But the biggest complicating factor in the race may have nothing to do with who ends up earning the nomination. “That district is not really a race that would be defined by who the candidates are. It’s going to be defined by who the candidates are above them on the ballot,” said Tucker Martin, a Virginia-based Republican strategist. Trump has “blocked out the sun” for Republicans in Virginia, Martin said; if he’s at the top of the ticket, Republicans could have even more of an uphill battle in winning the seat.
“If the nominee ends up being Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis, then I would say, yeah, if Republicans put up a good candidate in the 7th [district], they could put it in play. But if the trajectory we’re on right now continues, and Donald Trump is running, I don’t know how a Republican overcomes those headwinds,” Martin said. “It’s just too difficult, in a state where he lost by 10 points, to think that in a district that does lean Democratic, you’re going to be able to find a nominee who can somehow bridge that gap. People are not really splitting their tickets nowadays.”
Spanberger’s early announcement will allow her potential Democratic successor plenty of runway to plan for the primary and general elections. Despite President Joe Biden’s relative unpopularity, Kondik said, his presence at the top of the ticket would likely not hinder the eventual Democratic nominee; even if a Republican won the presidency, he predicted, the turnout might benefit the Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 7th district more than the Republican.