As we are less than two months from election day, the candidates in one of the tightest congressional races in the country have yet to nail down a debate. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is facing Republican challenger, Delegate Nick Freitas, for Virginia’s 7th district seat in the United States House of Representatives.
In 2018, this mostly-rural district elected a Democrat for the first time in decades when Spanberger beat two-term incumbent Dave Brat by a slim margin. Now Republicans are trying to run an aggressive campaign in hopes of swinging enough voters back over to their side this November.
The Freitas campaign sent a letter to Spanberger in August asking for five debates. “These five debates should include three issue-specific debates on the subjects of health care, the economy, and criminal justice/public safety,” said the letter. “These debates would be hosted and moderated by agreed-upon individuals or organizations and any of the debates that are held in person, must be geographically distributed throughout Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.”
The Spanberger campaign never responded according to Freitas – however, Spanberger announced on Wednesday that she has accepted invitations to attend five different candidate forum or debate events ahead of the November election:
- A Candidate Forum hosted by Chamber RVA, broadcast by VPM News
- A Virtual Candidate Forum hosted by the Metro RVA Connection Committee Collective, comprised of six undergraduate chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.
- A Virtual Forum hosted by Richmond First Club
- A Telephone Town Hall hosted by AARP
- A Televised Debate hosted by CBS6
“Over the past few weeks, our campaign has received invitations to participate in debate and forum events hosted by local nonpartisan, community organizations and media outlets in advance of the November election, and we have accepted them all,” said Bettina Weiss, Spanberger’s Campaign Manager. “It is our hope that Delegate Nick Freitas will similarly accept all of these invitations so we may finalize a lively schedule of debates and forums.”
The Freitas campaign responded to the Spanberger announcement on Wednesday afternoon, “Abigail Spanberger only mentions one real debate that was canceled by the host before she even sent out her fake news press release,” said Joe Desilets, Freitas’ campaign manager. “When Abigail was running for Congress she repeatedly emphasized the importance of debates, but now that she has a liberal record to defend she’s suddenly dodging them. Nick can’t wait to debate Abigail and expose her extreme record to Virginians and hopes she agrees to participate in serious debates.”
Desilets told the Virginia Scope that the only debate event that was currently being discussed was canceled by the hosts on Tuesday. The local news station CBS 6 was set to host both candidates for a televised debate in October before recently having to back out of hosting the event. Congresswoman Spanberger tweeted in August that she had accepted an invite to the debate. “@CBS6 has proposed a potential debate the week of October 11,” said Spanberger in a tweet on August 18th. “I thank them for the invitation, and I look forward to finalizing details with the Freitas team and CBS6. I look forward to talking about the issues facing #VA07“
Stephen Hayes, the station manager for CBS 6 confirmed the cancellation in a phone call with Virginia Scope. Hayes said he recently notified the campaigns that due to a local programming syndication agreement, CBS 6 had to cancel the planned debate.
While responding to questions for comment, Weiss touted the responsiveness of Spanberger and her presence at events in the district. “Delegate Freitas has clearly not paid attention over the last twenty months as Abigail has hosted dozens of public town halls and forums – in person before the pandemic – and telephone town halls and forums since the pandemic began,” said Weiss. “Abigail has been accessible through her visits and constant presence across the district, and she looks forward to discussing her accomplishments and her strong record of supporting Virginia’s small businesses, schools, farmers, and working families.”
Weiss said that the Spanberger campaign is looking forward to Freitas having to defend his voting record from the House of Delegates if they do participate in a debate. “Abigail also looks forward to watching her opponent attempt to defend his record of extremist votes that would have – had he succeeded in passing legislation – denied healthcare to hundreds of thousands of Virginians, hurt our community’s children, and put special interests before those he represents. Abigail remains appreciative of the community organizations who have proposed events; she looks forward to participating.”
It is unclear how much of an impact a debate would even have on this race. Back in August, Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington said this race will come down to one issue – Donald Trump. “To a considerable degree this congressional election in VA-07, like in other places, will be a referendum on the voter preferences regarding the presidential candidates,”
The candidates are slated to participate in candidate forums but those often tend to restrict public access as the hosts can limit attendance to members of their organization. These forums also tend to consist of limited conversation as the candidates give their stump speech with little-to-no opportunity for them to respond to their opponent’s statements.
However, as election day is approaching and COVID-19 restrictions adding another layer of difficulty to the process, both campaigns say they remain hopeful that they will be able to participate in a televised debate for the voters of VA-07.
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