounded in the principle of putting our country first — over party — always.”

The race in Virginia’s 7th District is considered a toss-up, and along with competitive races in Virginia’s 2nd and 10th districts, political analysts see it as a key bellwether to gauge how well Republicans perform in their bid to take control of Congress.


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