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Spanberger could run for governor. It's exciting Democrats and Republicans.

The former spy looked out upon a vast green sea of soy.

After spending Wednesday traveling across the countryside of Virginia’s 7th District, Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger stood by the long driveway of Charity Hill Farms in Caroline County with seventh-generation farmer Chris Smith to her right and his mother Cindy to her left.

It was the last stop of her daylong farm tour, and as the afternoon drew to a close, the ex-CIA officer, amid corn, soy and cattle, took and asked questions about how Congress can better serve farmers.

In many ways, this journey through the bucolic counties of her district was unremarkable: Since assuming office four years ago and joining the House Committee on Agriculture, Spanberger has toured many a farm.

But with murmurs in Washington about her political ambitions, the tour may have served an additional purpose: a test run for a gubernatorial campaign.

“I’m really focused on November,” Spanberger told The Daily Progress when asked if there is truth to reports that she plans to run for governor in 2025. “We’ve got 140 seats up as well as board of supervisors and school board races, and those are incredibly important. I don’t want to distract from that.”

It was not a denial.

As the only Virginian on the Agriculture Committee and with a $1.5 trillion farm bill expected in 2024, meeting with farming families such as the Smiths can be valuable for a congresswoman.

After all, Spanberger conceded she knew “literally nothing” about farming before joining the committee. Much of what she’s learned since — about crop insurance, rotational grazing, cover crops and more — she said she’s learned by talking to farmers.

“I have loved the committee,” she said, standing in her baby-blue blazer under the shade of a tree. “What happens on the Agriculture Committee really matters to every single community, from the most urban of the urban to the most rural of the rural.”

If Spanberger does make an announcement to run for governor, the centrist Democrat may need to pick off votes in more Republican parts of the commonwealth like Caroline County, which former President Donald Trump won in 2020 with 51.2% of the vote.

But when will that announcement come?

Not before the elections this fall, predicted outgoing Democratic Del. Sally Hudson.

“Everyone in Virginia politics is laser focused on November. There’s no reason to start a governor’s race in a major public way right now,” Hudson told The Daily Progress. “It’s August two years out. Most people are winding down summer days and getting ready for back-to-school season.”

With big races in Virginia and elsewhere this fall, announcing now might indeed “distract from that,” as Spanberger said.

“Right now, the calculation is, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican looking to run, ‘Do I get perceived as getting in the way of competitive elections that are happening first?’” said Tom Kramer of Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy.

“They don’t want to be perceived as doing that,” he told The Daily Progress.

Hudson said she thinks that for a well-known candidate such as Spanberger, there’s no hurry to announce. She already has earned a national profile, and announcements matter more for outsider candidates, Hudson said.

“There’s no swing voter at the ballot box who remembers what campaign launch timing looked like,” she said.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Spanberger will run.

“Sometimes candidates simply mention they’re thinking about running because they want to test the waters,” Kramer said. “It’s simply them gauging how much support they’d get and where might it come from.”

“What is clear is she’s interested in running,” he added, referring to media reports.

It’s certainly possible the congresswoman has already decided she’ll make a bid for the Executive Mansion in 2025. But her camp may still be determining whether she should also try to retain her House seat in 2024.

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics called this “running from safety,” meaning to run for office while still holding office.

“If the governorship doesn’t work out, she could still stay in the House. If she gives up her House seat, someone else will hold it and she might find herself completely out in 2025,” Kondik told The Daily Progress.

On the other hand, staying in the House would require her to run two campaigns back to back.

“If she knows she’s going to run for governor, it makes sense for her politically to just focus on that over the next two years, instead of a closely contested and expensive campaign in 2024 and then run again in 2025,” Kondik said.

If it were up to House Democrats, the House member would likely stay in the lower chamber in D.C. In addition to being a prolific fundraiser, Kramer said Spanberger has shown she can win in a competitive district.

“Her seat is one they won’t look forward to having to compete for,” Kramer said. “If she left Congress, her seat adds to the number of competitive seats in what is already a narrowly divided Congress.”

Rich Anderson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, told The Daily Progress that the “trial balloon” Spanberger has released could signal an opening for his party in 2024.

“This would be a win-win for Virginia Republicans, because we have a stable of quality candidates who will likely seek the governorship in 2025, preceded in 2024 by an equally attractive slate of Republican candidates,” he wrote in an email.

While Republicans may welcome her House exit, some of Spanberger’s own constituents would be less happy to see her go.

“It would certainly pain us to lose Abigail as our Congresswoman,” Sandra Smith, co-chair of the Orange County Democratic Committee, told The Daily Progress in an email. “We understand that she is making no definitive plan until late fall after the House of Delegates and State Senate elections are over. We’re confident she’ll base her decision on where she can do the most good.”

Before the Spanberger’s arrival on Wednesday, Chris Smith stood on the farm that his family has owned since 1856. While 150 beef cattle grazed the land, corn and soybean are the moneymakers for the Smiths these days, and Chris Smith crossed his fingers that the fields would get rain over the weekend.

Why was the congresswoman coming to visit this old farm?

“I have no idea,” Chris and his father Steve Smith both said when asked 10 minutes apart.

For Spanberger, the trip was at least in part to learn more about Virginia’s farming community.

It was also an opportunity to meet with people who may not share her party affiliation.

Driving through the winding roads en route to Charity Hill, one large, handmade sign read in bold letters: “When will Democrats blame Democrats for what Democrats have done?”

Spanberger thinks visits to red parts of her district might help explain why she’s been able to win three races in a competitive seat. For some people, she said, being a Democrat is a bridge too far. But demonstrating respect may help win a couple votes.

“I’ve had the occasion to show up in spaces where I say, ‘Listen, I know y’all don’t vote for me, but I still work for you,’” she said. “If somebody might say, ‘Well, she’s a Democrats but,’ and that ‘but’ is she hears about my issues or she shows up or she respects me or she tries to understand what my day-to-day is like, then that’s my goal.”

On Wednesday at least, she appeared to achieve that. Spending time with the Smiths, she asked about their lives and listened to their concerns, occasionally jotting down notes with a stylus on her tablet.

Chris Smith said he thinks she still has some learning to do. There’s more to agriculture than just farming and subsidies, he said. He’d like to see the Spanberger do more for vocational schools and find other ways to get the younger generation more interested in where their food comes from.

“But it definitely meant something that she took the time to come out,” he said on the phone after picking up his beef from a nearby processor, which he’ll later sell to neighbors and local restaurants. “Our views might not line up completely on all platforms, but she was a nice person and I enjoyed talking to her.”

Might that visit have earned Spanberger a vote in her expected gubernatorial race?

Smith won’t commit to that. He likes to stay out of politics, but mentioned he’s been happy with what Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has done for the farming community.

Youngkin, of course, cannot run again. And it’s unclear which Republican might replace him on the ballot.

It’s also unclear if and when Spanberger will make her candidacy official, and if she’d be able to win a primary. Already, another powerful Virginia Democrat, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, has been hinting at his own gubernatorial ambitions.

But Kramer, Hudson and Kondik said they think she’d be a compelling candidate.

If she were to advance to the general election, the Smiths and other farming families will have a choice to make.

“We’ll see when the time gets closer,” Chris said.

So too will Spanberger. And so too will the rest of Virginia as it waits for her decision.


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