Former Green Beret Freitas joins GOP race to challenge Virginia’s Rep. Spanberger

By JENNA PORTNOY | The Washington Post | Published: December 2, 2019

Fresh off a write-in win for a third term as a state lawmaker, Republican Nick Freitas said Monday he will challenge Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and said he would try to protect the nation from what he called encroaching socialism.

Freitas, a former Green Beret with a libertarian bent, gained a national following for making incendiary floor speeches that fired up conservatives and rankled Democrats.

He is the most well known of the seven Republicans trying to unseat Spanberger, a former CIA officer who is part of a group of freshmen with national security backgrounds who won red districts in 2018, and helped Democrats take control of the U.S. House.

Andrew Knaggs, a former defense official in the Trump administration; John McGuire, a former Navy SEAL and two-term state lawmaker; Tina Ramirez, who leads a nonprofit organization; and three others are vying for the GOP nomination.

The contest will be decided in a party-run convention in the spring.

Freitas’s re-election campaign unexpectedly became one of the most-watched races of the legislative elections last month when he and his local party failed to file forms with the state elections office on time, forcing him to run as a write-in candidate.

A GOP megadonor from Illinois, Richard Uihlein, came to the rescue, pumping $500,000 into Freitas’s campaign for a third term in the House of Delegates and raising his profile enough to help him win by double digits.

Less than a month after the race, Freitas on Monday launched his campaign with a 4½-minute-long video highlighting his military service, opposition to abortion, 20-year marriage and childhood as the son of a police officer and a single mom.

In an interview, he said Spanberger has not kept her campaign pledge to be an independent voice because she has voted most often with Democratic leadership and supports the impeachment inquiry.

“Some of the biggest policy and philosophical battles we’re having are in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “When I look at presidential debates, I see a lot of people wanting to move the country in a direction that’s a drastic departure. … I’m running to make the argument why we do not want to move to a more socialist nation.”

Within hours of his announcement, the conservative Club for Growth endorsed Freitas, calling him a “conservative rockstar” and the only state lawmaker to ace the group’s scorecard. Republican State Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania also endorsed Freitas.

Freitas, 40, enlisted in the Army after high school, joined the Special Forces and served two combat tours in Iraq. He left the military in 2010, and moved his family to Culpeper in the congressional district he’s running to represent.

He works as a consultant for defense contracting, with a focus on counterterrorism and intelligence, as well as commercial contracting.

Virginia Democrats call Freitas a perennial candidate “desperate to climb the ladder and bring his hyper-partisan style to a larger stage,” and note Corey Stewart defeated Freitas for the 2018 Republican primary to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.

During that race and weeks after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., Freitas gave a heated floor speech suggesting “the abortion industry” was to blame for gun violence, and also offending African American lawmakers. The video was viewed more than 14 million times.

Freitas backs President Donald Trump and voted for him in 2016, but in deleted social media posts from 2015 and 2016 referred to him as a “5 time draft deferring ‘tough guy’ ” and said Trump was not the candidate for “liberty minded conservatives.”

Nationally, Republicans are targeting the 7th District, which replaced Eric Cantor with Dave Brat in 2014, and voted for Trump in 2016. Spanberger unseated Brat in 2018 with help from suburban female voters.

The independent analysts at Cook Political Report and the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia say the race leans Democratic.