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Spanberger, Vega spar over Democratic incumbent’s record in tight Virginia 7th race

Sen. Warner says Spanberger has 'not been shy' within caucus about emphasizing crime

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., listens as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks during an early voting rally in Woodbridge on Saturday.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., listens as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks during an early voting rally in Woodbridge on Saturday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

TRIANGLE, Va. — The day after early voting began in Virginia, Republican Yesli Vega gathered a crowd of about 150 people in an office building housing her campaign headquarters on Saturday morning to introduce herself to voters and ask for their support ahead of the November election.

Vega, who hopes to defeat Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, told the friendly crowd about her background as a law enforcement officer and touched on the economy and immigration as she encouraged those in the crowd to vote and volunteer for her campaign as Election Day approaches.

Later that day, Spanberger, seeking a third term, touted Democrats’ recent legislative accomplishments at another friendly rally, this one with 125 people, in a parking lot in a county that is new to the district following a round of redistricting. Earlier, she had spoken to volunteers who would be knocking on doors for her campaign in Stafford County, another area that is new to the district. 

The race in Virginia’s 7th District, one of the most competitive districts near the nation’s capital, gives both parties a chance to highlight their leading campaign messages. It is a race that could be indicative of the national mood: President Joe Biden won the district by 7 points in 2020, but Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, won it during his 2021 race. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Tilt Democratic. 

Outside groups from both parties are investing in ads, as both candidates are leaning into their own biographies as well as the general themes their parties calculate will resonate most with voters.

As Republicans nationally are focusing more on rising crime rates, Vega, a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and an auxiliary deputy in the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office, talked about her career and criticized Spanberger for accepting a donation from a PAC tied to New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most vocal progressives on Capitol Hill. 

“My opponent has no shame. She will look you in the eyes and tell you that she supports the police, that she’s for law and order, but yet where was she when the men and women of law enforcement were being demonized?” Vega said. “She sold us out, and I say us, because, yes, I am a law enforcement officer, even though they try to hide that, too.” 

Spanberger said Democrats need to acknowledge crime is an issue and pointed to a package of policing measures the House passed last week as a sign that she takes the issue seriously. 

“It’s really easy to fearmonger, but what legislation are you actually putting forward to help with the situation?” said Spanberger, who formerly worked as an investigator with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and as a CIA officer focused on counterterrorism.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who appeared with Spanberger in Woodbridge, Va., said she has “not been shy about emphasizing this inside the Democratic caucus when that voice wasn’t always anxious to be heard.” 

Outside groups also have invested money here on television ads in efforts to boost their preferred candidates. House Majority PAC, a group with ties to House Democrats, focused on abortion in an ad targeting Vega released last week that highlights comments she made doubting whether women could get pregnant from rape.

Asked about those comments, Vega said she was asked by a tracker from her opponent’s campaign about a specific study. 

“Those comments were not the comments that I ever stated,” she told reporters after the rally, during which she didn’t focus on the issue. “The question is at what point does my opponent believe that there should be exceptions. I am pro-life. I always have been and always will be. As a law enforcement officer, I have stood up for the defenseless, the voiceless, and I will continue to do that in every capacity that I can, and that is my comment.”

Alexis Hughes, a Prince William County native who attended Vega’s rally, said she considers herself an independent but has been impressed with Vega and did not see her as a politician. While she said she supports some exceptions around abortion, she said she believed in giving more power to the states and cared more about other issues, like the economy.

While Spanberger touted a vote to codify Roe v. Wade, abortion wasn’t a major focus of her speech Saturday. She pointed to that vote and to her support for marriage equality as she listed recent votes the House has taken as Democrats have passed a number of bills ahead of the midterms. She has also pointed to efforts she’s worked on to prohibit members of Congress from trading stocks.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has also targeted Spanberger. The group released ads last week, including one airing in Washington, D.C., about a vote Spanberger took to “give herself up to $5 million of taxpayer funds to pay for her politician campaign,” referencing a House-passed bill that would provide some public funding for campaigns through certain corporate fines, and a voting record identical to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s.

Attendees at both candidates’ events split over whether that matched Spanberger’s record. Guy Cox, a volunteer with the Prince William County GOP who attended the Vega rally, said Spanberger was “for the party, not the people” and that Vega was more in tune with what the district’s constituents want.

But Gary Holland, a vice chair of the Stafford County Democrats who attended the door-knocking kickoff, said he was “a huge supporter” of Spanberger and appreciated how she is involved in the community.

“She does a good job at conveying that, you know, ‘I’m not just here to get your vote. I really do care about what it is you are dealing with,’” he said.

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