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Why The Race For Virginia's 7th Congressional District Is One To Watch

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to Virginia, where CIA veteran Democrat Abigail Spanberger is taking on Tea Party incumbent Dave Brat. It's a tight race in one of the key districts Democrats need to win for control of the House. Reporter Mallory Noe-Payne of member station WVTF joins us now. And, Mallory, can you hear me?

MALLORY NOE-PAYNE, BYLINE: Yes, I can hear you.

CORNISH: All right. Tell us a little bit about where you are right now, and what's the mood like?

NOE-PAYNE: I am just outside Richmond, Va. That's the state capital. I'm at a Democratic watch party for Abigail Spanberger. The mood here is cautiously optimistic. That's how one group of ladies described it to me - a little bit nervous. The results are coming in as we speak. So lots of hitting the refresh page...

CORNISH: Can you talk about why this race has been one to watch? Why the focus on it? What does it represent in the state?

NOE-PAYNE: Well, I think it's potentially the answer to two big questions people have been asking for months now. First...

CORNISH: All right, we may have lost Mallory. Let's see if her line comes back up. Hi, Mallory.

NOE-PAYNE: Hi.

CORNISH: Oh, great. (Laughter). There you go. You were telling us...

NOE-PAYNE: Sorry about that.

CORNISH: ...Why this race is one to watch.

NOE-PAYNE: Yeah. First, because it could answer the question, how big is the blue wave? I spoke with a woman earlier today. She's a member of the Liberal Women of Chesterfield County. So it's a suburban district filled with women like her, a grassroots sort of Trump resistance.

How high is their motivation and energy? We're looking for the answer to that. And secondly, if Trump's supporters are going to turn out - it's a rural area. Trump beat Clinton here in 2016. But are supporters are going to turn out even though he's not on the ballot? Those are sort of the questions we don't know the answers to yet.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, Dave Brat's a Tea Party incumbent, and it wasn't so long ago that he had defeated the then former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, right? What should we make of the fact that Brat is now vulnerable? What's going on?

NOE-PAYNE: Well, the district has changed since Cantor represented it. So it was redrawn. It's more competitive than it once was. The race is really tight. Polls have had these two candidates neck and neck. One recent poll literally had them tied. So I think that just signifies that Democratic energy is really high 'cause this has been a safe Republican district.

CORNISH: Can you talk a little bit about turnout? I don't know what was expected and if you have any kind of sense of what's going on.

NOE-PAYNE: Well, we know that turnout is really high. I visited precincts all afternoon and evening. The polls closed about 40 minutes ago. And I was getting numbers from precinct - precinct sheets and all of them were saying they were seeing record-high turnout for a midterm. We just don't know who is turning out, Democrats, Republicans or both.

CORNISH: You talked about visiting the polls. Did you get a sense from people of how much the president and his agenda had to do with their turning out or the issues they're interested in?

NOE-PAYNE: Yeah, I think a lot for Democrats. I think they really see this election as a chance to - to say no to the president, to say we're still here, and our energy is still high. And then for Republicans, it's sort of the opposite. It's a chance to say, we're still here, and we're still supporting the president. It's definitely on people's minds.

CORNISH: That's WVTF reporter Mallory Noe-Payne. She spoke to us from a Democratic watch party in Virginia. Thanks so much.

NOE-PAYNE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMALS SONG, "BATHS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.