The three candidates for the Democratic Party nomination in the 7th Congressional District sought to coax voters over to their side during a spirited forum Monday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8947 in Mineral.
Dan Ward, Abigail Spanberger and Helen Alli each offered the roughly 60 people in attendance reasons why they are best suited to defeat Rep. Dave Brat, the Republican who has held the seat since 2014.
Ward cited his rural roots and focus on the working class, while Spanberger cited her local fundraising as evidence that her campaign is more centered on the needs of the district. Alli said she is the candidate who can bring out voters who were too detached to go to the polls in the past.
The two-hour forum was organized by the Louisa Democratic Committee. Brennen Gilmore, who served as chief of staff for Tom Perriello, a candidate for governor in 2017, moderated the event with Louisa resident Chris Keup.
Questions from the moderators and the audience ranged widely on issues from gun reform to Russian meddling in elections. But the matter that drew the most varied response was about who is best suited to win the June 12 primary and take on Brat in November.
Ward, who lives in Orange but grew up in rural Tennessee, said he is running as “a traditional Democrat to represent the working people of this country.” He highlighted his experience as a union representative for airline pilots, as well as his years in the Marine Corps.
Spanberger, of Short Pump, has worked as a federal agent and as a Central Intelligence Agency case officer, and for a company that helps universities recruit students. She said her campaign has raised much of its money from 1,000 donors within the district.
“When we’re looking at why my campaign can do it, it’s because I’m fundraising in the district,” she said. “I have people in every county who are spending their time and money to support me.
“The biggest challenge to winning this district is for people to know it’s winnable,” Spanberger added. “It will be a matter of getting out the vote.”
Ward acknowledged much of his fundraising is from outside the district, but pointed to how many of his donors are fellow pilots who appreciate the work he has done to protect their interests.
Spanberger raised $386,000 in the latter six months of 2017, while Ward collected $552,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. Alli raised just under $7,500 between May and December.
The candidates disagreed on whether they should run to the right to win over conservative voters who might be swayed, to the center, or to the left. Ward said Democrats need to listen to Republican voters’ concerns if they want to win the congressional seat.
Alli, of Glen Allen, said Democrats should aim more at the “progressive” side of the dial, and particularly at voters of color. She noted her campaign’s interest in criminal justice reform, specifically the number of people in jail for marijuana use.
“A lot of people are choosing to stay home [rather than vote] because they don’t believe there’s anything in it for them,” she said. “They already agree with us, they just don’t like us right now. We can’t win if they don’t come out.”