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Spanberger picked for Democrats’ ‘battleground’ leadership post

Former CIA officer flipped Virginia seat in 2018

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., speaks at an early voting rally in Woodbridge, Va., on Sept. 24.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., speaks at an early voting rally in Woodbridge, Va., on Sept. 24. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats in competitive districts elected Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger on Tuesday to represent them in the caucus leadership. 

Spanberger defeated Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright for battleground leadership representative, a role the full caucus voted last week to create. 

Only battleground Democrats — defined as caucus members who were on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline and Red to Blue candidate lists at the end of the cycle — were allowed to run or vote in the election. The vote was 33-20, according to a source in the room.

Spanberger said her goal is to “bring the voices in swing districts and things we’re hearing on the ground to the leadership table on a regular basis.” While saying that “does happen now,” she said the new leadership position will help ensure that battleground Democrats’ voices are prioritized. 

“Doing it in a formal way would certainly be better,” Spanberger told reporters. 

Spanberger, a former CIA officer who flipped a seat once held by a Republican House majority leader, is known in the caucus for being outspoken with her concerns about Democratic messaging. For example, she’s called out her colleagues for perpetuating an unhelpful “defund police” narrative that Republicans have seized on the past two cycles in their attacks. She worked with different corners of the caucus to come up with compromise legislation to provide more resources to law enforcement while retaining accountability over bad actors.

Before Tuesday’s election, Spanberger had racked up a number of endorsements. 

Nevada Rep. Susie Lee, who offered the amendment to Democratic Caucus rules creating the position, and seven other battleground Democrats signed onto a letter last week endorsing Spanberger. 

Those Democrats noted that when Spanberger first won election in 2018, Virginia’s 7th District had not sent a Democrat to Congress for several decades. 

“Abigail won in a tough environment not by following a cut-and-paste Democratic blueprint, but by reinvesting in communities that had not heard from members of our party or experienced effective representation for years,” they wrote. She’s since won reelection twice in competitive and expensive races “by building a brand of commonsense representation, responsiveness to local issues through targeted federal policy,” they added.

The New Democrat Coalition leadership, whose membership reflects the more moderate half of the Democratic Caucus and includes many of the battleground members, also endorsed Spanberger. 

“She understands the opportunities and challenges associated with being a battleground Member, how to effectively deliver for and communicate with our constituents, and the work we need to do to win back the majority in 2024,” outgoing New Democrat Coalition Chairwoman Suzan DelBene said in a statement, calling Spanberger “a fiercely independent voice who puts her district first.”

Cartwright said ahead of Tuesday’s election that he still felt good about his chances despite Spanberger’s endorsements. 

“I just finished the general election at home and you should have seen the list of endorsements my opponent had. Wow,” he said sarcastically.

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