He is the best known of seven Republicans vying for the nod to challenge Spanberger, a former CIA officer and one of several freshmen with national security backgrounds who won red districts in 2018 to help Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The rest of the GOP field includes Andrew F. Knaggs, a former defense official in the Trump administration; Del. John J. McGuire III (R-Henrico), a former Navy SEAL and two-term state lawmaker; and Tina Ramirez, who leads a nonprofit.
The contest will be decided in a party-run convention in the spring.
Freitas was reelected to a third term last month in what unexpectedly became one of the most watched state races because he had to run as a write-in candidate after he and his local party failed to file paperwork on time.
A GOP megadonor from Illinois, Richard Uihlein, came to the rescue, pumping $500,000 into Freitas’s campaign and raising his profile enough to help him win by double digits.
Less than a month after that victory, Freitas on Monday launched his congressional campaign with a 4 1 / 2-minute video highlighting his military service, opposition to abortion, 20-year marriage and his childhood as the son of a police officer and a single mother.
In an interview, he said Spanberger has not kept her campaign pledge to be an independent voice because she has voted often with Democratic leadership and supports the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s conduct.
“Some of the biggest policy and philosophical battles we’re having are in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “When I look at presidential debates, I see a lot of people wanting to move the country in a direction that’s a drastic departure. . . . I’m running to make the argument why we do not want to move to a more socialist nation.”
Within hours of his announcement, the conservative Club for Growth endorsed Freitas, calling him a “conservative rockstar” and the only state lawmaker to ace the group’s scorecard. State Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) also endorsed Freitas.
Freitas, 40, enlisted in the Army after high school, rose to the Special Forces and served two combat tours in Iraq. He left the military in 2010 and moved his family to Culpeper.
He works as a consultant for defense contracting, with a focus on counterterrorism and intelligence, as well as commercial contracting.
In a statement, Virginia Democrats called Freitas a perennial candidate “desperate to climb the ladder and bring his hyper-partisan style to a larger stage” and noted that Corey A. Stewart defeated Freitas for the 2018 Republican primary to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
During that race and weeks after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., Freitas gave a heated floor speech in which he suggested that gun violence was the result of “the abortion industry” and Democrats were to blame for segregation and Japanese internment during World War II. His speech, which prompted most of the African American lawmakers to walk out of the chamber in protest, was recorded in a video that has been viewed more than 14 million times.
Freitas backs Trump and voted for him in 2016. But in deleted social media posts from 2015 and 2016, Freitas referred to him as a “5 time draft deferring ‘tough guy’ ” and said Trump was not the candidate for “liberty minded conservatives.”
Nationally, Republicans are targeting Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, where Dave Brat knocked out Eric Cantor in a GOP primary in 2014 and which was carried by Trump in 2016. Spanberger unseated Brat in 2018 with help from suburban female voters.
The independent analysts at Cook Political Report and the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia say the race leans Democratic.