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4 things to watch for in Elaine Luria, Jen Kiggans debate

The Democratic incumbent in Virginia's 2nd District, Rep. Elaine Luria, will face Republican challenger, State Sen. Jen Kiggans, in Virginia Beach.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — With less than a month to Election Day, the candidates vying for the hotly-contested House seat in Virginia's 2nd Congressional District will take to the debate stage Wednesday.

The Democratic incumbent, Rep. Elaine Luria, will face Republican challenger, State Sen. Jen Kiggans, at the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The Hampton Roads Chamber is hosting the debate.

The event will be the first time the two face off in-person in a race considered to be a political tossup that could determine party control of the House of Representatives.

RELATED: Rep. Luria, State Sen. Kiggans to debate in Virginia Beach Wednesday

13News Now will stream the debate live here on our website, as well as on our mobile app and on the 13News Now+ Roku and Amazon Fire TV app. 

Here's a look at four things to watch for during the debate.

It's the economy, for Kiggans.

Kiggans has centered her campaign around economic issues, such as high inflation and gas prices. Take a quick look at her campaign ads and you'll see that she talks about the economy *a lot.*

Kiggans has used the issue to connect Luria to President Joe Biden, who is facing low approval ratings for his handling of the economy. For example, her campaign mocked a recent Luria ad that tried to show how the congresswoman is independent from the president.

This is something J. Miles Coleman, an election forecaster at the UVA Center for Politics, expects to come up in the debate. He believes Kiggans will try to nationalize the race as much as she can.

"What she's probably going to try to hammer home is 'Elaine Luria, I know she tries to say she's an independent, but she's no different from any other Democrat,'" Coleman explained.

For Luria to push back on this, Coleman said, as an example, she could point to the Inflation Reduction Act, which allows Medicare to negotiate the price of costly prescription drugs, and the bipartisan infrastructure law, which will bring billions in funding to Virginia. 

RELATED: Here's what Medicare recipients should know about Inflation Reduction Act

"I think Luria will need to take the policies that [Democrats] passed and put them in human terms," Coleman said.

For Luria, it's abortion.

While Kiggans has focused on the economy, Luria has made abortion a big issue on the campaign trail following the Supreme Court overturning of constitutional abortion rights earlier this year.

Last month, Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham proposed a nationwide 15-week abortion ban after many Republicans said the issue should be left to the states to decide.

Luria has claimed that Kiggans supports the proposed ban, something that was echoed in a recent ad entitled "Extreme."

RELATED: Kiggans sends mixed message on supporting federal abortion ban after 15 weeks

Kiggans has pushed back on the claim, with her campaign saying she supports "common-sense restrictions on abortion such as protecting babies from 15 weeks on."

In the debate, Coleman said he expects Kiggans to turn the issue around on Luria by making Democrats out to be "extreme," something her campaign has done before.

How will Luria, Kiggans present themselves?

Luria and Kiggans, who are both Navy veterans, have sought to highlight their experience in the military since Virginia's 2nd District is home to a strong military presence. 

Luria attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Navy from 1997 to 2017, while Kiggans served 10 years in the Navy as a helicopter pilot.

Because of the strong military presence, the military, veterans affairs and foreign policy are key issues for voters in Virginia's 2nd District, so the candidates will likely emphasize them.

"Both are going to emphasize their connections to the military and the Navy," Coleman said. "The Virginia Beach area is an area where you have to do that."

Something else to pay attention to is whose tone is more positive and whose more negative.

For Kiggans, Coleman said she'll need to present solutions and her own plans, going beyond just talking about the problems, while Luria may need to create distance between herself and Biden.

As far as introducing themselves, Coleman explained that Luria would benefit from demonstrating bipartisanship and her work on the House Armed Services, Veterans Affairs and Jan. 6th committees.

"I would really expect Luria to strike a post-partisan type of tone, Coleman said, describing her pitch as "You elected me in 2018 to be an independent voice for the area. I've worked with Republicans and I've tried to stand up for our democracy on the Jan. 6th committee."

Coleman said he expects Kiggans to tout her experience in the Virginia Senate and personal life as a working mom and nurse practitioner while bringing up national issues.

Will Luria pull the Trump card?

While Kiggans has tried to blame Luria and Biden for economic problems, Luria has avoided connecting Kiggans to former President Donald Trump.

Luria has painted her service on the Jan. 6 committee, which is investigating the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, as an extension of the oath to protect the Constitution she took when joining the Navy.

If Luria decides to bring Trump into the picture directly, Coleman said she would need to be careful.

He cited the 2021 governor's race in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe tried to paint Republican Glenn Youngkin as a Trump acolyte. McAulliffe narrowly lost to Youngkin.

"With Youngkin, he would talk about things like electoral integrity, but he didn't really look or act like Trump," Coleman explained. "And the whole sort of connection to Trump felt a little forced." 

That being said, Luria could attack Republicans in the context of the Jan. 6 attack, but Coleman wasn't sure how Kiggans would play into that.

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