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Newcomer Abigail Spanberger Takes 7th District Seat from Dave Brat


With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Abigail Spanberger, a first-time Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 7th District House of Representatives seat, takes the stage in a Westin Hotel ballroom.

It’s been a long night. By 10 p.m. women abandoned their high heels in favor of stockinged feet on the floor, some of the children sitting near the stage have begun to lose steam, and many sip coffee as they check their phones for returns. But cheers ripple through the crowd every time the giant screens at the front of the room reveal more precincts in Spanberger’s favor, and volunteers lead an enthusiastic sing-along when Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” blares over the speakers.

Around 11:15 p.m., Spanberger’s husband and daughters follow her out and stand behind her among clusters of blue and white balloons as she addresses the jubilant crowd. In the audience are her family (some of whom are Republicans, according to her staff), volunteers, staff, supporters and friends who traveled from as far as Hamburg, Germany. Smiling ear to ear, she waits for the noise to die down before steadily delivering her victory speech.

“I will work to find common ground when possible, and I will hold my ground when necessary,” she tells the roomful of elated supporters. “I will listen to the people who elected me, as well as those who did not.”

Spanberger goes on to describe the 7th as an “unwinnable district,” noting that a Democrat hasn’t held the seat since 1968. As of midnight, Republican incumbent David Brat has not conceded the race. Halfway through her speech, Spanberger bends down to pick up her youngest daughter, who happily sits on her hip, alternating between smiling at the audience and resting her head on her mother’s shoulder.

Adela Parvaiz, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan who lives in Henrico, says she’d never been politically active until the last two years. The morning after the 2016 presidential election, her then 8-year-old son asked her if their family would have to move back to Pakistan, an interaction she describes as heartbreaking. Spanberger, a good friends of hers, was one of the first to call to check in on her after President Donald Trump was elected.

“Trump’s hateful politics have made us so nervous about who we were. Were we Americans too? We felt loyal, we felt patriotic, we had the passports, but he made us feel like outsiders,” Parvaiz says. “And that’s precisely when Abigail called us.” Parvaiz was one of the first to discuss a potential campaign with Spanberger, and she says she’s on board since day one.

“I want you to know the Abigail that sits with me in my living room having a cup of coffee with me, because what she is on the inside she is on the outside,” Parvaiz says. “When she cries, she cries because she feels your pain. There is no hidden agenda with her.”

At a brief press conference after her speech, Spanberger answers questions about what’s next. She says her first priority is to restore people’s trust in elected officials, and she wants to address campaign finance reform right away.

When asked for comment on whether Brat concedes, Spanberger says he’s “welcome to make whatever decisions he chooses,” and that to her knowledge, her opponent had not yet reached out to her or her campaign.