HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- When Charlotte McWilliams met Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Henrico), both women were training to become CIA agents. In the years to come, their bond continued to develop through more than just work, when McWilliams said both became pregnant while actively working as spies.
"Foot soldiers in a lot of ways. You’re where the rubber meets the road,” McWilliams said. “You’re having to do something called surveillance detection routes or clandestine meetings. You’re making sure nobody can possibly trace this person through you. Doing that while pregnant.”
Spanberger is running for her second term in Congress against Republican challenger Del. Nick Freitas. Virginia’s 7th District stretches from southwestern Chesterfield up to Culpeper and Spotsylvania.
McWilliams, who now lives in Texas but remains close to Spanberger, said foreign assets do not just open up to U.S. government officials, so CIA officers must be equal parts tough and genuine. Traits, she said, that help define Spanberger’s work in Congress.
“Being able to find the common ground. I think a lot of that is just inherently part of Abby, but I think it’s also what made her successful as a CIA officer,” she said. “I think Abby has really reinvented, for me personally, what a politician should look like. A politician should be real and authentic and should care deeply about her constituents.”
Spanberger’s connection to the 7th District dates back to her childhood and time spent at Tucker High School in Henrico.
Her world language teacher Val Gooss and debate coach Art Raymond both believe the diversity she encountered during her time at Tucker helped form the image she has cultivated as a freshman in Congress.
“I’d like to be clear, she gives me a lot more credit than I deserve,” Raymond, the former debate coach, said. “It’s really no accident that she came here and developed that sense, that perspective of the world: not seeing what’s different about people at first but what bring us together and then appreciating those differences.”
“She’s acutely aware of why she’s where she is and the diversity of the political backgrounds in the 7th District, and I think she owns that,” Gooss said. “I think she listens very deeply. She listens hard to what people have to say, and she does her homework.”
Both educators said Spanberger possessed a hunger for knowledge in high school, something they feel continues to this day.
On the campaign trail, Spanberger touts her work on prescription drug prices, internet access for rural portions of the county, and a willingness to buck her own party. Attack ads from Republican groups paint a much different picture, trying to tie Spanberger’s voting record to those of Democratic figure heads in the House like Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Dawn Childs and Mary Beth El-Shafie, both high school friends of Spanberger at Tucker, said they watch those ads with disgust because they do not reflect the person they know.
“Every side is like, this person is the devil!” El-Shafie said.
“We’re in a place where we just crave goodness, and I feel like during this pandemic it’s missing from politics,” Childs said.
Both women remember fondly when Spanberger set up prom dates with friends she had met through the Senate page program. The dates were from out of town and were going to miss their proms too.
“It was just like Abby. Let me problem solve this. We’re going to miss our prom, and they’re going to miss their prom, so let’s do this and all do it together,” Childs said.
Virginians who get to know Spanberger through TV ads or articles miss her true self and reason why she wants the job again, according to both women.
“Just has a fun personality, a warmth about her, and just always made people feel included,” El-Shafie said.
“When you know her, you know that is her spirit and that is really the bottom line. She doesn’t care about party. She really, truly cares about people,” Childs said.