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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

January 29, 2018

Virginia’s Congressional District 10 Lies at the Heart of 2018 Battlefield

Midterm / National / State / Elections

Virginia Congressional District 10

Over the past decade, Virginia has been a blue-leaning battleground state. In 2016, Hillary Clinton comfortably won Virginia by 5 pts over Donald Trump, the only southern state to break for Clinton. In 2017, Ralph Northam’s 9 point victory over Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s gubernatorial election and big gains for Democrats in the House of Delegates have led some pundits to erroneously conclude that Virginia’s battleground days are behind her. Although demographics do trend more in favor of the Democratic Party in the Commonwealth every four years, Northam’s victory was mostly powered by backlash to the Trump Administration which has galvanized the Democratic Party base, and this, more than demographics is the cause of the Republican Party’s statewide blues in 2017 and looking forward.

Partially due to gerrymandering, the Republican Party maintains control of a strong majority of Virginia’s House of Representative seats heading into the 2018 midterms, holding 7 of the 11 seats. If the backlash to President Trump mobilizes Democrats similarly to 2017, as many as 4 of the 7 seats held by Republicans could be vulnerable to flipping. By far, the most endangered incumbent Republican is Barbara Comstock, whose 10th district broke for Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 points in 2016 and for Ralph Northam by more than 12 points in 2017. The 10th district encompasses Clarke, Frederick, Loudoun, and some Prince William counties and independent cities such as Manassas, Manassas Park, and Winchester.

On November 18, 2017, the 10th Congressional District Democratic Committee unanimously voted in favor of holding an open primary for the 2018 midterm election. An open election allows nonpartisan registration for the primary elections. This means that previously registered Republicans can choose to vote for a candidate on the Democratic ballot, and vice versa. Lindsey Davis Stover, a Democratic candidate challenging incumbent Barbara Comstock, stated that she was “thrilled with the committee’s decision.”

Barbara Comstock has been the Republican Congresswoman for the 10th district since 2015 and is running for the seat again. Comstock won the seat when former Rep. Frank Wolf retired after holding the seat for 34 years. Comstock was Wolf’s former staffer and Wolf has publicly endorsed Comstock on several occasions. Comstock has served on several congressional committees including Housing Administration, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Science, Space, and Technology. In the 115th Congress, Comstock is currently sponsoring 18 active bills, a joint resolution, 2 House resolutions, a concurrent resolution, and has sponsored 2 bills that have become laws.

The 2018 election has inspired “a wave of candidates to run for Congress, including a lot of first-timers.” Although Comstock won the Congressional seat in 2014 and 2016, the Democratic wave that Virginia is experiencing will leave Virginia voters in another election where every vote will count. There are currently eleven democratic candidates that are seeking the Congressional seat: Kimberly Adams, Julia Biggins, Alison Kiehl Friedman, David Hanson, Daniel Helmer, Julien Modica, Paul Pelletier, Michael Pomerleano, Deep Sran, Lindsey Davis Stover, and Jennifer Wexton. Comstock has one Republican challenger, Shak Hill. The filing deadline is March 29, 2018.

The first candidate to challenge Comstock, Kimberly Adams, announced her candidacy on March 25, 2017. She announced her candidacy via email, stating that she believes she “can bring a strong voice of reason to Washington, D.C.” Adams is the past president of the Fairfax teachers union and an educator.

Daniel Helmer was the second Democrat to announce his candidacy. Helmer is an Army veteran, a Rhodes Scholar, and a strategic adviser at the Boston Consulting Group. In April, Helmer said he had raised $120,000 in campaign funds; in September, his fundraising total had reached $528,860. He is among the top fundraisers for the 10th district, only behind Alison Kiehl Friedman and Comstock. Helmer has received some attention recently due to his campaign ads, the “Helmer Zone” and the “Helmer Zone, Part 2”.

In April, Jennifer Wexton announced she was also challenging Comstock’s seat. Wexton is a current Virginia State Senator and has held her seat representing District 33 since 2014, after winning a special election to fill Attorney General Mark Herring’s seat. She has served on three committees including General Laws and Technology, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Transportation. Two current members of Congress have endorsedWexton for Congress, Gerry Connolly (VA-11) and Donald McEachin (VA-04). Wexton has also been endorsed by numerous State Senators and Delegates. According to the Washington Post, many Democrats consider Wexton a very strong candidate “in a field of hopefuls who would stand out in a typical year.” Wexton has raised $457,040 as of September, behind Comstock, Friedman, and Helmer.

Shortly after Wexton’s announcement, Lindsey Davis Stover also announced that she was entering the 10th Congressional District race. Davis Stover is a communications strategist and formerly worked on the Obama Administration in Veteran Affairs. Davis Stover has been an active member of the Democratic Party in the 10th District. In 2016, she hosted phone banks in her home for the LuAnn Bennett and Hillary Clinton campaigns, respectively. Denis McDonough, former Chief of Staff to President Obama, has formally endorsed Davis Stover’s campaign; stating that during their time working together, Davis Stover “demonstrated unfailing leadership” and that is she is the “best choice to lead the party and the country forward”.

Alison Kiehl Friedman, another candidate for the 10th Congressional seat, is a human-rights activist. She worked for the People for the American Way before co-founding her own non-profit organization that advocates against human trafficking. In 2009, she worked for the State Department’s anti-trafficking office. Friedman had input with the Obama Administration where she aided in the introduction of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which strengthened “protections against human trafficking throughout federal contracts.” As of September, Friedman had raised $694,187, setting Friedman only behind Comstock.

Deep Sran, a Loudoun County educator, announced in June that he is running for the 10th District seat as well. “I take personal responsibility for the world I hand off to my kids and everybody else’s kids. And that requires engagement in the political process now, which is what is really driving this,” Sran said about his reason for running.

Paul Pelletier was the ninth candidate to join the race. Pelletier has spent almost 27 years with the Justice Department where he has focused on health-care fraud and drug-trafficking.

David Hansen was a career Naval Captain until he retired in 2008. Following his retirement, he has “continued in the intelligence community as a civil servant, working mainly with SEALS, Green Berets, and other Special Operations Forces.” His two main platforms address universal healthcare and environmental protections.

Julia Biggins is an infectious disease scientist and aims to provide a stronger voice for scientists in Congress. She believes that Virginia should propose legislation that “is built on carefully reviewed facts and evidence, rather than opinions and the deep pockets of special interest groups.”

Michael Pomerleano recently retired from the World Bank, where he worked for 22 years. He was a financial advisor to Governor Stanley Fischer at the Bank of Israel and served as an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces.

The only declared Republican challenger to Comstock is Shak Hill, a former combat pilot, financial planner, and owner of a publishing company. Hill’s campaign manager also managed the campaign of Corey Stewart, who ran against Ed Gillespie for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. While Comstock has not commented on the races of any of her Democratic challengers, she has actively questioned Hill’s loyalty to the Republican Party and released a statement pushing back on his campaign announcement.

Not only is the 10th district race the most competitive in Virginia, but it is also considered one of the most competitive in the nation. As such, the Wason Center will continue to profile this district both through the primary and through the general election.

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