Elaine Luria spent one Passover after the September 11 attacks stationed thousands of miles from home on an aircraft carrier in the Middle East.
In the spirit of her ancestors, who had immigrated to Alabama from Germany and Eastern Europe and created Jewish life there, she organized the holiday’s ritual festive meal, in the ship’s library, just below the flight deck.
Seders tend to be noisy, but this was a bit different.
“We’re going through the Haggadah…having our little makeshift Seder there while we’re launching and recovering aircraft that are striking terrorist targets in Afghanistan,” the retired Navy commander told the Forward in late September.
As a veteran, a woman and a Jew, Luria boasts a profile that’s highly valued among Democratic strategists who dream of using the 2018 midterms to take control of the House of Representatives.
She shares that profile with Lauren Baer, who is trying to flip a southeastern Florida district; Kathy Manning in Greensboro, North Carolina and Susan Wild, who is leading in a recently redrawn district covering part of the Philadelphia suburbs.
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Luria garnered the endorsement of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red-to-Blue campaign back in February, giving her additional fundraising and organizing resources. But her run was still thought to be somewhat of a long shot.
Her opponent, Republican incumbent Scott Taylor, won his first term in 2016 with over 6o% of the vote, but President Trump carried the district by only three points. And in a more recent election, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam carried it by 4 points in his 2017 race.
The state has become more reliably blue in national elections, going for every Democratic presidential candidate since 2008. The party also made big gains in the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates election.
Taylor’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
Compared with 2016, Democrats are running many more women this election cycle, said Geoffrey Skelley, the associate editor of the non-partisan forecaster Sabato’s Crystal Ball, based in the University of Virginia.
Among liberals, female candidates are well received against the background of the #MeToo-era reckoning with the pervasiveness of sexual assault in American institutions. And Jews tend to be particularly engaged in Democratic politics, voting and donating at levels higher than the general population, as the Forward’s ongoing mid-term elections project has demonstrated.
Indeed, Sabato’s Crystal Ball just revised its assessment of Luria’s race in her favor, calling it a “toss-up” instead of “lean Republican.”
“In Virginia alone, out of four competitive races, every single Democrat nominated is a woman,” Skelley said. “It’s a microcosm of what’s going on [nationally].”
Luria’s campaign got an extra boost on Oct. 1 after former President Barack Obama included her in his latest list of endorsements.
It is a tremendous honor to have President @BarackObama’s endorsement. He always reminded us that no matter how difficult times were, we always had more that unites us than divided us and that we are all Americans who want the same thing for our families. pic.twitter.com/fYFWH8uy0p— Elaine Luria (@ElaineLuriaVA) October 1, 2018
And the fact that Luria’s a veteran is a political plus, especially in her district. which is home to several military facilities, including the biggest Navy jet base on the East Coast.
Veterans also help inoculate Democrats against the charge that weak on security issues, Skelley said.
“It enables you to get through the door for people who might initially reject you,” Skelley added. “[The military] has a non-partisan appeal to service and patriotism.”
Luria’s mother’s family emigrated to Jasper, Alabama in 1906. They made a living selling goods to coal miners in Walker County.
Her great-grandfather helped found a Reform congregation in Jasper and the family eventually joined Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, where Luria grew up. Her mother was deeply involved in Jewish life and active with the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah and the Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood.
Their service inspired her. She entered the Naval Academy in the 1990s and became one of the first women to serve her entire career on a ship.
She has continued to advocate for equal treatment.
Luria tweeted her support for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during her testimony about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Today as Dr. Ford is bravely telling her truth, many women will be reliving their own painful assaults. They deserve our support and compassion because we #BelieveSurvivors— Elaine Luria (@ElaineLuriaVA) September 27, 2018
The candidate declined to comment if she ever experienced harassment during her time in the military or afterwards.
Several other Jewish, female candidates are also threatening to take their opponents’ seats, according to recent polling.
Baer is well within striking distance of Republican incumbent Rep. Brian Mast. A recent poll shows her trailing by just three points, with a majority of voters in the district labeling healthcare as a key issue for them.
Manning, the former chair of the Jewish Federation of North America, has a slight lead in her race to unseat Ted Budd, according to an internal Democratic poll.
Manning’s lead comes after the DCCC blanketed the suburban and rural North Carolina district with several ads aimed at persuading moderate voters.
And these potential wins and strong showings can help inspire future generations of women, Luria said.
“My daughter just turned nine. In 10 years from now will have her first opportunity to vote in a presidential election,” the candidate said.
“I don’t want her to ask me that question in ten years, ‘What did you do in this trying time?’”