Six candidates are vying for the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary to face incumbent Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger in representing the 7th District in the U.S. Congress.
The Republican challengers include local and state elected officials in the newly configured 7th District that spans from Greene County in the west to King George in the east, Caroline County to the south and part of Prince William County to the north. In between, it includes Orange, Culpeper, Madison, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.
The last day of in-person early voting at the Madison County Registrar’s office at 414 N. Main Street, Madison is Saturday, June 18, at 5 p.m.
Ballot drop boxes are available at that location and will be available at all regular polling places Tuesday, June 21, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, visit https://www.madisonco.virginia.gov/registrar.
BY MICHAEL MARTZ
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Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, headed off a Democratic primary fight in a dramatically reshaped 7th Congressional District, but Republicans eager to unseat her are still jostling for the nomination to challenge her in a crowded field of six candidates.
The June 21 primary will decide who will face Spanberger in one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country in the November midterm elections that Republicans hope will give them control of the U.S. House of Representatives and thwart President Joe Biden’s political agenda.
But this isn’t the old 7th Congressional District, anchored in the Richmond suburbs and tailored to elect Republicans, as it did for nearly 50 years before Spanberger unseated Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, in 2018.
Under a new political map the Virginia Supreme Court approved on Dec. 28, the 7th District now is rooted in Northern Virginia and the fast-growing Fredericksburg region, with a slight Democratic lean. It includes all or parts of 11 localities, with only Spotsylvania, Orange and Culpeper counties also part of the old district.
With six candidates in the GOP field, veteran political scientist Stephen Farnsworth isn’t about to predict a winner. “This contest really is something approaching a jump ball for Republicans,” said Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
None of the candidates will get an endorsement from Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, who has represented much of the new 7th District in the old 1st District for 15 years.
“My policy in primaries is always to stay out,” Wittman said in a recent interview at his office at the U.S. Capitol, although he acknowledged that some candidates have asked for his support.
The race features elected officials from three of the largest localities in the new district—Supervisor Yesli Vega in Prince William, Board Chair Crystal Vanuch in Stafford and Supervisor David Ross in Spotsylvania—three counties that together account for more than 75% of the registered voters in the 7th.
“Different parts of the district, different slices of the Republican Party are going in different directions,” Farnsworth said.
That could be an advantage for state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, a three-term senator who already represents portions of five localities in the district, including Orange. He also worked as a police officer and narcotics detective in Prince William, where he later owned a State Farm insurance office in Woodbridge for 22 years before moving it to Stafford a decade ago.
“I couldn’t have drawn a better district if I had a box of crayons,” Reeves said.
The field also includes Derrick Anderson, a Spotsylvania resident with an extensive combat record in a military-minded district, and Gina Ciarcia, a teacher and home-school advocate from Prince William who lost a House of Delegates race against Del. Candi King, D-Prince William, last fall.
“I am a true political outsider,” said Anderson, who nonetheless trailed only Reeves in fundraising through June 1, with four candidates raising more than a half-million dollars each for the race.
Anderson had raised $599,324, with $148,878 in cash on hand, while Reeves had raised $680,511 and had $183,028 on hand.
Vanuch had raised $517,873, including a $400,000 loan to her campaign, and had $418,000 on hand. Vega had raised $506,021, with $118,000 on hand.
Ross had raised $188,960, including $123,200 in loans, and had $49,564 on hand. Ciarcia had raised $53,579 and had $10,870 on hand.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination will need the money to challenge Spanberger, who had raised almost $4.9 million, with $4.3 million on hand on June 1, to a defend a seat the Democrats might need to hold in November to have any hope of keeping their House majority.
Politically, all of the Republican candidates are conservative, but with different emphases.
Vega, a Prince William sheriff’s deputy whose parents fled El Salvador during its civil war, focuses on cracking down on security along the southern border with Mexico and standing up for traditional cultural values.
She’s been endorsed by prominent figures in former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, including Rep. Bob Good, R-5th; Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and supporter of efforts to block certification of Biden’s election; and Brat, a college professor who served two terms in the House before losing to Spanberger.
“That’s going to make her quite competitive,” Farnsworth said.
Like Good, Vega opposed a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian invasion. “That’s an insult to the American people,” she said during a candidate forum sponsored by the Republican Party of Virginia in Fredericksburg last month.
She said she “abhors identity politics,” but promised to compete hard for the votes of Hispanics, who account for 17.4% of district voters, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
“We’re going to go for it, you better believe it,” she said.
Ross, a retired Marine and three-term member of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors, focuses on traditional, Christian values. “Everything I do is through a biblical world view,” he said at the Fredericksburg forum, where he also asserted that “separation of church and state is not legal.”
Ciarcia touts her experience as a teacher, both in parochial and homeschool settings, as well as a military spouse. She warns of the danger of fentanyl and other drugs being smuggled across the Mexican border.
“If we want to drop the hammer in these midterm elections, don’t send [Republicans In Name Only] to Congress,” she said. “Send constitutional conservatives.”
Reeves has the most experience as an elected official and legislator. He has a legislative record that he says he’s proud to defend, including sponsoring legislation passed this year to carry out extensive reforms of the Virginia Employment Commission and target alleged corruption in charitable gaming.
Vanuch, in particular, has faulted Reeves for supporting legislation in 2020 that required school principals to report only offenses that could constitute criminal felonies. He sponsored legislation adopted this year to expand the requirement to potential misdemeanor offenses after a scandal over a pair of sexual assaults by a student in Loudoun County, which he said should have been reported under the original law as felonies.
Reeves also touts his role in legislation and state budget provisions that exempt a portion of military retirement income from state taxation—up to $40,000, phased over four years and starting at age 55. He hopes that Gov. Glenn Youngkin will amend the budget in an effort to lower the starting age to 45 years old. The tax cuts were part of a budget compromise the Democratic controlled Senate approved earlier this month.
“I’m looking for real-world solutions to a lot of these problems,” he said.
Reeves has the backing of former House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford; Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, who lost to Spanberger in a close election in 2020; and, in an endorsement last week, the National Rifle Association.
“An NRA endorsement is pretty powerful in this district,” said Farnsworth of Mary Washington.
Reeves is a former U.S. Army infantry captain, both Ranger and Airborne qualified, but he faces a challenge for the military vote in the district from Anderson, an Army Green Beret who served six tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones.
Anderson’s military record was prominent in his endorsement by John Castorani, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran from Orange County who dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination earlier his year, and his wife, Krissy, a veteran of U.S. Air Force Special Operations and the Joint Special Operations Command.
Foreign policy is where Anderson thinks he would have an advantage in challenging Spanberger, a former CIA case officer and law enforcement officer who investigated narcotics and money laundering cases for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
“Who can beat Spanberger?” he said. “That’s the threshold question.”
Anderson, an attorney who had just accepted a job at a big Richmond law firm, said he decided to run for Congress after Biden’s handling of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August. “When I saw what happened in Afghanistan, that pushed me over the edge and I couldn’t stomach it anymore,” he said.
Anderson’s campaign received a recent boost from an endorsement by Hung Cao, a retired U.S. Navy combat veteran from Loudoun County who won the Republican nomination in the 10th District in a firehouse primary last month. Cao, who came to the U.S. as a refugee after the Vietnam War, says he also decided to run for Congress because of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Vanuch, in her third year on the Stafford Board of Supervisors and second as chair, focuses on solutions to local issues—from congestion on Interstate 95 that overwhelms roads in the Fredericksburg region to hot-button cultural concerns such as the teaching of critical race theory in schools and protection of gun rights.
When a freak snowstorm shut down a 48-mile stretch of I-95 for more than 24 hours in early January, “we were gridlocked,” she said in an interview before the Fredericksburg forum. “We couldn’t get anywhere and nobody could get to us.”
Vanuch also says she has a political advantage because she was born in Prince William—which holds 35% of the registered voters in the district—and grew up in Stafford, which is second with about 20%.