State Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) on Saturday tried to put Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) on the spot by holding a town hall meeting when the congresswoman has declined to do the same.
Wexton is one of eight Democrats competing for the nomination to challenge Comstock in Northern Virginia’s 10th District, the only potentially competitive midterm race in the Washington region.
If Wexton can defeat Comstock, Democrats say that she will do it in vote-rich Loudoun County, where she has been a state lawmaker and prosecutor.
About 50 people showed up at the Rust Library in Leesburg on a sunny afternoon for the sedate first of two town halls Wexton is holding as a candidate for Congress. The other will be held Aug. 31 at the Chantilly Library.
Attendees wrote questions on index cards during the hour-long event. Wexton stood at a lectern and flipped through the stack, answering questions on two-dozen subjects, including health care, transportation, foreign policy and education.
Democratic complaints that Comstock has not been accessible to constituents have grown in the months following the election, in which she won a second term by 6 points despite sharing a ballot with President Trump, who lost the district by 10.
Asked how she would be responsive to residents, Wexton said: “Well for one thing I’m here.” She added, “Call me, email me, I’m happy to meet with anyone and talk with you. . . . That’s what you’re supposed to do as a public servant.”
Comstock has said that she finds meeting with constituents on their turf or in small groups more productive than public town hall meetings.
On Friday, Comstock’s Facebook page posted a “Report on the August Work Period” giving an overview of her recent activities, including “meeting with hundreds of people every week.”
State GOP Chairman John Whitbeck said last week that he believes it would be unsafe for Comstock or any other member of Congress — some of whom are holding town halls during the August recess — to attend forums where they could be attacked physically.
“I’d be concerned for her safety at a town hall,” he said.
The National Republican Campaign Committee on Thursday released a list of 13 events that Comstock recently attended without seeing Wexton there.
“NRCC is not going to comment further on a low tier candidate who is lagging behind three of her Democrat competitors in fundraising,” NRCC spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement. After the town hall, Wexton declined to respond.
Many of the questions gave her a chance to talk about issues that she is comfortable with, while a few seemed designed as curveballs.
On natural-gas pipelines, she stopped short of opposing them outright but said that she worries about supporting fossil fuels over wind and solar power. She added that in the taking of property through eminent domain, the government must prove that the project is environmentally safe and for the public good.
One attendee noted that Loudoun has been ranked as one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, and asked Wexton which taxes she would increase.
“I’m not looking to increase taxes at this time or any time, really,” she said.
Another asked if she would vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for speaker of the House if she wins and Democrats take control of the chamber.
“For how many of you is this one of your top concerns?” Wexton asked. No hands went up. She went on to say she hadn’t thought about it at all.
Asked about Trump, Wexton said that she opposes his choice of Betsy DeVos as education secretary and his disregard for sentencing reform.
“I want to give him a chance but he keeps showing us who he is,” she said. “He keeps showing us that he is a bigot, that he is not looking out for the interests of the entire country.”
Wexton, who came in fourth in fundraising in the recent campaign quarter, fielded a question about how she plans to combat Comstock’s fundraising muscle and her contention that she is accessible.
“We’ve got to fight back,” she said. “You’ve got to stand up to the bullies or they’re going to be empowered.”
During the town hall, a man tweeting as 20-year-old Andrew Bambrick said that he was turned away at the door. “So much for being open to the public,” he wrote.
Asked about the tweet after the event, Wexton said that she didn’t believe his account because, according to her campaign manager, Ray Rieling, Bambrick tried to enter the room 30 minutes early, while chairs were being set up, and was told he should return closer to the start time.
A man Rieling identified as Wexton’s usual Republican tracker — someone who gathers footage on the opposition in case they make any gaffes — was present and appeared to film the town hall, which was also streamed live on Facebook by the campaign. Attempts to reach Bambrick were unsuccessful.
Besides Wexton, Democratic candidates include educator Kimberly Adams; anti-human-trafficking activist Alison Kiehl Friedman; Army veteran Dan Helmer; retired Naval intelligence officer David B. Hanson; financial consultant Michael Pomerleano; school founder Deep Sran; and communications strategist Lindsey Davis Stover.
The district includes Loudoun County and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, as well as Clarke and Frederick counties to the west.