Democrat and first-time candidate Abigail Spanberger captured Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, defeating Republican incumbent Dave Brat and notching a huge win for Democrats in their quest to recapture the House majority.
The former CIA officer was the toughest candidate Brat faced since he ousted then-House GOP Whip Eric Cantor in a 2014 race that stunned the political establishment. Spanberger’s victory may have equally powerful ramifications in Washington.
The district, in the suburbs of Richmond, forced Brat into a balancing act as he tried to please a mix of rural communities still enthralled with President Trump and suburbs where the president’s divisive rhetoric has energized Democrats like never before.
It’s been years since state Republicans have had to worry about the Virginia 7th, a seat the GOP has held since 1971. But Democrats, optimistic about a rising resistance to the president and his party, targeted the seat in the run-up to the midterms.
Since 2012, though, conservative control over the area has waned. That year, presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the district by 11 points. Four years later, Trump won by six points and, in the 2017 governor’s race, the Republican Ed Gillespie won by less than four points.
Spanberger said she decided to run for office the day that Brat and other House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
On the campaign trail, she said she would work to strengthen the ACA and emphasized her intention to work across the aisle.
Brat rode the tea party wave to Congress, but compared himself to an iconic Democrat in an interview with The Post’s Laura Vozzella.
“I’m basically in agreement with JFK with everything he was for — supply-side tax cuts, he was proud of his Catholic faith, strong on defense, strong on the border,” Brat said of President John F. Kennedy.
But Brat’s appeals to moderates left some voters — like 44-year-old Jenn Hart — unconvinced. Hart, a real estate agent, voted for Spanberger and said she was impressed by the former CIA agent, who played up her national security credentials during the campaign.
“I liked the moderate positioning,” Hart said. “I don’t want the red meat.”
But for others in the district, the president was on the ballot — and that was a good thing. Kim Mandzak, a 61-year-old reading teacher, said she voted for Brat out of support for Trump.
“We’ve got to save this country,” she said, from elements that are “pushing us to think so differently. They’ve been giving our country away, not standing up to anyone.”
Virginia’s 7th District was among four closely-contested House races, in a more competitive political environment than the state has seen in decades.
Laura Vozzella and Gregory Schneider contributed reporting from Virginia.