Richmond, VA – The candidates in one of the most highly contested congressional races in the country have reached the final stretch in what will likely be a photo finish for the suburban House district.
Over $25 million in total has been spent on this race, as outside groups have been flooding the local media markets with negative ads. The candidates themselves are not lacking in funding either, as they raised record-breaking totals on their own this year.
The incumbent, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Henrico), is the favorite among election forecasters. Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball both rated the district as “lean-Democrat,” which is one step above a tie.
Spanberger won by a little less than 7,000 votes in 2018 when she faced the Tea Party-insurgent Dave Brat. Prior to Spanberger’s win, the district was represented by a Republican for decades. A combination of national backlash to President Trump’s election, population growth in Henrico and Chesterfield, a sprawling Democratic field campaign, and Brat going into hiding for the final weeks of the election helped Spanberger flip this seat.
But two years later, Republicans believe they can take back this seat and they are spending money in support of the Republican candidate, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper), to prove it.
Outside groups have spent $9,043,630 this cycle either in favor of Freitas or against Spanberger. Club For Growth, a Super PAC with the goal of “defeating big-government politicians and replacing them with pro-growth, limited government conservatives,” is by far the largest supporter of Freitas, spending nearly $4 million trying to get him elected.
Club For Growth has supported Freitas in the past, stating earlier this year during the GOP nomination process that if Freitas became the candidate in VA-07, they would invest $2 million in the race. They have nearly doubled that pledge.
On the other side of the aisle, outside groups spent a modest $6,432,611 in support of Spanberger or against Freitas. The largest spenders for the Democrats were the political committees associated with House Democrats and their leadership. The House Majority PAC spent nearly $2.2 million in the race, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) invested $1.6 million.
The candidate themselves also raised their fair share of money.
While outside groups largely made up the gap, Spanberger drastically outraised Freitas. The incumbent congresswoman raised $7,806,646 this cycle, while Freitas raised a modest $3,182,940 as of the October 14th deadline.
The majority of Spanberger’s donations came from large individual contributions.
Freitas received the majority of his campaign contributions from large individual donations as well.
Retired individuals made up the largest block of donations for both campaigns, according to Open Secrets.
Trump won VA-07 by 8-points in 2016. However, the district’s voting profile has trended left in the three elections that have taken place since.
As you can see in the graphic above, Democrats have closed the gap in VA-07 quite drastically since the 2013 gubernatorial election. The turnaround seems to be directly related to President Trump. After Brat won in 2016 by 15-points, Spanberger beat him in 2018 by nearly 2-points. Senator Tim Kaine (D) actually won the district the same year by 6-points against a candidate that tied himself closely to Trump and white supremacy.
While it wasn’t immediate, Freitas has tightly aligned himself with Trump in the final months of the campaign. He praised the work of the Trump administration when he spoke at a Virginia rally back in September alongside the president and other prominent members of the Republican Party. “We are very grateful that the president has given us a record to run on,” said Freitas on a press call prior to the rally.
In what appears to be an attempt to drive up the base turnout, Freitas has embraced Trump and continued to criticize Democrats in Virginia for new progressive policies that they have enacted in 2020, Meanwhile, Spanberger has been trying to remind voters that she believes she has a record of being a bipartisan legislator. “Governing’s hard. Building coalitions, when you disagree with people, is hard. But that’s how you actually do things and get things done,” said Spanberger in a tweet on Sunday. “We’re working hard in the final days of our campaign, and I stand by my record of delivering for Central Virginia.”
Due to the demographics of the district, Freitas really just needs to convince enough of the voters that either left the party or stayed home in 2018 to come back. Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Spanberger is fighting tooth and nail to keep her base happy while also walking the line to not alienate those crossover voters from 2018.
The congresswoman has repeatedly had to answer for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, even though Spanberger did not vote for Pelosi for Speaker. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), when campaigning for Freitas in Chesterfield in late October, fired up the crowd by incorrectly saying that Spanberger did vote Pelosi.
Do undecided voters exist?
In addition to media buys, candidates and their supporters are still trying to contact voters by dropping campaign literature at doors or reaching them by phone. However, as reported several times by Virginia Scope, experts believe that this election mostly hinges on Trump and that most voters have decided already. “The vast majority of people have already decided which candidate they are going to support. I do not think there are all that many persuadable voters out there,” said Dr. Stephen J. Farnsworth, Professor and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington.
The experts have tilted the odds towards Spanberger, but it’s still hard to know which direction Trump’s name at the top of the ballot will send the results. Brat was a weak, awkward candidate, while Freitas is the opposite. After running three campaigns in as many years, Freitas has become a polished candidate that rarely misspeaks on his platform, which is a platform that Republicans love. “Even with Trump on the ballot, Freitas has been able to unite Republicans despite the national climate,” said Shaun Kenny, former Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. “Brat was never that kind of candidate.”
Freitas hasn’t been able to unite the entire party, however. After breaking from his party in 2018, a five-term United States GOP Senator announced his endorsement of Spanberger again this year. “Abigail Spanberger fights to seek bipartisan solutions and to always put Virginia’s interests first,” said former Republican Senator from Virginia, John Warner. “Virginia has a unique set of values that sets it apart from many other states, and Abigail is eminently qualified to preserve those values that present and future generations are most likely to desire.”
When asked to reflect on this campaign, Congresswoman Spanberger applauded the volunteers and talked about what she has been hearing from the people in the district. “I’m immensely proud of our people-powered campaign and the thousands of volunteers who have made hundreds of thousands of phone calls, engaged in heart-to-heart conversations with their neighbors, and made sure we are on a path toward victory on Election Day,” said Spanberger in a statement to Virginia Scope. “As I have during my first term in Congress, I’ve heard stories on the campaign trail from families and businesses across our district who are truly hurting during this pandemic. While speaking with voters in line for early voting, I even listened as several Virginians shared their memories of loved ones lost to COVID-19. Their stories motivate me to work even harder for our district during this crisis, and it’s why I’ll be keeping up the fight for COVID-19 relief in the immediate days following Election Day.”
The Freitas campaign did not respond to multiple interview requests for this article.
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