Democrats in tight fight to take on Comstock

Democrats in tight fight to take on Comstock
© Greg Nash

Half a dozen Democrats are locked in a tight battle to take on Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers GOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying MORE (Va.), one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Poll: Nearly half of Clinton's former supporters back Biden Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE’s double-digit victory over President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE in this district in the Washington, D.C., exurbs prompted a surge of Democrats to clamor for the right to take on Comstock, who survived a challenge in 2016.

The establishment favorite is state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, the only elected official in the race. She has served in the state legislature since 2014.


Wexton is backed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Democratic Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyPelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment We can curb potential pandemics by investing in prevention tactics Mueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? MORE and A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinOvernight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Perry, asked about environmental justice, talks about electricity prices David Bernhardt confirmed as new Interior chief MORE, and she was also recently endorsed by The Washington Post editorial board.

But she faces three other well-funded challengers in Army veteran Dan Helmer, anti-human trafficking activist Alison Friedman and Lindsey Davis Stover, who worked as a senior adviser on veterans policy in the Obama administration.

All three along with Wexton have aired advertisements ahead of the June 12 primary in the pricey D.C. media market.

Virginia strategists believe Wexton’s experience in office can separate her from the pack. She also enjoys a natural base of support since she represents parts of Loudoun County, which is in Comstock’s 10th District.

“Running for Congress so close to Washington makes it easier to show them what I’ve fought for as a Virginia state senator,” Wexton said in her TV ad. “I’ll show Donald Trump how progressive we are in Virginia.”

While the candidates generally back similar policy agendas, gun control has emerged as a wedge issue.

All of the Democratic candidates support universal background checks and an assault weapon ban, but Wexton’s support for a gun control compromise in 2016 has come under fire.

Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) that year signed into law a bipartisan deal that strengthened some gun controls, but also allowed people with concealed carry permits to carry their concealed weapons in Virginia.

The law also allowed voluntary background checks at gun shows and required domestic abusers under protective order to give up their firearms.

At an April candidate forum, Helmer criticized Wexton over the concealed-carry language.

“It’s time to elect politicians who will fight for gun safety not only in the bright spotlight of tragedy but also in the dark corridors of power, where it matters,” Helmer said.

Wexton pushed back on his criticism, arguing that her opponents are “trying to cherry-pick my record” to present an unflattering portrait.

“Voters in Northern Virginia know that I stand for common-sense gun safety reforms — that’s what I’ve fought for in Richmond and that’s what I’ll fight for in Congress,” Wexton said in a statement, according to The Washington Post.

Helmer, a Rhodes scholar and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has flirted with controversy during the race.

He made national headlines when he released an undercover video that showed him buying a semi-automatic rifle at a gun show without a background check. The video was intended to highlight how easy it is to buy such a firearm without a background check.

Helmer also won the condemnation of the White House after he compared Trump to Osama bin Laden, saying the president was the current “greatest threat to our democracy.” The White House called on House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Trump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks MORE (D-Calif.) to denounce Helmer.

There’s no doubt the headlines got Helmer attention, but it’s not clear whether it will propel him to a victory.

“It’ll get you noticed. Maybe it ... raises his profile, but who knows if it really helps him,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.

Friedman has also highlighted her support for gun control and has said that one of her goals, if elected to Congress, would be to score an F rating from the National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in a neighboring Virginia district.

She’s had the fundraising edge among all Democrats and expanded that advantage by giving her campaign $1 million of her own money. That brings her fundraising total to $2.4 million, which will help her stay on the airwaves for the final week. Friedman has raised a sizable amount of money from celebrities in California through her work as an activist.

Stover is hoping to leverage her experience working for the Obama administration and tenure as a chief of staff to former Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas).

Democrats watching the race believe all four of the candidates could defeat Comstock in November.

“Any of the top-tier candidates could be viable in November,” said Jesse Ferguson, a former aide to the House Democrats’ campaign arm who has done work in Virginia.

Republicans have made Wexton their prime target, suggesting they think she may be the strongest Democratic candidate.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) released a video last month seizing on the Virginia Democrat’s vow to repeal the GOP tax law.

“Self-proclaimed Tax and Spend Liberal Jennifer Wexton is right on message when it comes to walking lock-step with her role model, Nancy Pelosi,” NRCC spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said. “If she somehow fumbled her way to Congress, Wexton and Pelosi would be quite the tax-raising dynamic duo.”

On the Republican side, Comstock faces her own primary against Air Force veteran Shak Hill, who’s running to her right and has embraced Trump. Comstock is the heavy favorite in the race.

She’s already looking ahead to November, painting her prospective opponents as new to the district.

“Most [of the Democrats] haven’t been there but for a couple months; they are all fighting among themselves,” Comstock told The Hill in an interview last month.

“Whoever [is the Democratic nominee], I’m the only candidate who has worked in this community for three decades.”