Republicans eager to take on Spanberger in Virginia

Politics

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(THE HILL) — A broad array of Republicans are already gunning for the opportunity to take on one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.

So far, seven Republicans have filed to run in the district, which is represented by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). Conservative Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase (R), who has described herself as “Trump in heels” threw her hat into the ring this weekend, lining up against fellow state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R) and former staffer to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) Taylor Keeney. Former candidates Del. John McGuire (R) and Tina Ramirez are also running in the primary after losing to Del. Nick Freitas (R) in 2020. Derrick Anderson, John Castorani, and Gautam Barve are also running in the primary.

While the redistricting process could alter the map, national Republicans still view the seat as a prime pickup opportunity. But the party will first have to sit through what has the makings to be a bruising intraparty contest.

“I think the reason you see a crowded field of candidates is it’s such a great opportunity for a Republican pickup,” said Tucker Martin, who served as strategic adviser to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) winning 2009 campaign and is supporting Keeney.

Republicans saw gains in Virginia earlier this month, with Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) winning against Terry McAuliffe (D) and Republicans nearly taking control of the House of Delegates. Youngkin won the 7th District by 11 points one year after Spanberger narrowly won reelection in the district by less than 2 points.

Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, Youngkin stayed laser-focused on kitchen table issues like rising prices and education. Parental rights over school boards and backlash to last year’s coronavirus school shutdowns proved to be an issue that fired up the conservative base and peeled off swing voters.

“Even when, in this last election, the parents sent a resounding message to the progressive liberals that they don’t want their policies,” Ramirez told The Hill. “This is different because I’m able to talk about the fact that I was a teacher and I still teach all around the world.”

Virginia Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears raised eyebrows in Virginia political circles this week when she spoke at Ramirez’s campaign rally in Chesterfield on Tuesday without endorsing her. It’s unclear whether Youngkin or Sears will endorse in the primary. Some have questioned whether Youngkin will throw his support behind McGuire, who endorsed Youngkin before the gubernatorial convention earlier this year.

But national figures are turning their attention to the race in the form of early endorsements and recognition.https://f6dd0486b63159dac04e0b5ee67a4e5a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

On Friday, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry endorsed Reeves in the primary, while House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik’s (R-N.Y.) E-PAC named Keeney to its “Women to Watch” list.

Many of the candidates appear to represent various wings of the party. Keeney is seen as a darling of the Republican establishment, while Chase and Reeves are seen as members of the staunchly conservative wing of the party.

Keeney put an emphasis on kitchen table issues in a statement to The Hill touting her experience.

“I know the issues families from all different walks of life face; I have worked to expand education opportunities in the district, I understand what businesses need – and don’t need – from the federal government to thrive,” Keeney said. “I am the fresh, conservative voice in the race who can bring everyone together and win.”

The dynamics of the primary are reminiscent of the district’s storied history of intra-GOP battles. The seat once belonged to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for more than 10 years. He was ousted by former Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) in the 2014 primary in what many call a prelude to the Trump era in politics.

Brat was ousted by Spanberger during the “blue wave” of 2018. Spanberger has defended the seat since, but narrowly.

“There’s still very much a Cantor versus Brat sort of feeling down there,” said Aaron Cutler, a former senior adviser to Cantor.  “Obviously I was shocked when Eric lost in 2014, but then somebody like Glenn Youngkin won and he did really well in the seventh. That is not exactly a fringe candidate.”

The district contains much of western Richmond, including parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

Insiders on both sides of the aisle say Chase, in particular, stands to shake things up in the primary as a controversial figure who has received national media coverage.

Chase received criticism from Democrats for speaking at a rally in October where attendees pledged allegiance to a flag that was flown during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. She also attended the pro-Trump rally that preceded the riot and called attendees “patriots,” though she is not believed to have been among the mob that broke into the Capitol.

Members of the Republican establishment viewed Chase as a threat during the Republican gubernatorial convention earlier this year. In fact, Chase and her supporters accused members of the GOP establishment in Virginia of undermining her by holding a convention with ranked choice voting instead of a primary.

“The only scenario to wrest the nomination away from Chase is a convention that includes ranked-choice voting,” said talk show host John Fredericks, who served as Trump’s 2016 and 2020 Virginia campaign chairman.

Still, Chase campaigned publicly alongside Youngkin during the general election, evidence of her strong standing with the conservative, Trump wing of the party.

“In a six-, seven-, eight-person field, Amanda Chase is the favorite,” Fredericks said. “People will walk over glass for her. No one else has that.”

But others point to the rural-suburban dynamic in the race, arguing that it will ultimately be decided in Chesterfield and Henrico where they say a center-right candidate is more palatable.

“I think that the Youngkin model is what a Taylor Keeney has going for her,” Martin said. “He demonstrated that the base is ready to win again but you need a candidate who can go where this race will be decided, which is the suburbs of Henrico and Chesterfield.”

But one Democrat involved in Virginia politics said Chase’s candidacy could force the other Republicans in the race to move further to the right during the fight for the base.

“She’s going to pull everybody to this election conspiracy theory, forensic audit world,” the Democratic source said. “She coming into this race is going to bring that front and center.”https://f6dd0486b63159dac04e0b5ee67a4e5a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Democrats also note that while Spanberger is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country, her election to the district after Brat’s tenure in Congress and her subsequent reelection was a feat itself.

“Spanberger is the best possible Democrat to run in a district like that,” the source said. “She knows her district extremely well.”

However, Republicans hit Democrats like Spanberger for her vote in favor of the Build Back Better social spending bill on Friday, tying her to progressive Democrats.

“There are no moderates in the House caucus. Period,” said one Virginia-based GOP strategist.

Ultimately, however, no one can truly start reading the tea leaves in the district until the new maps come out. Last week, Virginia’s Supreme Court rejected three redistricting special masters to redraw district lines. Republicans now must nominate new special masters.

“When you have somebody who has won narrowly, a couple of little lines changing could mean a lot,” Martin said, referring to Spanberger.

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