Two Democrats with a background in federal service are itching for a chance to challenge U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, R–7th, as he seeks a third term in November.
But only one will advance past Tuesday’s primary.
Both Abigail Spanberger and Dan Ward raised significant money in the primary and each went on TV in the Richmond market. They seek a chance to challenge a congressman who in 2014 won a stunning primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on an anti-establishment, tea party-inspired platform but whose rhetoric in office and strong support for President Donald Trump’s agenda have fueled Democratic opposition.
Spanberger, of Henrico County, is a former CIA officer. Ward, of Orange County, was once the top Marine at the U.S. State Department in the Obama administration.
They’ve attended dozens of forums across the 7th, which stretches from the Culpeper area through Orange County and most of Spotsylvania County down to Nottoway County, but has significant voting strength in Chesterfield and Henrico counties in the Richmond suburbs.
Despite Democratic growth in the suburbs, the district remains red. Democrat Hillary Clinton lost in the 7th by more than six points to Trump. Democrat Ralph Northam easily won last year’s race for governor, but in the 7th he lost by nearly four points to Republican Ed Gillespie.
Ward’s verbiage while campaigning is hotter than Spanberger’s, criticizing Brat for being complicit in what he calls a dangerous American political environment set by Trump.
“What’s left of that Republican Party in Washington, D.C., is owned lock, stock and barrel by Donald J. Trump and it is time to stand up to him,” Ward said at a forum. “It is time to defend this country.”
Spanberger, should she win, plans to focus not just on opposing Brat, but more on offering something to voters.
“We need someone in Washington working to understand the challenges of the people in our district, working to understand how it is that through federal legislation we can positively impact people’s lives and work every single day to make the lives of our constituents across the 7th District better,” she said.
If elected, she said, she’d hold a town hall meeting in every county across the district.
Both candidates had raised about $900,000 as of late May, with Spanberger raising slightly more, according to the most recent reporting.
The Spanberger campaign promotes that significantly more of her donations came from in Virginia and in the 7th District than Ward’s donations.
Three new Democratic state delegates from the 7th District who flipped Republican seats in last year’s wave election are backing Spanberger: Dels. Debra Rodman, D–Henrico, Schuyler VanValkenburg, D–Henrico, and Dawn Adams, D–Richmond.
“She clearly has a strong work ethic. And I think she is outworking her opponent and I think she’ll clearly outwork Dave Brat,” Rodman said. “She’s working like the rest of us to make connections in her community and is committed to always being accessible.”
Elizabeth Shackelford, a former State Department diplomat who is a friend of Ward’s, is among those helping him campaign. She made national news in December with a resignation letter saying the Trump administration was damaging U.S. influence in the world and had abandoned human rights as a priority.
She said she encouraged Ward to run for Congress because he understands global issues and can relate to people.
“He’s very strongly progressive and knows the reasons why, based on his own experiences, why progressive policies are good for families and for America,” she said.
Here’s a look at where the two candidates stand on issues:
Both candidates want to retain and strengthen the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Both backed Medicaid expansion in Virginia under that law, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed Thursday in a new two-year budget.
Spanberger wants universal health care through a public option called Medicare X, which would allow people to buy a public health insurance plan. Sen. Tim Kaine, D–Va., is co-sponsor of the proposal. Ward also backs the Medicare X proposal for insurance and wants to lower the age requirement for Medicare.
Both candidates call for gun control measures. Both want expanded background checks before private gun sales and reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban.
Ward has said if someone owns an assault weapon, it should be stored at an armory. “If you already have that weapon, that should be your option. You can keep it at the gun range where you enjoy it.”
Taxes and economy
Both candidates oppose the big tax cut Trump signed in December, in part because of its expected effects in expanding deficits. Ward wants to end tax loopholes for the “super rich.”
Both candidates say they support organized labor. Ward was previously on the legislative affairs committee of the Air Line Pilots Association and was endorsed by the Virginia AFL–CIO.
Both candidates promote the need for expanded broadband internet access.
Campaign finance reform
Both candidates oppose Supreme Court rulings that have allowed political spending that is difficult to account for. Spanberger was endorsed by the group called End Citizens United and she pledged during her campaign not to accept corporate PAC money, as did Ward. Ward signed a pledge from the group Activate Virginia saying he would not accept campaign donations from Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power Co.
Both candidates support abortion rights. The group Emily’s List, which works to elect Democratic, pro-choice women to office, is assisting Spanberger, as has NARAL Pro-Choice America.