After victory, Spanberger looks ahead: ‘I want to be accountable’
upset Dave Brat to win the House 7th District race.
A day after she won election to a seat in Congress, Abigail Spanberger and her father were picking up Chinese food for dinner at a restaurant near her Henrico County home.
“Are you Abigail Spanberger?” a woman asked. Other people in the restaurant, realizing their congresswoman-elect was there, began congratulating her. A father took her picture with his son.
“That was the real moment of reality that we’ve definitely entered a different place,” said Spanberger, a Democrat and former CIA officer who upset Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, on Tuesday in a nationally watched race that hinged on her support in the Richmond suburbs.
In a phone interview Friday, her first since winning, Spanberger said she was not surprised that she won. She and her team felt increasingly confident when they saw election returns showing her campaign had closed gaps in rural, Republican areas of the district.
Her mind was racing Tuesday night after running on adrenaline for months, then winning and giving a victory speech while her
youngest daughter, Catherine, 4, crawled under her legs.
During the campaign, Spanberger told her three daughters, Catherine, Charlotte, 7, and Claire,
10, that she was working hard to win but would be proud either way.
“I wanted them to see the importance of even running, regardless of the outcome.”
Her husband, Adam, an engineer, works from home, and he, their parents and other family members helped spend time with their daughters during the campaign.
Among the campaign’s stressful moments, Spanberger said, was knowing opponents had purchased airtime for a TV ad and waiting to see it.
“The first time I actually saw one of the attack ads I laughed because it was so ridiculous, in my opinion,” she said.
Spanberger, motivated to run by the surprise election of Donald Trump to the White House, easily dispatched fellow Democrat Dan Ward, a former Marine pilot from Orange County, in a primary in June. She got more votes than any primary candidate of either party on the June ballot in Virginia.
In the general election, she outraised Brat 2-to-1.
As of Oct. 17, Spanberger had raised close to $5.9 million compared with $2.7 million for Brat. Additional spending by outside groups was close to $4.2 million for each candidate, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Fifty-eight percent of Spanberger’s money came from out of state, compared with 47 percent for Brat.
Nearly $3.87 million was spent on pro-Spanberger or anti-Brat media buys, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, compared with $2.98 million on pro-Brat or antiSpanberger media buys.
Spanberger was among candidates nationally who got special help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Part of her strategy was to campaign on solving problems regardless of party; Spanberger campaign literature did not mention she was a Democrat. With her base eager to vote because of Trump, the strategy was designed to avoid energizing Brat’s base.
Her campaign strategy was crafted by Delacey Skinner and David Eichenbaum, political consultants whose past clients included Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Brat, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, argued that Spanberger was liberal and would be a rubber stamp for the agenda of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
A video clip from their lone debate, held in Culpeper, went viral. After defending herself from Brat’s attacks tying her to Pelosi in her closing argument, she exclaimed, “Abigail Spanberger is my name!”
Spanberger plans to hold open public meetings in each of the district’s 10 counties.
“My message to people who didn’t vote for me is I want to represent them. I want to be accountable to them. I am going to do what’s best for the district and what’s best for this country,” she said.
“I know I can’t make everyone happy all the time. That includes people who voted for me. But what I can do is ... listen to people and be transparent about what it is that I am doing, and why. And do the things that I said I was going to do.”
As far as her political sensibilities, she said, “I’m a Democrat generally speaking . ... I align with the Democratic Party. That is not to say that they’re the exclusive party of good ideas. I don’t think that’s the case.”
Among those who have called her to congratulate her are former Vice President Joe Biden, and Pelosi, whom Spanberger has said she will not support for speaker.
“I do believe that we need new leadership driving the conversation in Washington” to more effectively address issues, she said.
Brat called her Wednesday to concede. “He was kind and cordial and he congratulated me, and we had a short but good conversation. And I appreciated his call and I appreciated his words.”
Next week, Spanberger, 39, heads to orientation in Washington, a city where at the age of 16 she was a page to Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va.
Among members of Congress she looks forward to working with are two women who upended Republican incumbents on Tuesday: Elaine Luria, who beat Rep. Scott Taylor in Hampton Roads; and Jennifer Wexton, who beat Rep. Barbara Comstock in Northern Virginia.
“I’m grateful for people putting their trust in me,” she said. “I am honored to have the opportunity to represent this district.”
Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, spoke with communications director Justin Jones inside her campaign office in Henrico County on Friday.