It’s a bit early to consider who might emerge to give freshman incumbent Rep. Abigail Spanberger a credible challenge for the 7th Congressional District in 2020.
But Republicans — who really, really want to take the 7th back from Democrats next year — already have at least one candidate running for the job: nonprofit executive Tina Ramirez.
Ramirez checks a lot of boxes Virginia Republicans, particularly those in the 7th, have long ignored: single mother, Hispanic, woman.
That’s a long way from the parade of buttoned-down white Republican men who’ve represented the 7th in recent years: Dave Brat, Eric Cantor and Tom Bliley.
Then again, it may be exactly the distance Republicans need to travel to regain a district whose population centers in Henrico and Chesterfield counties continue to move toward the Democratic column.
So Ramirez is unusual for the GOP — practically a unicorn.
That’s good, because it might indicate the diversity push Republicans have made with their General Assembly candidates this year is more than a gimmick.
We’ll only know for sure once the rest of the field seeking to challenge Spanberger emerges.
Conventional wisdom says that the field should include just about any Republican officeholder in the district, but especially members of the General Assembly. Almost since Spanberger was declared the victor in 2018, Del. Nick Freitas has been among the leading Republican possibilities from that crowd.
Freitas is still seen in some circles as the most credible challenger the party could run against Spanberger. He’s not as abrasive as either Brat or Cantor, a huge plus by itself.
Freitas would motivate the 7th’s rural voters to show up at the polls and overcome the district’s suburban voters who carried Spanberger to victory last November.
But Freitas may have bigger ambitions, including running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2021.
Making the dangerous assumption Freitas does opt for a 2021 run rather than a 7th Congressional District race, who else might join Ramirez in seeking the GOP nod?
There have been murmurings about state senators Bryce Reeves and Amanda Chase. Reeves, who ran a bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the party’s lieutenant gubernatorial nomination in 2017, first has to survive the 2019 election.
As for Chase, any chances she might have had of earning the nomination evaporated in a cloud of f-bombs.
State Sen. Glen Sturtevant might have been a contender for the 7th, but his most immediate task is winning reelection in the 10th Senate District in November. Sturtevant will be a key target for former governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who recruited and backed a Democrat against Sturtevant for the open Senate seat in 2015, but fell just short of victory once the votes started rolling in from rural Powhatan County.
As recently as 2017, plenty of Republican delegates would have jumped at the chance to run for Congress. But the Democratic wave that year swept the bench clean.
So, for the moment, Republicans have Ramirez. She may not be well known yet or even a district resident. But she’s in the contest 18 months in advance of anyone else, and that gives her time to make headway on both counts.
But there are a couple of other items to consider — for the GOP, and Democrats.
For Republicans, it’s understanding their nominee will be running in a presidential election year with President Trump at the top of the ticket. That all but guarantees the suburban portions of the 7th will have a substantial Democratic turnout.
For Spanberger, the challenge is far different. She will be the incumbent with a voting record seeking reelection in a district that, on paper, should elect a Republican.
The question is, will the Republican choice be one of the buttoned-down types from the past or a unicorn candidate like Ramirez?