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Healthcare, Pandemic Feature in Spanberger-Freitas Debate

Spanberger and Freitas faced off on a range of issues including the economy, healthcare, pandemic response and policing. Moderator Robert Costa said the forum was civil, and thanked the candidates for not engaging in cross-talk. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

Abigail Spanberger and Nick Freitas fought to win the support of voters from Virginia’s 7th District during Tuesday’s candidate forum.

Freitas, a former Green Beret, has been a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates since 2016. Spanberger worked as a CIA officer before running for office. She is seeking her second term representing the 7th District, a seat she won by defeating Republican incumbent Dave Brat.

The district spans much of Central Virginia, including parts of Chesterfield and Henrico county. It is a traditionally Republican-leaning district, but Spanberger capitalized on the national movement of suburbs to the Democratic party in 2018 to become the first Democrat to represent the district since 1971.

Spanberger criticized Freitas’s record on healthcare, saying that he voted against protections for pregnant women, a claim PolitiFact VA rated as ‘mostly true.’ She also criticized Freitas’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which he has previously called a “cancer.”

“There is so much rhetoric about ‘well we’ll just protect people with pre-existing conditions,’” Spanberger said. “There is one bill that does that and that’s the ACA.”

Freitas called attacks suggesting that he doesn’t support those protections “absolutely absurd.” He claimed protections can be maintained even if the ACA is repealed, something he has said throughout his campaign. 

Freitas and Spanberger also sparred on COVID-19 response. Freitas stressed the need to reopen the economy to ensure the survival of small businesses. He cited Sweden as a potential model for the U.S. to follow, though Scandinavian experts have questioned the country’s approach, which it may be changing in response to higher death rates than neighboring nations.

Spanberger said the country’s top priority should be investing in PPE and testing equipment. She argued these steps would allow consumers to feel safe and confident before the economy reopened.

Freitas tried throughout the forum to tie Spanberger to the more liberal elements of her party. He said Spanbeger has voted with Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cotez 90% of the time, mirroring a claim that he made about Spanbeger and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

He repeatedly pointed blame at the Democratic party and claimed the party was trying to distract from its failures by supporting the removal of statues of both Confederate leaders and founding fathers.

“Ultimately, I don’t think this movement is about reconciliation,” Freitas said. “This movement is about Democratic politicians trying to distract from the fact that they have not been able to deliver on their promises.”

Spanberger said she supports the removal of monuments to Confederate leaders and not founding fathers. She noted that she voted to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.

The candidates found common ground on some issues, however, both agreeing that they would not support efforts to pack the U.S. Supreme Court. They also both cited rural broadband access as the most pressing infrastructure issue in the nation.

The race is among the most hotly contested in the state, though political handicappers give Spanberger a slight edge with both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rating the race as “Leans Democratic.”

Connor Scribner is a former VPM News assistant editor.
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