Democratic candidate Eugene Vindman has raised $3.8 million, more than the other 12 candidates from both parties combined. (Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi)

‘Not a lot of daylight’ between 7th District Democratic candidates at Free Press forum

by | Apr 25, 2024 | ALLFFP, Government, Politics & Elections

There weren’t any tense exchanges during the forum for Democratic candidates seeking the 7th Congressional District seat Wednesday night at the Fredericksburg Convention Center. 

The seven candidates who took the stage at the event sponsored by the Fredericksburg Free Press largely expressed similar views when it came to issues such as supporting gun control, U.S. globalism, the federal legalization of marijuana and the potential banning of TikTok, among other concerns. 

So, when providing closing remarks, candidates made their pitch explaining how they are best equipped to defeat a Republican challenger in November, keep the ultra-competitive 7th District in the hands of a Democrat and potentially turn the U.S. House of Representatives blue. 

“Candidly speaking, this is a Democratic primary. There is not a lot of daylight between my colleagues and I on the core issues — healthcare, education, voting rights, myriad issues that we discussed tonight,” said candidate Margaret Franklin, a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. “What you all have to decide when you go to vote is who can be the most effective Day One in serving.” 

Franklin was joined on stage by candidates Carl Bedell, Del. Briana Sewell, Eugene Vindman, Elizabeth Guzman, Andrea Bailey and Cliff Heinzer. The forum was moderated by Avery Dover, director of curriculum at the Richmond Debate Institute, former House of Delegates candidate Kecia Evans and former Roanoke Times Managing Editor Rich Martin, who also taught journalism for 12 years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Approximately 150 people were in attendance, prompting Bedell to remark that the forum was “by far the largest event we’ve all been at as a group.”

Approximately 150 people attended Wednesday’s Democratic candidate forum at the Fredericksburg Convention Center. (Photos by Suzanne Carr Rossi)

In total, there are 13 candidates seeking to replace Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who announced in the fall she will step down from the seat to run for governor in 2025. 

Bedell, a former Army captain who lives in Greene County and Sewell, a current Delegate from Prince William, each said they would like to continue pushing forward Spanberger’s legislative agenda and both stated they do not have any disagreements with her on policy. 

“I feel that Congresswoman Spanberger has done a really good job of being at service to the diverse demographics of the 7th Congressional District,” Sewell said. “This is a district which spans from the I-95 corridor to the Piedmont Region and everywhere in between. Therefore, that requires a great deal of listening to make sure that you’re meeting the needs of the constituency and I look forward to traveling every corner of the 7th District.” 

Vindman has raised $3.8 million and had $1.9 million cash on hand as of March 31, outpacing the other 12 candidates from both parties combined, according to ballotpedia.com. 

Vindman, whose rise comes five years after he helped his twin brother file a report that led to the first impeachment inquiry into former President Donald Trump, said that standing up to President Trump and his resources are two reasons to vote for him. 

Vindman said he believes that democracy is on the line in the upcoming election. He said he will work with Republicans when it “makes sense” but will not compromise on Democratic values. He believes in abortion rights and says he will fight for schools, infrastructure, healthcare and transportation improvements. 

“This is a seat we must win in order to win back the House,” Vindman said. “I am the only candidate that has the resources, that has out-raised the Republican frontrunner and I’ve done it by three times. So, when you start to think about holding the seat, please consider the resources, the experience and the principles of the candidate.” 

Bailey, who sits on the Prince William Board of Supervisors alongside Franklin, was endorsed by former Gov. Ralph Northam. She said Wednesday that if elected she will go to Washington to serve, and not to fight. She also said she prides herself on working in a bipartisan manner, touting a mental health facility that she and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Westmoreland) labored on together.

Margaret Franklin, a candidate for the 7th Congressional District speaks at Wednesday’s Democratic candidate forum.

“The reason why I got in this race is because I honestly believe that my leadership is needed in Washington,” Bailey said. “I believe that because of the experiences that I’ve had in my life, not just being an inner-city kid, but understanding business and understanding how to be accountable with finances and budgeting, similar to what I do now on the county board of supervisors.” 

Guzman, who is a former delegate from Prince William, said she is the right choice for the seat because she is the only candidate who has won a competitive race. Guzman won three terms as a delegate but lost to Jeremy McPike by 60 votes in the 2023 state senate Democratic primary.  

“There are very good candidates running for the nomination and we all probably align on the same democratic values,” Guzman said. “However, for those of us who campaigned for Abigail Spanberger, we know that this district is extremely competitive … I’m the candidate that has the most legislative experience as I served in the General Assembly for six years. I am the only candidate who has represented rural communities, and the 7th District is 35% rural.” 

Caroline, Culpeper, Greene, King George, Madison and Orange counties as well as part of Albemarle, are included in the 7th District along with the more suburban Prince Wiliam, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties and the City of Fredericksburg.  

Bedell, who is entering politics for the first time, also cited an ability to represent rural communities, highlighting his residency in Greene. 

“I am the only candidate up here who understands the rural communities,” Bedell said. “And while that might not play into Fredericksburg’s populous, it does play into the voters that it requires to win this district.”  

Heinzer, a former diplomat and ex-chair of the Stafford Democratic Committee, pledged that if he is elected, he will be accessible, and constituents will not have to worry if their issues are being addressed. He said he also has a plan to reach out to youthful voters. 

“One of the things that I can say during this campaign that I’ve been able to do successfully is engage with young people,” Heinzer said. “We’ve got tremendous volunteers who are motivated to help this campaign.” 

Early voting begins May 3 and ends June 15. The primary election will be held June 18.

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