Democrats hop­ing to un­seat Brat are set for 7th District pri­mary elec­tion

For­mer CIA of­fi­cer, Ma­rine to face off in Repub­li­can-friendly ter­ri­tory

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY PA­TRICK WIL­SON

Two Democrats with a back­ground in federal ser­vice are itch­ing for a chance to chal­lenge U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, as he seeks a third term in Novem­ber.

But only one will ad­vance past Tues­day’s pri­mary.

Both Abi­gail Span­berger and Dan Ward raised sig­nif­i­cant money in the pri­mary, and each went on TV in the Rich­mond mar­ket. They seek a chance to chal­lenge a con­gress­man who in

2014 won a stun­ning pri­mary up­set of House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor on an anti-estab­lish­ment, tea party-in­spired plat­form but whose rhetoric in of­fice and strong sup­port for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s agenda have fu­eled Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion.

Span­berger, of Hen­rico County, is a for­mer CIA of­fi­cer. Ward, of Orange County, was once the top Ma­rine at the U.S. State Depart­ment in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

They’ve at­tended dozens of fo­rums across the 7th, which stretches from the Culpeper area down to Not­toway County but has sig­nif­i­cant vot­ing strength in Ch­ester­field and Hen­rico coun­ties in the Rich­mond suburbs.

De­spite Demo­cratic growth in the suburbs, the district re­mains red. Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton lost in the 7th by more than 6 points to Trump. Demo­crat Ralph Northam eas­ily won last year’s race for gov­er­nor, but in the 7th he lost by nearly 4 points to Repub­li­can Ed Gille­spie.

Ward’s ver­biage while cam­paign­ing is hot­ter than Span­berger’s, crit­i­ciz­ing Brat for be­ing com­plicit in what he calls a dan­ger­ous Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment set by Trump.

“What’s left of that Repub­li­can Party in Washington, D.C., is owned lock, stock and bar­rel by Don­ald J. Trump, and it is time to stand up to him,” Ward said at a re­cent fo­rum. “It is time to de­fend this coun­try.”

Span­berger, should she win, plans to fo­cus not just on op­pos­ing Brat but more on of­fer­ing some­thing to vot­ers.

“We need some­one in Washington work­ing to un­der­stand the chal­lenges

of the peo­ple in our district, work­ing to un­der­stand how it is that through federal leg­is­la­tion we can pos­i­tively im­pact peo­ple’s lives and work ev­ery sin­gle day to make the lives of our con­stituents across the 7th District bet­ter,” she said.

If elected, she said, she’d hold a town hall meet­ing in ev­ery county across the district.

Here’s a look at where the two can­di­dates stand on is­sues:

Health care

Both can­di­dates want to re­tain and strengthen the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act, known as Oba­macare. Both backed Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion in Vir­ginia un­der that law, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed Thurs­day in a new two-year bud­get.

Span­berger wants uni­ver­sal health care through a pub­lic op­tion called Medi­care X, which would al­low peo­ple to buy a pub­lic health in­sur­ance plan. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is co-spon­sor of the pro­posal. Ward also backs the Medi­care X pro­posal for in­sur­ance and wants to lower the age re­quire­ment for Medi­care.


Both can­di­dates call for gun con­trol mea­sures. Both want ex­panded back­ground checks be­fore pri­vate gun sales as well as re­in­state­ment of the federal as­sault weapons ban.

Ward has said that if some­one owns an as­sault weapon, it should be stored at an ar­mory. “If you al­ready have that weapon, that should be your op­tion. You can keep it at the gun range where you en­joy it.”

Taxes and econ­omy

Both can­di­dates op­pose the big tax cut Trump signed in De­cem­ber, in part be­cause of its ex­pected ef­fects in ex­pand­ing deficits. Ward wants to end tax loop­holes for the “su­per rich.”

Both can­di­dates say they sup­port or­ga­nized la­bor. Ward was pre­vi­ously on the leg­isla­tive af­fairs com­mit­tee of the Air Line Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion and was en­dorsed by the Vir­ginia AFL-CIO.

Both can­di­dates pro­mote the need for ex­panded broad­band in­ter­net ac­cess.

Cam­paign fi­nance re­form

Both can­di­dates op­pose Supreme Court rul­ings that have al­lowed po­lit­i­cal spend­ing that is dif­fi­cult to ac­count for. Span­berger was en­dorsed by the group called End Cit­i­zens United, and she pledged dur­ing her cam­paign not to ac­cept cor­po­rate PAC money, as did Ward. Ward signed a pledge from the group Ac­ti­vate Vir­ginia say­ing he would not ac­cept cam­paign do­na­tions from Do­min­ion En­ergy or Ap­palachian Power Co.


Both can­di­dates sup­port abor­tion rights. The group Emily’s List, which works to elect Demo­cratic, pro­choice women to of­fice, is as­sist­ing Span­berger, as has NARAL Pro-Choice Amer­ica.

Both can­di­dates had raised about $900,000 as of late May, with Span­berger rais­ing slightly more, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent re­port­ing.

The Span­berger cam­paign pro­motes that sig­nif­i­cantly more of her do­na­tions came from in Vir­ginia and in the 7th District than Ward’s do­na­tions.

Three new Demo­cratic state del­e­gates from the 7th District who flipped Repub­li­can seats in last year’s wave elec­tion are back­ing Span­berger:

Dels. De­bra Rod­man of Hen­rico, Schuyler VanValken­burg of Hen­rico, and Dawn Adams of Rich­mond.

“She clearly has a strong work ethic. And I think she is out­work­ing her op­po­nent, and I think she’ll clearly out­work

Dave Brat,” Rod­man said. “She’s work­ing like the rest of us to make con­nec­tions in her com­mu­nity and is com­mit­ted to al­ways be­ing ac­ces­si­ble.”

El­iz­a­beth Shack­elford, a for­mer State Depart­ment diplo­mat who is a friend of Ward’s, is among those help­ing him cam­paign. She made na­tional news in De­cem­ber with a res­ig­na­tion let­ter say­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was dam­ag­ing U.S. in­flu­ence in the world and had aban­doned hu­man rights as a pri­or­ity.

She said she en­cour­aged Ward to run for Congress be­cause he un­der­stands global is­sues and can re­late to peo­ple.

“He’s very strongly pro­gres­sive and knows the rea­sons why, based on his own ex­pe­ri­ences, why pro­gres­sive poli­cies are good for fam­i­lies and for Amer­ica,” she said.



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