Vir­ginia state Sen.

Many Democrats think former prose­cu­tor will be the strong­est con­tender

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JENNA PORTNOY

Jen­nifer Wex­ton joined the field of peo­ple seek­ing to chal­lenge Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock.

State Sen. Jen­nifer T. Wex­ton an­nounced Thurs­day that she is seek­ing the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion to chal­lenge Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock (R) in a North­ern Vir­ginia dis­trict Pres­i­dent Trump lost last year.

Wex­ton, a former prose­cu­tor from Loudoun County, is con­sid­ered by many Democrats to be the strong­est can­di­date in a field of hope­fuls seek­ing to oust the in­cum­bent.

She said Trump’s elec­tion has sparked a wave of lib­eral ac­tivism and that she could un­seat Com­stock de­spite the con­gress­woman’s suc­cess in com­pet­i­tive races.

“The grass-roots en­ergy is so in­spir­ing,” she said in an in­ter­view at her Leesburg home Wed­nes­day.

“I’m see­ing all th­ese peo­ple who are re­sist­ing and per­sist­ing and do­ing what they can to hold their rep­re­sen­ta­tives ac­count­able. And this is some­thing I can do. I can help by help­ing to hold Bar­bara Com­stock ac­count­able.”

Democrats say they ex­pect Wex­ton to cap­i­tal­ize on her ex­pe­ri­ence in pub­lic of­fice and work in Loudoun, the heart of the dis­trict and home to a savvy, di­verse elec­torate courted by both par­ties.

She spent about $472,000 in her 2015 re­elec­tion to the leg­is­la­ture but will have to raise mil­lions to com­pete against Com­stock, a fundrais­ing pow­er­house and re­lent­less cam­paigner. Out­side groups will prob­a­bly pour re­sources into cam­paigns on both sides.

Last year, Com­stock won the na­tion­ally watched race by six points — and out­per­formed Trump by 16 — by fo­cus­ing on lo­cal is­sues, such as trans­porta­tion and opi­oid abuse.

But the con­gres­sional seat is the only one in the D.C. met­ro­pol­i­tan area that could be con­sid­ered a swing dis­trict.

And while Com­stock has with­stood pres­sure from con­stituents and others to hold an in-per­son town hall, she has also been crit­i­cized for her pref­er­ence for large-scale con­fer­ence calls with res­i­dents.

Wex­ton said she has held four tra­di­tional town halls since Fe­bru­ary, in­clud­ing one with Del. J. Ran­dall Minchew (R-Loudoun) that drew 150 res­i­dents.

“Closely con­trolled, scripted town halls don’t count,” Wex­ton said of Com­stock’s gath­er­ings. She added later: “This year, peo­ple are ac­tu­ally pay­ing at­ten­tion. Peo­ple can see when she’s pay­ing lip ser­vice to is­sues but how she’s re­ally vot­ing when it counts.”

Wex­ton pointed to Com­stock’s sup­port for a House rules pack­age that al­lows law­mak­ers to re­duce the salary of any fed­eral worker to $1 and her mul­ti­ple votes to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act, which pro­vides ben­e­fits to opi­oid ad­dicts.

Through a spokesman, Com­stock de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day.

Wex­ton is the fourth Demo­crat to de­clare her in­ten­tions. Also run­ning are Daniel Helmer, an Army vet­eran; Lind­sey Davis Stover, a former Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial; and Kim­berly Adams, past pres­i­dent of the Fair­fax teacher’s union.

Sev­eral others are con­sid­er­ing jump­ing in, in­clud­ing Dorothy McAuliffe, the wife of Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Wex­ton, 48, grew up in Bethesda and earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree at the Univer­sity of Mary­land and a law de­gree at the Col­lege of Wil­liam & Mary.

She started work in 2001 as an as­sis­tant com­mon­wealth’s at­tor­ney in Loudoun County, where she tried cases in­clud­ing homi­cide and do­mes­tic abuse.

In a high-pro­file 2002 trial, Wex­ton suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted Clara Jane Schwartz, a col­lege stu­dent ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing her fa­ther’s slay­ing.

About five years later, she went into pri­vate prac­tice but con­tin­ued to serve as a court-ap­pointed at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing chil­dren in abuse and ne­glect cases and those in men­tal-health com­mit­ment hear­ings. She later served as a sub­sti­tute judge in Loudoun.

She re­signed to chal­lenge Jim Plow­man, the Loudoun com­mon­wealth’s at­tor­ney, in 2011. She lost by about 2,000 votes in a year when Repub­li­cans swept the Board of Su­per­vi­sors.

But af­ter Mark R. Her­ring left the Vir­ginia Se­nate to serve as at­tor­ney gen­eral, Wex­ton ran in the Jan­uary 2014 spe­cial elec­tion for his seat and won by 14 points.

At the time, Democrats were reel­ing from the transvagi­nal ul­tra­sound de­bate, the re­peal of the limit of hand­gun pur­chases to one a month as well as new voter ID laws, and her race was one of two that de­ter­mined which party con­trolled the state Se­nate.

The next year, she won a full term. She does not need to give up her seat in the leg­is­la­ture to run for Congress.

She and her hus­band moved to the con­gres­sional dis­trict in 2004. They live in Leesburg with their two sons and two res­cue Labrador re­triev­ers.

STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

‘ The grass-roots en­ergy is so in­spir­ing,” says state Sen. Jen­nifer T. Wex­ton, a Demo­crat.

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