Virginia state Sen.
Many Democrats think former prosecutor will be the strongest contender
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.
‘ The grass-roots energy is so inspiring,” says state Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton, a Democrat.