The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Friedman tops $1 million mark in Democratic primary to challenge Rep. Comstock

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.). (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Alison Friedman continued to surpass the fundraising of her eight Democratic competitors for the party's nomination to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) in November, in what could be one of the nation's most hotly contested midterm congressional races.

Comstock, who is seeking a third term, began 2018 with nearly $1.2 million in cash on hand, more than any of the Democrats, according to campaign reports made public Wednesday.

Friedman, an anti-human-
trafficking activist, tapped California celebrities and philanthropists to help her raise more than $1 million in about six months.

Her most well-known donors include actress Jennifer Garner; singer Barbra Streisand; Alexander Soros, son of the liberal billionaire donor George Soros; and Peter Getty, grandson of the oil tycoon. Other notable donors to Friedman include Donna Brazile, former head of the Democratic National Committee; singer Graham Nash; singer Bonnie Raitt; and Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Friedman, who moved from Washington to McLean in April to run for the seat, worked for People for the American Way and a California congresswoman before a six-year stint in the State Department's anti-trafficking office, which ended in 2015.

In a news release, Friedman said she raised more money from individual donors than all of the Democrats, as well as Comstock.

Comstock's campaign pointed out that most of Friedman's money has come from donors in California.

"Left wing Alison from California has a lot to learn about Virginia and the 10th District," Comstock spokesman Jeff Marschner said in a statement. "She best take her bragging rights to having raised the most out of state . . . up with her many Democrat primary opponents, who may take issue with her California Dreamin'. "

At this stage in the race, five candidates have the resources to compete in the expensive D.C. media market: Friedman; state Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-
Loudoun), the only elected official in the race; former Obama administration official Lindsey Davis Stover; former federal prosecutor Paul Pelletier; and Army veteran Dan Helmer.

Pelletier, who entered the race in October, raised $207,044 for the quarter, slightly more than Wexton, although both lagged behind Friedman.

Friedman is spending at a quick pace, but she still had the most cash going into 2018 with $687,085, followed by Helmer with $482,543, Wexton with $473,796 and Stover with $413,621.

Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington, said while it is difficult to handicap an eight-way race, Wexton does not need the most cash to be formidable.

"Someone who has run and won an election does have a significant name-recognition advantage, so money is not the only measure of competitiveness in that district," he said.

Comstock represents Virginia's sprawling 10th District, which stretches from the liberal Washington suburbs and Loudoun County to conservative counties on the West Virginia border.

She has spoken out against sexual harassment in Congress, sponsoring legislation to overhaul the complaint process, and proposed legislation to revamp the beleaguered Metro system.

In total, she has raised more than $1.9 million, including $488,764 this quarter.

Notable recent donors include Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush; Todd Stottlemyer, chief executive of the Inova Center for Personalized Health, and his wife; and former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour (R).

She also received donations from campaign committees for Ed Gillespie, who lost the governor's race last year, and Carly Fiorina, who ran for president in 2016 and was considering challenging Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Her challenger from the right, Shak Hill, raised $49,178 for the quarter, for a total of $102,230. He had $37,637 in cash.

Both national parties expect Comstock's race to be among the nation's most competitive because presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) handily won the district, where polls show President Trump is deeply unpopular.

Comstock broke with Trump when she voted against a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and opposed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R). But Democrats note that Comstock votes with her Republican colleagues and the Trump administration most of the time.

"Democrats are looking at a vulnerable incumbent in the age of Donald Trump," Farnsworth said. "Any suburban Republican is going to have a problem in 2018 given Trump's unpopularity."

There are four other Democrats running in the June 12 primary.

Deep Sran, the founder of the Loudoun School for the Gifted, raised $65,049 for the quarter and had $93,245 in cash on hand.

Scientist Julia Biggins raised $27,563 for the quarter and had $54,009 in cash on hand. She lent her campaign about $40,000.

Dave Hanson, a retired naval intelligence officer, raised $2,545 total and lent his campaign $20,100.

Perennial candidate Julien Modica raised about $100 this cycle but is carrying $548,466 over from previous races.

Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.