FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia — As the fight for control of the House heats up, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) says she believes recent legislative wins and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade are shifting the political climate ahead of the midterm elections.
Spanberger is in a heated race against the GOP candidate, Prince William County Board Supervisor Yesli Vega, in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, a battleground seat that encompasses the Washington, D.C., exurbs. Political forecasters have largely rated the seat as a “toss-up,” with Republicans making it one of their top targets.
And while strategists have widely projected that Republicans take back the House in November, the Virginia Democrat said she feels confident in her voting record, citing the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, a party-line climate and healthcare bill that Republicans have slammed as counterproductive to its title, and the bipartisan infrastructure law as legislation she feels has resonated with voters.
“I think the climate has been changing, and I think — I’ll say climate, meaning kind of beyond just our individual race. I think a lot of the successes that we’ve had, the legislation that we’ve passed, including really important bipartisan legislation, I think people are feeling heartened by [that],” she told the Washington Examiner in an interview.
“You know, Congress is doing stuff. We’re sending things to the president’s desk. And in fairness, we have been all along, but there’s been a number of pieces of legislation that are far more high-profile. And you know, just earlier this week, I was out visiting a bridge project, a bridge that needs repair, that is central to the community and commerce, and it’s getting the repair because of the bill,” she said.
Spanberger is no stranger to tough races. The centrist Democrat managed to oust conservative Rep. Dave Brat in 2018 from a seat that had been held by a Republican since 1971. She narrowly beat GOP opponent Nick Freitas in 2020.
While redistricting has shifted the seat from an R+3 to a D+2, the GOP sees the battleground district as a viable pickup opportunity, with strategists noting that historically, the minority party picks up seats when the opposing party holds control of both chambers and the White House during midterm elections.
The House GOP’s campaign arm, Republican super PACs, and her opponent have looked to paint Spanberger as a progressive, attempting to link her to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), far-left lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the defund the police movement — a strategy that proved to be effective in a number of swing districts during the last cycle.
But the Virginia Democrat, who previously worked as a CIA officer with a focus on counterterrorism, said she thinks the strategy will fail in her district. Running a localized campaign and getting to know voters, she said, has provided an opportunity to distinguish herself from others in the party. On the trail, she has touted her push for police funding bills, legislation that received pushback from progressives, and her efforts to bar members of Congress from trading individual stocks.
“I mean, it’s silliness, and they tried it in 2018. And it didn’t work. They tried it in 2020. And it didn’t work. I have a record. … I mean, for starters, I didn’t vote for Pelosi either time. And that’s, you know, a simple little proof point, but, like, usually if you’re someone’s puppet, you vote for them. You know, I have many occasions where I have called out the party or pushed for things” that weren’t popular within the party, she said.
“I mean, you know, a piece of legislation that I believe in wholeheartedly, prohibiting members of Congress from being able to buy and sell stocks, is not, as one might imagine, not the most popular with some of my colleagues, who either they or their spouses like to buy and sell a ton of stock, right?” she added. “There’s plenty of places where the divergence between us is quite clear. I think if they’re attacking me over someone else’s record, it’s because they can’t attack me over mine.”
Spanberger also dismissed the notion that President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings will have an impact on her race.
“I’m the one on the ballot. I’m running a local campaign. Somebody else’s approval rating being, not ideal, I think that that can signal [an] overall feeling of a voting electorate,” she said. “But, you know, quite frankly, some of the criticisms people might have of Biden are just not relevant to me.”
As Democrats fight to hold their House majority, another issue that Spanberger said has resonated, possibly more in her district than others, is the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, largely due to the number of government employees and law enforcement officers who live in the district.
“A lot of Capitol Police officers live in the district. We also have Quantico, we’ve got the FBI, we’ve got a lot of federal employees who, if you’re a career public servant, there’s this sort of different mentality in the Capitol. You know, if you are a career public servant, you might work over at the Department of Commerce, an agency, in a government building — even if it’s not the Capitol, maybe it resonates slightly differently in our district than others,” she said.
A number of Democrats have pointed to the party’s victory in the special election for New York’s 19th Congressional District, where abortion was a major topic in the race, as a bellwether demonstrating that flipping the House won’t be as easy for Republicans as election analysts previously projected. Spanberger said the issue is something she is hearing about from voters.
Leaning into abortion access, the Virginia Democrat released her first ad of the general election hitting Vega, who supports a ban, for doubting whether women can get pregnant as easily as a result of rape.
“The Dobbs decision has been interesting in a couple of ways. For some people, it is about the Dobbs decision, it is about abortion was legal. And now, it is not protected. Right? And for some people, it is about that. For some people, it is that was settled case law for 50 years, and now, we’re regressing, and that is more of the theoretical — we have literally lost freedoms that for 50 years have been in place. What’s next?” she said.
“And people say, ‘Well, what about marriage equality? Oh, no, no, marriage equality can’t be on the chopping block.’ Are you kidding? Remember how Roe was settled case law for 50 years — marriage equality is very recent, not even 10 years old, and so there’s that kind of worry about freedoms,” she added.
Spanberger said she’s heard concerns from constituents about access to certain medical care beyond abortion if a ban goes into effect in the state.
“Literally, Justice Thomas talked about whether or not birth control should be legal. And then there’s the sort of area in between where it isn’t actually just about abortion; it’s about if you’re a victim of rape and you go to a hospital and their standard of care would be to give you the morning-after pill,” she said.
“There is report after report of women who have miscarried and have not been able to get a D&C when they have miscarried — the pregnancy is not viable — but if there is still any activity on the sonogram machine, even though now, they’re facing a loss of a pregnancy,” she continued. “Now, they’re not denied the standard of care, which would not only protect their lives but also protect their fertility into the future.”