Republicans showed their strength Saturday in Culpeper, massing the candidates who wish to take on Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the Democrat who flipped Central Virginia’s 7th District in the 2018 midterm elections.

Seven hopefuls came to assail the Henrico resident and outline their stands on key issues during a candidates’ forum at the Culpeper County Republican Committee’s monthly breakfast meeting.

All vowed to back whoever emerges as victor to become the GOP nominee for Spanberger’s House seat, to avoid party infighting, and to support President Donald Trump. From there, the seven diverged a bit as they communicated their priorities and policy positions.

Mike Dickinson, Nick Freitas, Pete Greenwald, Andrew Knaggs, John McGuire, Tina Ramirez and Jason Roberge took turns speaking in a fast-paced, 90-minute Q&A session with Russell Rabb, Culpeper’s deputy commonwealth’s attorney, and GOP committee Chairman Marshall Keene.

Freitas, Culpeper’s representative in the Virginia House of Delegates and the likely hometown favorite, said he is the candidate best positioned to oust Spanberger from the post formerly occupied by Dave Bratt.

His social-media presence is twice the size of Spanberger’s; it enables him to “go around the press” and get directly to donors, he said.

Plus, nationally, the advocacy group FreedomWorks and The Club for Growth, a tax-cutting network, support him, Freitas noted. They have singled out the 7th District race as one of the most important elections in the country, he said.

Knaggs, Ramirez and McGuire also seemed to capture the attention of the 120 people in attendance at Peppers restaurant on Madison Road in the town of Culpeper.

Here are a few highlights about each candidate, in alphabetical order:

Mike Dickinson

Mike Dickinson, a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate, may be the most colorful choice available to Republicans. He raised eyebrows with his quixotic 2014 campaign for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s seat, although he identified as a Democrat and owned a strip club.

Dickinson said he is running “because I love our country and love individual liberty ... and that an American can start with 15 cents and make a dollar out of it.”

As a Richmond-area entrepreneur who runs eight restaurants and bars, he said he talks with a wide array of people every day, including many who have “tuned out and dropped out” of following, or believing in, U.S. politics.

“A lot of voters are apathetic, and don’t know how they can get involved,” he said. “I can talk with them.”

Younger people connect with him, and he can persuade new voters to vote for Republicans, he said.

Right now, he is focused on signing up delegates, “finding new voters and growing the pie” of GOP supporters, Dickinson said. He said he won’t worry about fundraising until after the GOP convention in April.

Dickinson said he speaks his mind, bluntly, and understands working-class people. He noted that he donated to Trump ally Roger Stone and hosted him in his Richmond club.

Dickinson promised to take the fight to the incumbent he calls “Dirty Abby.”

Nick Freitas

The 30th House District incumbent stressed his libertarian thinking, declaring that “Private enterprise and free markets have been the biggest motivators of human liberty in world history.”

He pledged to work hard for regulatory relief and tax reform.

Asked what were his top two priorities, Freitas said he favors the REINS Act proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, which would rein in federal officials by requiring that Congress approve every new “major rule” proposed by the Executive Branch before it can be enforced.

“We have to get the regulatory state under control,” he said.

Second, Freitas said he’ll fight federal control of education policy. “We have to put education back under the control of parents and teachers, not bureaucrats in Richmond and Washington,” he said.

“I wanted Dave Brat to be up here,” Freitas said of Saturday’s forum. He said he tried to persuade the ex-congressman from Glen Allen to run again, having raised money and shot campaign videos for him.

“He was an outstanding congressman,” Freitas said, leading attendees in applause for Brat and his family.

Freitas noted that he is an acknowledged Republican leader on gun rights, and was asked by the Virginia House leadership to deliver its response to Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address.

Though he was the last candidate to enter the 7th Congressional District race, he has raised $250,000 in 29 days, Freitas said.

The delegate warned that Republicans had better be prepared for “a ton of money” to flood in from all over in support of Spanberger.

Pete Greenwald

Pete Greenwald, a retired Navy commander who teaches ROTC classes at James River High School in Chesterfield, also waged a 2014 bid against Rep. Cantor.

He’s back in 2020’s 7th District fight, perhaps the most fervent pro-life Christian candidate.

“I’m for life,” Greenwald declared yesterday, indicating that is his No. 1 issue.

He supports the Trump administration’s drive to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and to put more constitutional originalists in the federal judiciary.

Greenwald said is 100 percent for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. He fiercely advocates for shrinking the federal debt and curbing illegal immigration.

The admirer of Ronald Reagan said the 7th District race is not about how many people he knows or what amount of money he has raised. His biggest supporter, he said, is his 92-year-old mother, who has twice donated to his campaign.

Andrew Knaggs

A first-generation American, Andrew F. Knaggs said he is well-equipped to help President Trump finish the work he has begun in his first term

“I’ve had the opportunity to live the American dream, and I want your kids and my kids to have those same opportunities,” he said. “If Abigail stays in power, she will ruin it for all of us.”

A West Point graduate who received the Bronze Star for his combat valor in Afghanistan, Knaggs served as Trump’s deputy assistant secretary of defense who oversaw the Pentagon’s policies on special operations, counterterrorism, irregular warfare and information operations.

He emphasized that he is the only candidate who was part of the Trump administration’s Senior Executive Service, and knows the president’s mindset on security issues.

Trump will look at Congress and know he can trust him, Knaggs said. “I was his chosen deputy, leading counterterrorism operations around the world,” he said.

“... That’s what I bring to the table. I will bleed for our nominee. I will fight for you and defend our American values.”

Knaggs said he has raised just over $100,000, having been in the race for just one quarter.

“That’s starting from zero, all on my own, with no lists, no PACs, and no out of-state wealthy benefactors,” he said. His latter point may have alluded Freitas’ support from an Illinois billionaire who contributed $500,000 to the delegate’s Virginia House write-in campaign.

But, Knagg said, “what matters is telling our story and being faithful to our principles.”

John J. McGuire III

A former Navy SEAL, John McGuire was elected in 2017 to the Virginia House, representing the 56th District northwest of Richmond.

He received nearly 60 percent of the vote against a Democrat, and did well in Richmond suburbs where Spanberger draws some of her strength, he noted.

McGuire said he won a six-way primary without major endorsements, raised $200,000 and proved himself “immune to the blue wave.”

His district includes Louisa County and parts of Goochland, Henrico and Spotsylvania counties.

McGuire calls himself an “unapologetic conservative.” In the Virginia House, he opposed Medicare expansion and the Equal Rights Amendment.

“I’m a pit bull and I’m fighting for you,” he told the Culpeper Republicans.

McGuire said he donated money to Rep. David Brat’s re-election effort, shared his list of volunteers with Brat’s campaign, and knocked on voters’ doors all that year.

To date, he has raised about $200,000 for his 7th District bid, he said.

McGuire said he is sick and tired of meeting Republicans who don’t support Trump. When criticized by a party official for flying a Trump flag on his pickup truck, he doubled down and put two flags on the truck, he said.

Tina Ramirez

A Midlothian resident and Hispanic single mom, Tina Ramirez founded and is president of Hardwired, a Richmond nonprofit group that trains leaders globally in principles of religious freedom.

Over 20 years, she supported the Hobby Lobby case as it came before the U.S. Supreme Court, assisted the The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, worked for conservative members of Congress, and served as staff director of the House International Religious Freedom Caucus.

Ramirez said she strongly supports gun rights, noting that she has seen how genocide was perpetrated on defenseless people in Sudan. Ramirez said she admired Trump’s decisiveness in sending U.S. troops into the Middle East to defend allies, eschewing Obama’s cautious approach.

Ramirez said she has raised money for a number of other 7th District candidates, as well as Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins.

Ramirez said she raised $250,000 this past quarter, the most of any GOP candidate in the race.

Ramirez noted that she and Brat were both involved with the First Freedom Center, a religious freedom nonprofit in Richmond years ago.

Jason Roberge

A lawyer and Coast Guard veteran who lives in Spotsylvania, Jason Alexander Roberge calls himself a constitutional originalist, a Trump supporter who is pro-life and pro-America.

Roberge noted that he is not a D.C. insider, and said he isn’t focused on fundraising yet.

He said he cares more about who has the best ideas to fight Gov. Ralph Northam’s “gun grab,” protect free speech, and bring people together, including independents and single-issue Democrats.

“I believe in unrestricted free speech, freedom of religion, and your absolute right to bear arms,” Robert told Fox News show host Laura Ingraham this month. “Our conservative values are under attack—whether it be our belief in the nuclear family, the recognition that life begins at conception, or simply in defense of our Judeo-Christian values, we must stand up for what makes America truly great.”

Afterward, GOP committee chair Keene said he was impressed with the Republican field.

“We know that we have several candidates who absolutely can do the job,” he said. “The question is, who is our best candidate to defeat Abigail Spanberger.”

Senate candidate

The committee also welcomed Alissa Baldwin, a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate who visited from Victoria in Southside’s Lunenburg County.

A civics teacher and Virginia native, Baldwin sought Culpeper Republicans’ support in her bid to unseat Sen. Mark Warner. A conservative who favors life, liberty and limited government, she said she was raised to believe in faith, family and freedom.

Eight GOP candidates are vying for the party nomination to challenge Warner, according to Ballotpedia. They are Alissa Baldwin, John Easley, Omari Faulkner, Roger Franklin, Daniel Gade, Mary Knapp, Thomas Speciale, and Victor Williams.

Baldwin describes herself as the oldest of four girls “raised by parents whose 48- to 72-hour shifts in fire/EMS and hospital emergency-room settings never stopped them from giving back to the community.”

If elected, she would be the first woman in in the U.S. Senate from Virginia.

Reagan dinner

Next month, the Culpeper Republican Committee will host the highlight of its yearly calendar, the 8th annual Ronald Reagan Dinner, at Tuscany Hall. Fox News contributor Tom Homan, a former director of ICE, and Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins will be the speakers at the Feb. 22 event. Email mkeeneccrc@gmail.com for details, or buy tickets via eventbrite.com.

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