2 Army veterans set for major House battle in Virginia

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Two Army veterans will go head-to-head for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, setting up what is expected to be a costly and contentious race for an open seat in a battleground district.

Republicans picked Derrick Anderson, 39, a lawyer and former Army Green Beret who was supported by House GOP leaders in the testy intraparty fight between six candidates.

Democrats chose retired Army Col. Yevgeny “Eugene” Vindman, 49, one of the twin Army officers involved in former President Trump’s first impeachment trial.

The two are vying to succeed Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D), who chose to run for Virginia governor next year.

“It’s going to be one of the marquee national races this fall,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political analyst at the University of Mary Washington. 

“Because it’s close to [Washington, D.C.], both parties are going to be paying a lot of attention to this race. It will have lots of money, lots of national attention, and people will look at it as something of a bellwether for swing districts around the country.”

In few places are military issues more likely to dominate than in Virginia’s 7th District, the swath of land that sits between Alexandria and Richmond and hugs both the coast of the Potomac River in the east and the foothills of Shenandoah National Park in the west. The area is home to numerous defense contractors, a sizable concentration of military veterans, Marine Corps Base Quantico and Army Garrison Fort A.P. Hill.

Both candidates leaned heavily on their military records during their respective primaries, with the same messaging expected to carry over in the lead-up to November.

“This is a district where national security oriented candidates do well, and Republicans and Democrats have both chosen people with extensive national security backgrounds, biographies tailor made for this district,” Farnsworth said. 

“You’re talking about a district that is chock full of defense contractors, active duty military, retired military, retired federal employees, all looking at national security credentials as an important asset.”

Anderson, who served in the Army from 2006 to 2014, was a Bronze Star recipient at just 29 and has been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon. The top fundraiser in his crowded race, he won the state’s June 18 primary and he earned the endorsement of Trump last week.

“Derrick is America First all the way, and he is running against a weak and pathetic Democrat named Yevgeny ‘Eugene’ Vindman who … lied to push the Ukraine Impeachment Hoax, a continuation of the greatest and most dangerous Political WITCH HUNT in the History of our Country,” Trump wrote. 

This is Anderson’s second time seeking a congressional seat, with his first run in 2022 ending in a narrow defeat in the Republican primary.

This time around Anderson’s race was equally narrow, with the former Green Beret capturing about 45 percent of the vote but beating his closest competitor Cameron Hamilton — a former Navy SEAL backed by the House Freedom Caucus — by just 2,891 votes.

The GOP nominee’s first general election TV ad, aired June 27 during the presidential debate, highlighted his military background.

“We hear it every day. America’s more divided than ever. When I led men and women in combat, nobody had a red or blue jersey on. We all wore America’s uniform with pride. I know what leadership really means,” Anderson says in the ad.

Vindman, a first-time candidate, served in the Army for more than 25 years. He handily beat out his competitors by grabbing just more than 49 percent of the vote after a massive fundraising haul, with his closest competitor, Elizabeth Guzman, only managing to capture 15 percent.

A former deputy legal adviser for the National Security Council under Trump, both Eugene Vindman and his brother, Alexander, were booted from the administration after Alexander testified before Congress about the July 2019 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call, during which Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate then-former Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter, in exchange for military aid, eventually led to the Trump’s first impeachment trial.

Vindman, a Ukrainian immigrant who in recent years has been involved in advocacy work for U.S. support to Ukraine — and has made continued alliance with Ukraine a campaign talking point — has used his name recognition to his advantage in fundraising.

In a November 2023 interview with Military Times, Vindman said he also planned to focus on improving veterans programs and keeping the military nonpolitical.

“Last time Trump ran, I was in uniform, I was not in a position to do anything political. This time, I want to juxtapose what integrity is, what Army values are versus what Trump is presenting,” he said at the time.

Vindman may have to face headwinds in the race due to President Biden’s rocky debate performance in Atlanta last week, which has sparked fears of a down-ballot liability.

Several Democrats running in competitive House districts this cycle have already broken from the president over the issue. 

Farnsworth, however, said that Biden’s poor performance in the debate — or Trump’s conviction for trying to hide a payment to a porn star during his 2016 campaign — may matter less in the 7th District than in some places.

“There are so many people with fixed partisan opinions in this country that a bad debate performance, a conviction on a felony, it doesn’t seem to move the needle much in terms of public opinion,” he told The Hill.

And Trump has traditionally struggled in suburban areas in Virginia, making him less of an asset in the 7th than he would be in more rural areas. 

Seth Lynn, a founder of the nonpartisan Veterans Campaign, an organization that trains veterans running for office, told The Hill that in swing districts a veteran status can give candidates a bump over their nonveteran competitors.

In the case of Virginia’s 7th District, however, the two candidates are on more equal ground.

“In swing districts that really could go either way, having something else, a background that has some appeal across party lines, I think Vindman fits pretty well into that,” Lynn said.

Two veterans going head-to-head for a seat in Congress is not unheard of, with the 2022 election cycle featuring a surge of former service members from the wars of the 1990s and those following the attacks of 9/11.

Numerous House and Senate races in the midterms involved two veterans, including in Indiana, where incumbent Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a Naval Academy graduate who served in the Marine Corps and is now a senator, beat out Thomas McDermott Jr., who served in the Navy aboard a nuclear submarine.

And in Virginia’s 2nd District, then-Rep. Elaine Luria (D), a 20-year Navy veteran and prominent House Armed Services Committee member, was beat out by former Navy helicopter pilot Jen Kiggans, a Republican Virginia state senator. 

But the 7th District is promising to be a particularly bruising race, with both parties viewing the race as winnable in a fierce contest for the House majority. 

“I think the RNC is going to look at the 7th as the most likely pickup in Virginia,” political analyst Bob Holsworth said. “I expect this to be heavily competitive, I expect a lot of money to be raised, and it’s crucial for the Democrats if they’re going to take the House to hold on to this seat.”

The race has already become personal. Anderson on Tuesday accused Vindman of running “to pursue a personal vendetta,” contending that he was a newcomer to the district and not focused on local matters, according to a post on his campaign’s Facebook page.

Anderson, who has pitched himself as the homegrown candidate, grew up in Spotsylvania County and has since returned after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 2019, according to his campaign page.

Vindman, who grew up in New York City after his family fled from the Soviet Union in 1979, settled in Dale City, Va., in 2016 when he was assigned to the Pentagon.

Farnsworth predicted both campaigns will be amply funded “given both parties want bragging rights, and this is in the Washington media market. So it will be an expensive race, one of the more expensive races in the country.”

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