CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Voters in the suburban areas outside Richmond may once again play a major role in deciding the 7th Congressional District. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D) is running for a second term against Delegate Nick Freitas (R), in a race that is being watched closely on the national level and seeing millions of dollars spent on attack ads.
Spanberger became the first Democrat in decades to win the seat behind a wave of support from suburban voters in the western portions of Chesterfield and Henrico County, according to political analysts.
In 2018, Spanberger won Henrico by 20,000 votes and Chesterfield by more than 10,000.
The Freitas campaign is looking to trim those margins and maintain GOP support in more rural counties, which make up a much larger geographical footprint of the district but account for a smaller percentage of the population overall.
Political observers said Spanberger’s 2018 win represents another data point in a larger trend of voters in the Richmond suburbs favoring Democrats in recent elections, especially since President Trump took office.
Norma Cain does not see it that way. The lifelong Republican lives in a neighborhood near the intersection of Rt. 360 and Rt. 288. Most of her immediate neighbors support the GOP, and she is backing Freitas.
“I just think he has a strength about him. When he speaks, he says what means and he means what he says,” Cain said, who listed religious and personal freedoms as her top reasons for why she supports Freitas. “I would like to see Virginia go red, the whole state, but I’m not anticipating that’ll happen.”
Just down Old Hundred Road from her neighborhood, Henry Coalter’s family allows political campaigns to place signs on their property, regardless of the party, if they follow one rule.
“If you ask first, you get permission. If you don’t ask first, you don’t get permission and you get banned for three years,” Coalter said.
Spanberger signs are posted in 2020, and Coalter said he voted for the Congresswoman again this year.
“I didn’t care for the way Cantor was representing us, so I supported Brat. Then Brat turned into a new Cantor,” Coalter said. “Then Abby came along, and has been open to everybody and has been very pleasant.”
Coalter said he is an independent voter and would vote against Spanberger if she “messes up.” He voted to give her a second term because he feels Spanberger consistently listens to concerns from all of her constituents and bucked her own party on some key issues.
“I’ve never met Freitas. I’ve seen negative about on both of them. But [Spanberger] is already there, she’s already doing the job, and it’s like, keep doing the job.”
Since these are the views of only two voters in the 7th District, CBS 6 asked both campaigns the message they have been trying to get across to suburban voters this election cycle and whether those voter play an outsized role in the district.
Bettina Weiss, Spanberger’s campaign manager sent the following statement:
“Abigail's focus has remained consistent - listening directly to the concerns of Central Virginians, and then working with both parties in Congress to address them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare coverage and the cost of prescription drugs remain top concerns for voters across the district, including in the suburbs, and Abigail has a record of working to strengthen our healthcare system, provide the resources and support necessary to combat COVID-19, and protect Virginians with pre-existing conditions. Additionally, Abigail has a record of pushing for the assistance that small businesses need in this moment of economic uncertainty; and she is pushing back against the gridlock in Washington that's preventing progress on another round of COVID-19 relief. These are messages and priorities that resonate with families, workers, and seniors throughout our district."
Joe Desilets, Freitas campaign manager, sent the following statement to both questions:
“Every voter is different and so we have used an “all of the above” approach. We have had volunteers canvassing neighborhoods with extra safety precautions due to COVID, we have volunteers across the district and the commonwealth calling voters from home, and we have held roughly 30 live online town halls featuring Nick as a way for voters to safely hear directly from Nick and ask him the questions that matter most to them before casting their votes. . . The Richmond suburbs have seen firsthand the devastating effects of Democrat control. From the riots in Richmond to the $4 trillion tax increase that Congresswoman Spanberger and Joe Biden plan to push through if they win this election, voters in the Richmond suburbs are worried about the safety of their families and their financial security with Congresswoman Spanberger’s agenda.”
The Cook Political Report rates the 7th District race as “Lean Democratic,” which means the race is likely competitive but one party has an advantage.
Spanberger and Freitas will debate Tuesday night on VPM at 7 p.m. You can find a stream of the event here.
Both campaigns have brought in hefty fundraising hauls, with Spanberger leading $7.4 million to Freitas’ $2.8 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.