Vangie Williams, a federal contractor from tiny King George County, won a historic victory Tuesday, becoming the first African-American woman to ever secure the Democratic Party’s nomination in Virginia’s 1st District.
Williams, a 49-year-old federal contractor and a mother of six, will become the first woman of color elected to Congress from Virginia if she beats her Republican opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman in November. State Sen. Louise Lucas was the first black woman to run for Congress from Virginia in 2001, according to Williams’ campaign.
Williams came from the smallest county of her three opponents and therefore was considered less likely to win.
Reached at her campaign party in Fredericksburg Tuesday night, Williams said she was surprised but also overjoyed with the victory. She won by nearly 2,000 votes over second-place Edwin Santana, a former U.S. Marine who was a favorite in Prince William County.
Santana won Prince William by 800 votes, but it was not enough to keep Williams from winning the sprawling district, which stretches from Nokesville to Hampton Roads.
Williams garnered 11,001 votes, or 39.9 percent of the total. Santana received 9,020 votes, or 32.7 percent. John Suddarth, a Prince William native who lives in Hanover County, came in third with 7,546 votes or 27 percent.
“They kept telling us we had the numbers, but no way did we think the win would be that big,” Williams said.
She gave credit to her volunteers – whom she affectionately calls her “Vangelinas” and “Vangelinos” – whom she said knocked on more than 10,000 doors and reached voters in places sometimes overlooked by political campaigns.
“We went to churches, we went to nursing homes and we also talked to Republicans,” Williams said of her campaign’s effort to reach voters.
“And they donated and supported our campaign,” she added of her Republican supporters.
Support from right-leaning voters is likely crucial to any Democratic win in the district, which leans decidedly more red than the rest of the state.
The party hasn’t held a primary to pick a candidate in the 1st District since 1976. A Democrat hasn’t won the seat since 1974. Wittman has held the seat since a special election in 2006 and has never won with less than about 59 percent of the vote in the years since.
In 2017, 1st District voters picked Republican Ed Gillespie with 54 percent of the vote even though Gillespie went on to lose Virginia to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) statewide by nearly 9 percentage points.
Williams’ victory is the latest win by Democratic women candidates. Williams joins fellow candidates such as Jennifer Lewis, Abigail Spanberger and state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (33rd) in their bids for a congressional seat.
On the campaign trail, Williams talked about the need to do a comprehensive transportation plan for the district, and she’s in favor of single-payer health care.
She’s against assault weapons, coining a phrase that she said even Republicans like: “If it takes you 30 bullets to shoot a deer, you need to go fishing.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org