CULPEPER COUNTY, Va. -- When seeking original insight on a political candidate, it's hard to get more discerning than Nick Freitas' mother and high school sweetheart.
"He has the best sense of humor. Ever. He's been making me laugh since 9th grade," said Tina Freitas, who has been married to Nick for 21 years.
Robin McMichaels calls her son very analytical, even as a young person.
"You hear something and you just don't take it at face value," said McMichaels.
"He has analyzed and worked through the ideas that he has and he's labored over them. He believes so strongly in the human spirit and individual freedom," added Tina.
A former Green Beret, Freitas has represented the area near Culpeper County in the House of Delegates since 2016. Now, he's challenging incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger for Virginia's 7th Congressional District seat.
Freitas became a rising Republican star, thanks in part to viral floor speeches on gun rights, abortion, and free enterprise.
"Churchill said about his role in public life... He said I make my living with my pen and my tongue. Nick does a very effective job in both," said Rich Anderson, Virginia Republican Party Chairman.
Anderson's final term in the House of Delegates was Freitas' first. The first speech Freitas delivered to the chamber, about a fellow soldier he served with who facing discharge from the military, struck a chord with Anderson.
"About 30 seconds into his floor speech, I looked at Del. Kathy Byron on my right, and I looked at Del. Scott Lingenfelter on my left, my seat-mates, and I said, 'Watch this guy. He's either going to Congress or the governor's mansion."
Brittany Mabrey owns Raven's Nest Coffee House in downtown Culpeper — and sees Freitas through a different lens. When she was opening up the shop, Mabrey called his office looking for help on a gas pipe issue that was holding back opening.
"I didn't really know what to expect, and I called his office. A gentleman called me back in less than five minutes, and I assumed given the response time it was just an associate who worked there or an intern. Nope, it was the man himself," said Mabrey. "He is a very kind, very involved person in my experience."
Virginia political watchers say many of Freitas' positions lean toward libertarian. Democrats have been critical of his rhetoric in the past, including a 2018 floor speech on gun violence that Democrats said included racially insensitive language.
Twice his campaigns have missed paperwork filing deadlines — and he won his House seat last year as a write-in candidate.
His mother and wife say he's running for higher office to continue serving, not divide.
"Nick was raised by a single mom. I have always worked two or three jobs to support my little family, so Nick understands that," said McMichaels. "His heart. He has such a heart for people, and I don't want people to miss that."
"Sometimes folks will feel it's very personal when he's talking about a bad policy. It's not. It's not personal," Tina said.
“Freedom is good for everyone, and we don’t like this idea that one side is just going to be the better conductor of the train wreck. We all want to solve these problems. We see differently how to do that.”
The 7th District includes Chesterfield, Henrico, Spotsylvania, Culpepper, Louisa, Orange, Powhatan, Goochland, Amelia, and Nottoway.