The Surprisingly Conventional Race for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District

Though Virginia’s role in the presidential race has been reduced to that of stage prop in an effort to reach North Carolina voters, it has at least one marque congressional race: the 7th District battle between incumbent Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) and challenger Nick Freitas (R).

Six months ago, when the novel coronavirus’s effects on politicking were unknown, and Republicans had yet to pick a nominee, I asked Randolph-Macon College professor Lauren Bell what she thought we might expect once the election got underway.

Bottom line: The airwaves and mailboxes were going to be bursting with ads as in-person events and get-out-the-vote efforts took a back seat to the coronavirus. That would put a premium on fundraising. And for the eventual GOP challenger, it meant not alienating the vote-rich Richmond suburbs with a full-blown MAGA campaign.

What’s happened since? According to the headlines, enough, one might think, to make the 7th District race a referendum on issues ranging from coronavirus lockdowns to Confederate monuments and social justice issues.

But in a recent email, Bell said the race has been surprisingly static. Her outlook on the race hasn’t changed since late March. It’s still “somewhere between a toss-up and leaning Democratic.”

Bell believes Freitas, while embracing Trumpism, is “running a pretty typical Republican campaign these days, trying to tie Spanberger to liberal boogeymen (and -women) like Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

Bell believes the GOP messaging, from both the Freitas campaign and the outside groups backing him, hasn’t produced a “cohesive anti-Spanberger narrative.”

As for the incumbent, Bell says “Spanberger’s response seems like a pretty standard effort to link Freitas to Trump in voters’ minds.”

Bell thinks money might be one reason behind the pedestrian messaging, noting that as of the of the June 30 campaign finance reports, Freitas had “less than $400,000 cash on hand, compared with more than $4,000,000 cash on hand for Spanberger.”

In addition to her sizable bank account, Bell said Spanberger has nimbly deployed that oldest of incumbent advantages, constituent correspondence. Bell says Spanberger’s emails to the district have been “substantive, timely, and aimed at providing support to her constituents.”

“In the 7th,” Bell said, “that’s good politics and it’s an obvious change from the years of only hearing from [former 7th District Reps.] Eric Cantor or Dave Brat as an election approached.”

Asked what role the presidential race might play in the closing weeks, Bell said that if “Trump loses in Virginia, which seems likely, Republican candidates like Freitas are probably also going to lose, barring some sort of hyperlocal distinction that allows them to poll significantly ahead of the top of the ticket.”

Continue reading at the Washington Post.

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