Any announcement from Spanberger would likely not come until after Virginia’s highly competitive state legislative elections this November. But her ambitions — and that possible timeline — threaten to add uncertainty about the battle for the House in 2024.
Democrats will have to defend Spanberger’s competitive district to have a shot at retaking the majority.
Spanberger can run for reelection to her House seat and immediately launch a statewide run. But the congresswoman and an aide told two Virginia Democrats last spring that she does not plan to seek a fourth term in Congress, according to two people familiar with those conversations. Sam Signori, who ran Spanberger’s 2022 reelection campaign to Congress, is expected to manage her governor’s bid as well.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Spanberger provided the following statement to POLITICO: “As every Democrat in Virginia should be, Abigail is squarely focused on the 2023 General Assembly races.”
Spanberger isn’t the only Virginia Democrat with an eye on the governor’s office. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and former Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn are among the most likely candidates to enter the contest.
The battle will not kick off in earnest before Virginia’s state legislature elections this November. Democrats are fighting to hold onto the state Senate and flip the House, with the fate of abortion access on the line in the final years of Youngkin’s term.
Spanberger is a prodigious fundraiser who could bring a network of national donors to the race. In the 2022 cycle, she raised upward of $9 million. She’s been raising money at a brisk clip in 2023 for her congressional reelection, ending June with nearly $1.2 million in the bank.
Virginia has very few limits on who can donate or how much. And under the state’s notoriously lax campaign finance laws, Spanberger can use funds raised for a federal race to run for statewide office.
But a transfer from her congressional account to a gubernatorial campaign carries risks. It could upset donors who contributed to her House campaign with the goal of reclaiming a majority in that chamber. It could also put some Virginia donors in an awkward spot given that they may prefer another Democrat running for governor in the — likely to be — highly competitive 2025 primary.
Spanberger, who first won her seat by a narrow margin five years ago, has been a leading moderate voice in the Democratic party on issues from fiscal reform to police funding. Last fall, she won a newly created leadership position to advocate for battleground members under House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Spanberger’s departure could make it tougher for House Democrats to keep the seat. The former CIA officer rose to prominence in 2018 when she ousted Tea Party-aligned Rep. Dave Brat. The same seat was once represented by then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
But there would be no shortage of Democratic contenders eager to run in her district, which President Joe Biden won by 6 points in 2020. They include former state Dels. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Hala Ayala, as well as state Sen. Jeremy McPike. Republicans have only one candidate in the district who has begun fundraising: businessman Bill Moher, and he has done so largely by loaning himself money.
Virginia holds primaries in June. The preference among some Democrats is to have an open House seat in a presidential year rather than an unpredictable special election later on, should Spanberger win the governor’s race and be forced to resign. The seat could be far more at risk if she vacated it in 2025.
“If she asked me, and she hasn’t, I’d say don’t run in ‘24,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), stressing that a statewide campaign would take a massive time commitment. “The other piece is wanting to hold the House. That’s still a very competitive seat and as Democrats, we’re more likely to hold it with a new candidate in a presidential year.”
Several other national Democrats said privately they don’t expect her to run in 2024.
“I would miss her here in Congress,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) when asked about Spanberger’s gubernatorial plans. “But she’d be an asset in whatever endeavors she chose to pursue.”