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by Brandon Jarvis

Nomination contests often become competitions centered around networking with party insiders and demonstrating sufficient fundraising ability ahead of a potential candidacy in the general election. Typically, those two occurrences coincide—but not always. 

Wealthy outside candidates can appear out of thin air and occasionally gain steam, like Glenn Youngkin in 2021. Still, more often than not, they spend a boatload of money to finish well below the candidate with an established presence in the district. 

In VA-07, Democratic candidate and fundraising frontrunner Eugene Vindman jumped into the race for the open nomination this year. He is well-known nationally for his family’s involvement in Donald Trump’s impeachment and has done very well fundraising.

However, some in VA-07 still consider him an outsider because he was not heavily entrenched within the district before announcing his candidacy. 

“I’m sorry – who is this? I’ve never seen this person in our area. At. All,” tweeted Del. Josh Cole, D-Stafford, when Vindman announced his candidacy. 

Vindman is running against multiple Democrats for the nomination—two of whom have been elected to the General Assembly representing parts of the district: Del. Brianna Sewell, D-Prince William, and former Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William. 

Vindman has raised $3.7 million, compared to Guzman’s $204,979 and Sewell’s $172,724according to VPAP.  

Multiple other Democratic candidates from the area are also seeking the nomination, which could benefit Vindman if they split the local insider vote share.

In Maryland, Angela Alsobrooks, who leads the state’s second-largest county, ran against Total Wine owner and Congressman David Trone for the Democratic nomination in the United States Senate race. 

Trone, who has a large personal net worth, massively outspent Alsobrooks, spending $51 million compared to Alsobooks’ $5.9 million. 

Money doesn’t always translate into a victory, however. Alsobrooks won the nomination contest by more than 10 points. 

While there are some similarities between Maryland’s Senate race and VA-07, Trone, a very wealthy individual, was painted as out of touch with the common Maryland voter experiences and failed to bring in the Democratic faithful to support his campaign.

Vindman’s background is more grounded than Trone’s.

He served in the Army for 25 years, eventually earning a law degree and working his way up to the National Security Council. While he was on the NSC, his twin brother, Alexander, also on the NSC, listened to Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president when he attempted to extort information about Joe Biden. Alexander and Eugene reported the call together, which resulted in Trump’s second impeachment hearing. 

After Trump was acquitted, he fired the Vindmans. 

This is a cause that Democrats could rally behind, especially in Virginia, where Trump lost in 2016 and 2020. 

But in order to rally the general election voters in November, Vindman must first secure the Democratic nomination. 

“In a primary campaign, you are not trying to win over low-interest general election voters,” said Richard Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph Macon College. “Primary voters are more likely to be plugged into the party, even if they are not active members. Money is important, but it’s easier to translate it into media buys, which helps more with name recognition than the ground organization you need to turn out primary voters.”  

Meagher says the Maryland Senate primary race proved this true and that it might be even more applicable to a House race. 

“This seems to have proven true in the Maryland Senate primary, but this kind of dynamic should be even more applicable to a House race, which is more concentrated than a statewide. A well-known local official can have networks of supporters that turn into votes more easily than a media blitz.”

Vindman has tried to prove his grassroots support despite a large portion of his donations coming from outside the district. 

In April, his campaign released a map showing the donations he received from within Virginia, a tactic that Republicans criticized. 

Graphic released by the Vindman campaign showing his donation locations.

“Authentic ground game campaigns don’t get this defensive about their ground game,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Delanie Bomar said at the time. 

Meagher emphasized that personal connections mean a lot in these nomination contests. 

“He’s raised lots of money from outside donors, but does anyone in the district actually know him like they know state electeds like Guzman or Sewell, or local electeds like Franklin or Bailey,” he continued. “Vindman’s supporters argue he has the profile to win over general election voters, but that kind of argument doesn’t always work with primary voters, who tend to vote for the people they know.”

Primary day is June 18. Early voting has already started. 

By vascope