Before the June 12 primary, I would have called the 7th congressional district race between Democratic challenger Abigail Spanberger and Rep. Dave Brat a pure toss-up.
But after Spanberger’s landslide win, and Corey Stewart’s poor performance in the GOP primary in the district, I’m considering the district as a democratic lean. Stewart only took 33 percent of the vote in a district that was once a Republican stronghold. Spanberger is favored to win by at least 5 percent, but unlikely to reach double digits against incumbent congressman and Tea Party hero Brat.
Spanberger is one of the best Democratic recruits for the US House in the country, certainly in my top 10. Judging by the yard signs all over the west end of Henrico County, which Spanberger is certain to carry, her campaign has strong grassroots support. Of course, this isn’t the only area Spanberger needs to carry in order to flip the 7th for the first time in decades. She’ll also need to carry Chesterfield County, ensure a high turnout in Southside, and continue to make the western suburbs even bluer. At the moment, I’d say she’s favored to carry Chesterfield, too, likely to improve on Northam’s margins there last year. The final population center is in Spotsylvania County, which contains the blue-trending suburbs of Fredericksburg, where Brat and Stewart are currently favored to carry, Stewart by less than 5 percent, and Brat by more than 10 percent.
Outside of Richmond, toward the rural part of the Capital Region in Goochland, Powhatan, and Amelia, Spanberger is likely to improve on Northam’s margins with Sen. Tim Kaine at the top of the ticket. In fact, Kaine may even flip Goochland County, though it’s almost certain to split its ticket for Brat. Right now, Kaine is estimated to lose Goochland County to Corey Stewart by less than 5 percent, similar to when then-State Senator Northam only lost the county by 4.53 percent to E.W. Jackson in the race for Lieutenant Governor in 2013.
Though it’s possible for Kaine to flip it with an estimated margin that small, depending on where the coordinated campaigns of Kaine and Spanberger decide to spend their resources. Perhaps the campaign will follow the classic Kaine formula of winning in Virginia he set in 2005: nuking the GOP in the most populated areas, Richmond, northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads, while investing little resources elsewhere. Or, they could go a different route and invest in flippable counties like Goochland and Nottoway, while making sure they meet the minimums in the populated parts of their races.
Regardless of which path to victory the campaigns decide on, Spanberger is still likely to be the next congressperson of the Commonwealth’s 7th district. Brat no longer fits the 7th district now that Hanover County, his base of support in 2014 as a Randolph-Macon professor running for office, has been redrawn into Virginia’s 1st district.
The Tea Party that put Brat over the top in his historic primary win is not as dominant in the remaining counties in the 7th as they are in Hanover County. Brat has refused to meet with constituents at a town hall for over a year now, earning a reputation that he’s as unavailable as his predecessor, Eric Cantor. More tangible indicators are also working against him. He’s been consistently outraised by Spanberger in every quarter, seemingly thanks to her large pool of volunteers operating phone banks, canvassing operations, and other outreach.
Spanberger is not certain to flip the 7th, but she’s absolutely favored at this point to become the first woman to represent the district. It’s still August though, and there’s a long way to go until election day.
This columnist has volunteered with the Democratic party of Virginia.