Just under two years before the 2025 gubernatorial election, the Democratic Party’s nomination fight has begun. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico County, on Monday was the first candidate to announce that she is running to become the 75th governor of Virginia and will not seek reelection to the U.S. House in 2024.
“Virginia is where I grew up, where I am raising my own family, and where I intend to build a stronger future for the next generation of Virginians,” Spanberger said in a statement. “As a former CIA case officer, former federal law enforcement officer, and current Member of Congress, I have always believed in the value of public service. I look forward to serving the 7th District through the end of this term and then pursuing the important work of bringing Virginia together to keep our commonwealth strong.”
A former operations officer for the CIA, Spanberger, 44, was first elected to Congress in 2018, when she defeated incumbent Rep. Dave Brat, R-Henrico County, ending the Republican Party’s 38-year hold on the district. She won reelection twice after that, positioning herself as a centrist in her party’s field.
Spanberger’s decision to run for Virginia’s highest office comes after the new legislative maps approved by the Virginia Supreme Court in December 2021 deprived her of what had been her base in the Richmond suburbs ahead of last year’s midterm elections.
Spanberger was widely viewed as one of the most vulnerable incumbents of that election cycle, with pre-election polls projecting a close race with Republican nominee Yesli Vega. Spanberger defeated Vega with 52.3% of the vote, winning the redrawn seat by her widest margin to date. The new 7th District is considered a key swing district in the battle for the control of the House next year.
David Richards, a political analyst and chair of the political science program at the University of Lynchburg, said that he doesn’t see Spanberger win many districts in Southwest and Southside Virginia, should she become the Democratic nominee.
“But she doesn’t have to,” Richards said. “If she does well enough in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, then she might have a chance. What will be key is if she pays attention to Southside and Southwest Virginia. Democratic turnout in this part of the state has been ticking up. It is still not enough to win outright, but coupled with positive margins in the rest of the state might be able to deliver her the governorship.”
Spanberger, Richards added, may be the sort of middle candidate the Democrats need.
“While she is clearly progressive, she also seems to be willing to challenge Democratic leadership. She did so on the Defund the Police concept, and this centrist viewpoint may help her with swing voters in Virginia, it certainly helped her with voters in her formerly GOP district.”
In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Spanberger will likely face Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who is expected to make his announcement to run before the end of the year.