Former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger handily defeated former Marine pilot Dan Ward on Tuesday in the 7th District Democratic primary, and she will face GOP Rep. Dave Brat this fall in a district that national Democrats have targeted for flipping.

Spanberger got more votes Tuesday than any other candidate on the ballot in Virginia’s House primary races.

The 7th spans much of central Virginia and includes all or part of 10 counties. Spanberger held more than 100 meet-and-greets during the primary campaign and focused on the district’s suburban Richmond areas in Chesterfield and Henrico counties. She soundly won there but also topped Ward or held even in rural areas.

Spanberger grew up in Henrico and worked as a federal postal inspector before her 8½-year CIA career, during which she worked in Washington, on the West Coast and in Europe. Claiming victory at the Westin Hotel in Henrico, Spanberger promised a vigorous campaign against Brat.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” she said, “and together we are standing up for what is right.”

Although the 7th District leans Republican, Democrats have cited a recent shift among the electorate. They hope to score an upset against Brat, who himself upended former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 GOP primary.

Spanberger entered the hotel ballroom filled with jubilant, raucous supporters an hour after the polls closed and accepted the nomination.

“With your help, we can flip the 7th District,” she told the crowd. “We’ve taken a massive step closer to bringing new representation to our district.”

Spanberger thanked husband Adam, her parents and in-laws, as well as “my girls” — daughters Claire, Charlotte and Catherine. “We will work to ensure that other girls and boys can have the same opportunities that you have,” she said.

She also thanked Ward, who served at the State Department under President Barack Obama. “I appreciate his passion,” she said.

Ward posted a concession statement on Twitter, saying Spanberger had his full support and that she had what it takes to win in November.

“I got into this race because I felt that now is a critical moment for the United States, and if we don’t take a lever of power away from this administration, we will not recognize our country by 2020,” Ward said.

Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, who upset Republican incumbent John O’Bannon last fall in a House of Delegates race, predicted that Spanberger would be a formidable campaigner against Brat.

“She’s authentic, she’s sincere, and she has a work ethic like no other,” Rodman said.

Earlier Tuesday, while campaigning in all 10 of the district’s counties, Spanberger said she heard voters telling her they liked her positive message and that she gave them a sense of hope.

Upon Spanberger’s arrival at Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, voters on their way in and out crowded her and asked to get photos.

“I’d like to see us make some improvements in health care,” said Spanberger voter Michael Beach, who moved with wife Jessica and their children to Chesterfield from Florida in August. Both said they are big supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Brat campaign manager Katey Price issued a statement in part calling Spanberger a “radical progressive who supports rolling back the tax cuts, a failed Obamacare policy and open borders.”

“There could not be a stronger contrast between her and Congressman Brat, a hard-working, independent, common-sense representative for the people of the 7th District who has kept his promises.”

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pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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