Abigail Spanberger

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, answered questions during a town hall meeting at J.R. Tucker High School in November. Since taking office one year ago, Spanberger has held a town hall in each of the counties she represents across central Virginia.

There are still 10 months to go before Election Day 2020, but you’d never know that from the energy it’s generating. The presidential contest isn’t the only race attracting a bevy of candidates eager to challenge the incumbent. According to Ballotpedia, there are already seven Republicans vying for Virginia’s 7th District congressional seat that is currently occupied by Democrat Abigail Spanberger. The filing date for candidates isn’t until March 26 — so there may be even more.

Spanberger’s current field of challengers is strong. Like the congresswoman, both Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland (a former Navy SEAL) and Chesterfield resident Tina Ramirez (a single mom and founder of a religious freedom organization) were raised in the 7th District. And Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, is a former Green Beret and two-tour Iraq veteran.

As of this writing, other declared candidates include Andrew Knaggs, a Hanover resident and former Green Beret who is a graduate of West Point and William & Mary’s school of law; Craig Ennis, a Spotsylvania resident and Marine Corps veteran; Pete Greenwald, a Midlothian resident and retired naval aviator; and Jason Alexander Roberge, a Coast Guard veteran, lawyer and small business owner.

The only one on the list who isn’t a veteran — or a male — is Ramirez. But she brings her own unique qualifications.

She’s Hispanic, a single mother and she leads an international nonprofit organization. Those are all positives that could go far in a district that may have wearied of the traditional white-guy candidate.

But Knaggs is also a person of color who comes with a strong resume. The entire slate of candidates will face off in a party-run convention. Residents of the 7th District have some impressive choices.

Spanberger, who was sworn into office on Jan. 3, 2019, became the first Democrat to win in the 7th District since John O. Marsh won in 1968.

She narrowly beat out incumbent Dave Brat, 50% to 48%. But Brat was not a particularly popular incumbent, and it helped that Spanberger was one of 2018’s “blue wave” of women who ran for office — and won — in a rebuttal of President Donald Trump’s character and policies.

But although the 7th has leaned blue in recent years, it is still very much a purple district — and for the most part, Spanberger’s votes in Congress reflect her mixed constituency.

Shortly after she was sworn in, she voted against electing Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. In July, she was the only Virginia Democrat to vote “no” on the 2019 Bipartisan Budget Act. She has cosponsored several successful bipartisan bills including legislation to strengthen border security, lower drug costs and a budget amendment to increase federal rural broadband funding.

However, other positions she has taken may hurt her chances for re-election. Most notably, her vote to impeach Trump earned her quick condemnation from prominent Republican candidates who say she is far too liberal for the district.

Freitas said Spanberger’s vote proves she “is fully committing to dumping her ‘moderate’ facade and showing us that she is a radical Democrat who will . . . vote how leadership wants, regardless of how her constituents feel about it.” McGuire echoed the sentiment, calling Spanberger a “fraud from day one.”

In a recent meeting with the RTD Opinions team, Spanberger admitted that she is not a fan of right-to-work laws and approves of the efforts of Democrats in the General Assembly to repeal them in support of organized labor in Virginia. That is not a stand that will endear her to most of her district.

And her re-election could be impacted by the new General Assembly, which is in the hands of Democrats. Should impassioned new legislators go overboard on key issues, such as striking down right-to-work laws, overly restrictive gun laws and ending late-term abortion restrictions, Spanberger could have a real challenge on her hands in the still-moderate 7th.

Despite changing demographics in suburban areas of Henrico and Chesterfield counties, a good portion of the 7th sits in the deep-red rural counties of central Virginia.

There’s no telling at this point who will end up on the district’s GOP ticket — but that candidate will have a formidable race. Once again the 7th District will occupy the national spotlight, serving as a bellwether of the country’s political mood.

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Robin Beres is deputy opinions editor. Contact her at: mberes@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6305

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