Rep.-elect Jen Kiggans spent years yelling at politicians on the TV from her couch, lamenting that elected officials couldn’t come together to get things done.
As a military veteran and nurse practitioner in coastal southeastern Virginia, Kiggans was used to working on a team and finding compromises to accomplish tasks. So, in 2019, when a state senator, a 27-year veteran of Virginia’s legislature, announced he would retire, Kiggans jumped at the opportunity to run in the 7th state Senate District in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area that includes much of Virginia Beach and a small part of Norfolk.
Kiggans won a competitive Republican primary and ultimately captured the seat by edging out her Democratic rival, a sitting state delegate, 50.4% to 49.5%. Three years later, Kiggans’s political skills and acumen were on display again when she won the suburban Hampton Roads 2nd Congressional District by beating Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria.
Kiggans arrives in Congress as a seasoned legislator who has worked with Democratic and Republican governors, with both the state’s House of Delegates and the state Senate closely divided. It was a political microcosm of sorts of the situation in Washington. Kiggans joins an incoming House Republican majority that will have only a 222-213 edge over the Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats will continue to hold the Senate majority, and just down Pennsylvania Avenue, President Joe Biden is in the White House.
It’s all a far cry from Kiggans’s days as a political newcomer in that state Senate race when she was learning the logistics of running for office.
“I literally just Googled, ‘How to get on a ballot?” Kiggans said with a laugh during the House freshman orientation on Capitol Hill just weeks ahead of taking office on Jan. 3, 2023.
“You’ve got to get all these signatures and raise all this money and knock on a bunch of doors — so we did that,” Kiggans told the Washington Examiner. “We really just literally got off the couch and started door-knocking our neighbors and people in the carpool line and people at church and our naval aviation family and all of our networks. And we won.”
When Kiggans was sworn into office as a state senator in 2020, she was entering on the heels of the 2018 blue wave midway through President Donald Trump’s term in office. That put Democrats in control of both chambers of Virginia’s legislature, as well as the governor’s mansion. In Richmond, she spent the next two years as part of the minority party, often watching GOP-led proposals fail to make their way through the House of Delegates.
But then Republicans made huge gains in 2021, with the victory of GOP gubernatorial nominee and first-time candidate Glenn Youngkin. At the same time, Republican Winsome Sears won Virginia’s lieutenant governorship, and GOP attorney general nominee Jason Miyares was also victorious. Republicans also flipped control of the House of Delegates, taking on a 52-48 lead over Democrats. The state Senate remained in Democratic hands, but by the narrowest possible margin, 21-19.
That momentum inspired Kiggans to pursue higher office, launching a bid to unseat Luria in a newly drawn district where, in 2020, Biden would have beaten Trump 50.1% to 48.2%. And Luria, a retired naval officer elected to the House in 2018, had become a national figure of sorts as a member of the House Jan. 6 committee, investigating efforts by Trump and supporters to overturn his 2020 loss.
“We still had one-party rule where we had a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, a Democrat in the White House,” Kiggans said. “I knew how dangerous it was, how voiceless I felt. So I wanted to be a part of that effort to flip the U.S. House and to be able to balance the power here in D.C.”
The race became one of the most high-profile toss-up elections during the 2022 midterm cycle, featuring two female Navy veterans in a district with a significant military presence, including several active bases.
Kiggans is deeply connected to the military, serving as a Navy pilot for 10 years before marrying her husband, who is also a Navy veteran. She also grew up with a father and a grandfather who served in the military.
Ultimately, the race came down to the issues, Kiggans said.
“When you look at why certain races were successful and why others weren’t, we were really focused on the issues that were important to people in the 2nd District, and we beat that drum every day,” she said. “I got up [and] I talked about the economy, talked about the border crisis, talked about our communities that were unsafe and how we need to support our law enforcement better, and [how to] get parents involved in their kids’ schools. We talked about the military. Those are the things that resonated with the voters of the 2nd District.”
Meanwhile, Kiggans argued, her opponent Luria was too focused on topics that were considered overtly political, isolating voters.
“I ran against an opponent who sat on the Jan. 6 committee and who — she had a one-issue campaign that we saw a lot across the country with the Democrats only focusing on abortion,” Kiggans said. “I know that’s an issue, but there were so many other issues this cycle.”
On Nov. 8, Kiggans beat Luria about 51.7% to 48.3%. That made Kiggans one of nine incoming House members to beat an incumbent in the general election.
Looking ahead, Kiggans hopes to continue her advocacy efforts and focus on the military, eyeing a spot on the House Armed Services Committee. The Virginia congresswoman-elect would also enjoy a spot on the House Appropriations Committee, seeking ways to increase federal funding for the military and veterans’ healthcare.