Despite the pending snowfall today, hundreds packed a middle school auditorium in Winchester to hear from Democratic candidates who have lined up to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock.
In all, 11 men and women have entered the race for the 10th Congressional District’s Democratic primary. Seven of them lined the stage at James Wood Middle School for today’s candidates’ forum, put on by Indivisible Winchester, the Winchester-Frederick County Democratic Committee and the Clarke County Democratic Committee.
There was one unifying message among all of the candidates at the event, and, judging by the loud cheers and applause, audience members were in agreement. They want to defeat Comstock and bring home a win in the 10th District for Democrats for the first time in nearly 40 years.
“Everyone in this entire room has one thing in common and that is that we want to defeat Barbara Comstock this year,” said Lindsey Davis Stover, a former Obama administration official.
The event’s moderator Jeff Coker, dean of Shenandoah University College of Arts and Sciences, asked the crowd of Comstock challengers how they would fare against the two-term congresswoman, who has tried to distance herself from President Donald J. Trump and cast herself as a moderate.
“I don’t think you can say you’re not with Donald Trump when you vote with him 97 percent of the time,” said Jennifer Wexton, who’s in her second term representing the 33rd District in the state Senate.
“Barbara Comstock often talks like us, and always votes like them,” Alison Friedman, a McLean resident who works to combat human trafficking, said to cheers.
With Monday’s shooting at a Florida high school still fresh on people’s minds, gun control got the most air time of any topic. Most were in agreement that more needs to be done to tighten up background checks and keep those battling mental health from purchasing guns.
“If you’re deemed too dangerous to get on a plane, you should be too dangerous to walk into a store and buy a gun,” Stover said.
The roadblock to moderate gun control is special interest groups like the NRA funding politicians’ campaigns, said Deep Sran, founder of the Loudoun School for the Gifted in Ashburn. “Our gun control issue is a uniquely American problem so we know it’s a problem we can solve,” he added, noting that 95 percent of Americans approve of universal background checks. “I think this comes down to the courage of the people you elect.”
“We’re not going to change their minds on this issue, we need to change their seats. We need to stay angry, we need to stay outraged. Children are being murdered just for going to school…” Wexton said. “We need to vote them out of office and it starts with Barbara Comstock.”
Coker asked the candidates whether the U.S. should stabilize other nations such as Syria and Nigeria and whether they agree with increasing military funding. Dan Helmer, a Rhodes Scholar and Army veteran, said he supports a strong military but not at the expense of other diplomacy tools. “We’re not fully funding our State Department at a time when we risk nuclear war in Korea,” he stressed. “What we need in our world today is to prioritize peace and American leadership.”
The candidates were also asked what policies they would propose to counter the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Trump’s tax plan that Congress approved in December.
Julia Biggins, an infectious disease scientist, would consider tightening up some military spending. “We have many redundancies there that could be streamlined a bit,” she said. “We do have the ability to have a balanced budget. We did it under President Clinton and George Bush was handed a budget surplus.”
Sran called the tax legislation a spotlight on the hypocrisy of Republicans in leadership. “We’re the party of fiscal discipline. Oh, here’s a $1.5 trillion deficit. We are looking out for the working class. Eh, all the tax cuts go disproportionally to our donors,” he said.
Sran triggered a loud applause when he asked who in the audience sees the tax bill as an effort to gut public services, such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. “Because now we know what they’re going to say. Can’t afford it. … We’re not fooled and in November, we’re going to show that.”
Paul Pelletier said he’s seen politicians tackle important issues, particularly when he worked as a federal prosecutor in Miami. He saw them hurry to work with the Department of Justice and pass federal legislation to target the drug problem. “Congress has lost the ability to solve problems for people and everyone goes into their own corner,” he said. “They’ve lost that focus and we’ve got to get it back.”
While each candidate argued that he or she was the best person to go up against Comstock, each also pledged to stand behind the winner of June’s primary.
“We are in the midst of a pivotal and important time in American politics,” Coker said. “You can tell by the number of candidates running and the number of people who have turned out today, in spite of the weather, that the stakes are high.”
Other candidates running in the 10th District’s Democtratic primary, according to the Federal Elections Commission, are: Shadi Ayyas, David Hanson, Julien Modica and Michael Pomerleano. Republican Shak Hill is challenging Comstock from the right.
The 10th Congressional District includes all of Loudoun County and stretches from McLean to the east to Winchester to the west.
The Dranesville District Democratic Committee will hold a Democratic Primary Congressional Candidate Forum from 5-7 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at Colvin Run Elementary School in McLean. Register to attend here.