Four questions for six Democrats vying to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock

The primary is June 12, and will be the only contested race on the ballot.
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Virginians will go to the polls Tuesday to choose among six Democrats vying to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) in a race that could help determine which party takes control of the House next year.

The sprawling 10th Congressional District includes parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties and Loudoun County, where most Democratic voters in the district live, as well as Clarke and Frederick counties, which are less populous but more conservative.

Between Comstock, who is seeking a third term, and her predecessor, Frank Wolf, the district has been in Republican hands for nearly 40 years.

But over the course of that period, the district has transformed from a reliably conservative GOP stronghold to the only swing district in the Washington region. Proximity to the nation’s capital means Washington politics have an outsize influence on local elections, and as much as they are running against one another, the Democrats are running against President Trump.

(Photos by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post, Dayna Smith for the Washington Post, Pete Marovich For The Washington Post)

Hillary Clinton won the 10th District by 10 points in 2016, and it is one of the key GOP-held districts that Democrats are targeting as they try to flip 23 seats to win the majority in the House. But Comstock beat her Democratic opponent by six points that year.

Comstock has selectively separated herself from the president, and despite maintaining deep relationships at the highest levels of GOP politics, has campaigned on local issues such as transportation, the MS-13 gang and the opioid crisis.

Although Democrats have touched on those topics, they have focused on gun violence, health care, immigration and climate change — issues that resonate with voters politicized by Trump’s victory.

[Message, turnout and luck: Six Democrats try to make their marks in the race to face Comstock]

Multiple Indivisible movement and liberal activist groups were formed after Trump’s election, and members have protested outside Comstock’s district offices, called incessantly and promised to deprive her of a third term.

That activism helped to turn out historic numbers of voters for the Virginia governor’s race in 2017. Democrats hope their voters remain engaged enough to cast ballots in a crowded primary in which only three of six candidates were airing TV ads two weeks before the election.

The Washington Post asked the candidates to respond to four questions. Answers from the candidates, in alphabetical order, appear below.

(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Julia Biggins, 41

Residence: Prince William County.

Education: University of Illinois (BS in microbiology); Baylor College of Medicine (PhD in molecular virology).

Occupation: Infectious disease scientist.

Q: What is the biggest problem facing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and what would you do to solve it?

A: Transportation. Along with a permanent funding mechanism for Metro, we need to expand Virginia Railway Express to places like Winchester and Berryville and invest in light rail to fill coverage gaps in Northern Virginia. Transportation will connect economies, create jobs and protect our environment by reducing our carbon footprint.

Q: What makes you most qualified to represent the 10th District?

A: Along with being a scientist who understands the hard facts of the challenges that face us, I’m resident of Prince William County who comes from outside the political mainstream. As a working mother of four, I have shared experience and what I’m fighting for affects me just as it does everyday voters.

Q: If elected, what will be your greatest challenge?

A: Changing the culture of Washington. I hope to join many other scientists taking a seat in Congress in 2019; however, I know that it will be vital to the success of our country to work to influence members of both parties to follow data instead of rhetoric and to find evidence-based solutions.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.

A: I have a tattoo of a shamrock on my ankle. I got it when I was 18. #NoRegrets.

(Pete Marovich/For The Washington Post)

Alison Friedman, 39

Residence: McLean.

Education: Stanford University (BA); Oxford University (MBA).

Occupation: Former senior State Department official in the Obama administration.

Q: What is the biggest problem facing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and what would you do to solve it?

A: Congresswoman Comstock is more responsive to entrenched special interests than her constituents. This impacts every facet of life for families: smart infrastructure investments, protecting health care from partisan attacks, addressing income inequality and getting serious about common-sense gun safety. Improving people’s lives begins with changing our Congresswoman.

Q: What makes you most qualified to represent the 10th District?

A: I’ve spent my career standing up to abuses of power, taking on big challenges and getting results. This is my home, and I’m prepared to fight for the families in this community. We’ll never see the change we need with the same old political approaches. I’m offering something different.

Q: If elected, what will be your greatest challenge?

Breaking through politics as usual and the money from special interests that prevents us from impacting real change. I’m a problem-solver who loves the intersection of policy, politics and the possible. Rank partisanship and special-interest money stand in the way of all three of those things.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.

A: Once upon a time I was fluent in sign language. Today, I probably couldn’t stand up to Republican attacks on health care in ASL, but I can still sign my favorite Backstreet Boys song (it’s “I Want It That Way”).

(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Dan Helmer, 36

Residence: Fairfax.

Education: U.S. Military Academy (BS in military history); Oxford University (Rhodes Scholar), International Relations (MPhil).

Occupation: Army reservist.

Q: What is the biggest problem facing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and what would you do to solve it?

A: The possibility that, at any moment, a mass shooting could occur in one of our schools. My wife is a public school teacher and I have two kids in public school, so I worry about this daily. I’ll fight for universal background checks and other common-sense gun safety measures.

Q: What makes you most qualified to represent the 10th District?

A: I have a record of service to our country — when it came down to it, I was willing to risk my life to defend us. I’ve also seen firsthand in war the consequences of cowardice in Washington. I will always put people before politics and will stand up to Trump.

Q: If elected, what will be your greatest challenge?

A: The culture of corruption in Washington, where elected officials are accountable to special interests that fund their elections instead of to voters, and extreme partisanship, which corrodes our ability to work together to get things done. We need to change how we finance elections and start talking to each other.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.

A: I can read Hebrew, Arabic and Korean! Though all are getting rusty.

(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Paul Pelletier, 61

Residence: McLean.

Education: Providence College (BS in economics); New England School of Law (JD).

Occupation: Attorney.

Q: What is the biggest problem facing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and what would you do to solve it?

A: Through knocking on doors across VA-10, I’ve learned that the number one issue people raise is that they have lost confidence in both government and establishment politics. I want to use my three-decade public service career as a pragmatic problem-solver to help end this era of broken government.

Q: What makes you most qualified to represent the 10th District?

A: To defeat Barbara Comstock in November, Democrats must elect the candidate who will be supported by both independent and moderate voters. My background as an ex-federal prosecutor who has shown courage in taking on health-care fraud, taking guns off the street and holding powerful people accountable is what VA-10 needs.

Q: If elected, what will be your greatest challenge?

A: Defanging the corrupt NRA will be my greatest challenge when I am elected to Congress. Nevertheless, as a federal prosecutor I have taken on even more challenging corrupt organizations. I am committed to exposing the power of the Russian “dark money: that the NRA funneled to elect President Trump.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.

While growing up in a family of 11 kids in a small Massachusetts town near Rhode Island, I became friends with Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly brothers and I have had small roles in some of their movies, including “There’s Something About Mary,” “Kingpin” and “Me, Myself and Irene.”

(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Lindsey Davis Stover, 40

Residence: McLean.

Education: Baylor University (BA and MA in public policy); Harvard University (MA in public administration).

Occupation: Small-business owner.

Q: What is the biggest problem facing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and what would you do to solve it?

I believe that access to quality and affordable health care is the biggest problem facing our district. In Congress, I would first and foremost defend the Affordable Care Act from partisan attacks, and repeal parts of the GOP tax bill, which endangers health care for over 13 million Americans.

Q: What makes you most qualified to represent the 10th District?

A: I am the only candidate in this race with extensive federal legislative experience — over 12 years. I was a chief of staff on Capitol Hill and a senior adviser in the Obama administration. At a time when we need a strong Congress, I can hit the ground running immediately.

Q: If elected, what will be your greatest challenge?

A: My greatest challenge will be passing meaningful legislation in a polarized Congress. On Capitol Hill, I regularly worked across the aisle with Republicans on important bills for working families, women and veterans. We found common ground and mutual goals, which are desperately needed in Washington right now.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.

A: Just a few years back, I had two graduate degrees and was a senior adviser in the Obama administration, Department of Veterans Affairs. But my husband and I were saddled with enormous student debt, so we collected spare change to take to Coinstar, and paid for baby formula that way.

(Pete Marovich/For The Washington Post)

Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton, 50

Residence: Leesburg.

Education: University of Maryland (BA); College of William & Mary (JD).

Occupation: State senator; attorney.

Q: What is the biggest problem facing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and what would you do to solve it?

A: The biggest problem facing those in VA-10 is President Trump, and Barbara Comstock’s refusal to stand up to him. Trump and congressional Republicans have slashed constituents’ property tax deduction, failed to deliver much-needed infrastructure investments, and relentlessly attacked immigrants and federal workers, many of whom live in this district.

Q: What makes you most qualified to represent the 10th District?

A: I have a strong record of delivering for my constituents and championing causes important to them. As a state senator, I have passed more than 40 pieces of bipartisan legislation while supporting important progressive causes like reducing gun violence, expanding access to health care and protecting our environment.

Q: If elected, what will be your greatest challenge?

A: Congress is consumed with partisan gridlock. It will be a challenge for any representative to get anything done on the Hill. However, with the experience I have gained working with my colleagues across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation, I will work hard to look for common ground in Congress.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.

A: People are surprised to hear that I speak Spanish. I learned Spanish in school and lived in Spain as a student. My knowledge of Spanish has often been helpful to me in my work as an attorney, advocate and as a legislator.

Credits: Story by Jenna Portnoy. Designed by Madalyne Bird.