FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — The 7th Congressional District race in Virginia not only helped prevent a "red wave" but signified voting patterns and what issues matter most to constituents.
J. Miles Coleman of the Sabato's Crystal Ball at UVA Center for Politics said he expected Rep. Abigail Spanberger to win the district against GOP newcomer Yesli Vega. But he admits the four-point difference between the two surprised him.
"I think Spanberger is really a case study on what to do right if you're a Democratic incumbent," he said.
Spanberger won 52% of the votes, much like the election results for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and President Joe Biden in 2021 and 2020 respectively. The Virginia Department of Elections shows outcomes from the City of Fredericksburg and Prince William County, where Vega resides, helped Spanberger win the race.
The district was redrawn last year to move away from the Richmond suburbs to include more rural communities and parts of Prince William County where Vega serves as a county supervisor. The redistricting posed a challenge for Spanberger to reach out to new constituents, but her win highlighted what she did right.
"In this district, you have a lot of voters who are in the middle," Coleman said. "Spanberger did a great job getting Republicans to vouch for her."
Her bipartisan experience in Congress, nabbing Republican supporters to appear on campaign ads and push for more law enforcement funding likely resonated well with moderate viewers in the district, per political analysts.
Beating an incumbent is usually a challenge for political newcomers, but Vega gained momentum as she received major support from big GOP figures including Sen. Ted Cruz, President Donald Trump and Youngkin. Her campaign echoed many of Youngkin's issues including so-called parental rights in education.
Although Republican voters cited the economy, immigration and crime as being the main reasons to vote for Vega, the issue of reproductive rights became a motivating factor. Spanberger said she supports codifying Roe v. Wade rights struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court this year.
WUSA9 spoke to several voters on Election Day who believed Vega was too extreme.
"I have too many girls in my family so I worry about their future," James Brokemik said.
"Even though personally I don't support abortion, I support human rights over my nonsupport of abortion," Charles Booth said.
Vega could not escape the backlash she faced over comments she made that cast doubt on rape victims getting pregnant. Socially conservative messaging tends not to work as well in the suburbs for GOP candidates as it does in other places, political experts say.
"The Vega campaign started off on the wrong foot because of issues relating to abortion," Dr. Stephen Farnsworth of University of Mary Washington explained. "The Spanberger campaign took advantage of that rookie mistake and went after her with advertisement after advertisement throughout the fall."
Vega said she wanted each vote counted, but ultimately conceded about 15 hours after Spanberger gave her victory speech.
"We gave it our all, but came up a little short last night," Vega conceded.