RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who has cultivated an identity as a bipartisan consensus builder over three terms in Congress, announced on Monday that she will run for Virginia governor in 2025 instead of seeking reelection next year.
Spanberger, 44, made the announcement in a campaign video, pledging to work to lower prescription drug prices, grow the middle class and ease inflation. Spanberger also vowed to focus on recruiting and retaining teachers “and stopping extremists from shredding women’s reproductive rights.”
“Our country and our Commonwealth are facing fundamental threats to our rights, our freedoms, and to our democracy,” said Spanberger, who won’t face a term-limited GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin. “While some politicians in Richmond focus on banning abortion and books, what they’re not doing is helping people.”
Spanberger’s run could be a history-making one: Virginia has never had a female governor.
Spanberger represents Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, a key swing seat in northern Virginia. Her decision not to seek reelection to the U.S. House, currently under narrow GOP control, is expected to lead to a competitive Democratic primary. The Republican field competing for the seat is already crowded, too.
The National Republican Congressional Committee said Spanberger’s decision showed swing seat “Democrats are scrambling for the exits.”
“Republicans will flip this seat,” the group said in a statement posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pointed in part to Democrats’ wins last week in Virginia’s legislative elections to make the case that the district would stay in Democratic hands in 2024.
“Virginians have consistently made clear — including just last week — that they want leaders focused on protecting fundamental rights and freedoms, growing the middle-class, and delivering results for working families,” spokesperson Justin Chermol said in a statement.
Spanberger first won election to Congress in 2018 part of a wave of female candidates who helped Democrats retake the U.S. House in the midterms. She unseated GOP Rep. Dave Brat, who had ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor four years earlier in an upset victory for the tea party movement. She became the first Democrat to represent the 7th District — which then sprawled across central Virginia and included parts of the Richmond suburbs — in almost 50 years.
She faced a competitive reelection bid in 2020, when she defeated state legislator Nick Freitas in the district Republican President Donald Trump had won by 8 percentage points in 2016.
Redistricting overhauled the 7th District, shifting it northward, centering it around Fredericksburg and making it slightly more friendly to Democrats. Spanberger comfortably won reelection in 2022 over Republican challenger Yesli Vega, a local elected official who ran a spirited campaign.
Before jumping into politics, Spanberger worked as a law enforcement officer for the U.S. Postal Service, tracking narcotics traffickers and working money laundering cases, according to her campaign. She then joined the CIA as a case officer, with a workload that included counterterrorism and nuclear proliferation cases.
While embracing liberal positions on issues including abortion rights and LGBTQ rights, Spanberger is often described as a centrist moderate. In Congress, she’s displayed an independent streak, clashing at times with members of her own party, notably in her criticism of the “defund the police” movement. Spanberger, who serves on the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, did not vote for Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House speaker, and in her last run she welcomed the endorsement of a Republican police chief and then-GOP Rep. Liz Cheney.
In her announcement video, she touted her work on legislation to support veterans and small businesses and to provide addiction recovery services.
Spanberger, the first candidate to officially get in the 2025 race, is expected to have at least one competitor in a Democratic primary field that could still grow. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has confirmed he is considering a run, and a political adviser has said he will make an announcement about his political future by the end of the year.
Among Republicans, Attorney General Jason Miyares and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears are widely seen as likely contenders, though neither has publicly committed to a run.
Miyares responded to Spanberger’s announcement, saying that Virginia had made “remarkable strides” under its current slate of Republican officeholders.
“The last thing Virginia needs is another far left DC politician,” he said on X.
Outgoing Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase, who lost a June primary and ran unsuccessfully for her party’s nomination for governor in 2021, has also said she may run.
Spanberger made her announcement less than a week after Democrats won full control of the General Assembly, dashing Youngkin’s hopes of securing a Republican trifecta in the final years of his term. Virginia uniquely prohibits its chief executives from seeking a second consecutive four years in office.
The Democratic primary had initially been expected to include former Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn as well. But last month, she announced she would not make a bid for governor and will instead run next year to represent the competitive northern Virginia congressional seat being vacated by a fellow Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton. State Sen. Jennifer Boysko also recently joined that race, which like the 7th District is expected to see a long list of Democratic contenders.