With the glare of the November elections fading, voters in Northern Virginia’s 10th Congressional District are set to be flooded with campaign brochures, TV ads and knocks on their doors by candidates looking to discuss the 2024 race.
So far, 11 Democrats and two Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination in June, hoping to succeed Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who has announced that she is not seeking reelection for health reasons.
The crowded field underscores the fact that the congressional district Wexton turned blue after defeating then-Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) in 2018 will again become competitive in what will be a highly charged 2024 presidential election, political analysts say.
“Virginia 10 is a more competitive district than most and, as such, it represents a rare opportunity for both parties to challenge for a pivotal House seat in a pivotal state,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “The Washington area is full of highly political people who salivate at opportunities like this.”
Some of the contenders already have wide name recognition in the state, giving them an advantage in the nomination contests, for which early voting begins May 3.
Among Democrats, former Virginia House speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. Dan Helmer are both prodigious fundraisers from Fairfax County with powerful connections inside their party.
The two Republican contenders — Brooke Taylor and Mike Clancy — both ran for Wexton’s seat in 2022, allowing them some familiarity with voters in the district, which is anchored in Loudoun County but stretches into Fairfax, Prince William, Fauquier and Rappahannock counties.
Others have a steeper path toward victory.
Among them, Travis Nembhard is the most recent entry into the Democratic field. Nembhard announced his bid this month after losing a race for state delegate in November to Republican Ian Lovejoy in what became one of the state’s most expensive contests, with Nembhard raising $2.4 million and Lovejoy $1.8 million.
Nembhard, 35, said he intends to distinguish himself from his Democratic competitors by emphasizing his background as a son of Jamaican immigrants who, after graduating law school, worked the graveyard shift making doughnuts at Dunkin’ while volunteering as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York for eight months in 2013.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was the one way I could afford to do what I love and that is helping to combat injustice and help everyday people,” said Nembhard, who is now the division chief for D.C.’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles. “It opened my eyes to having an unlivable wage. Even with a minimum wage, that wasn’t enough and I didn’t have kids back then.”
If elected, Nembhard says, he plans to fight to codify abortion protections, strengthen policies combating climate change and expand gun-control laws.
Atif Qarni, Virginia’s former education secretary, also has less name recognition than some of his competitors — despite the statewide office he held under former governor Ralph Northam (D).
Qarni, who now teaches a class on the politics of American education at George Mason University, says the time he spent in that office touring every locality in the state gives him a deeper understanding of Virginia’s needs than his opponents. Among other things, Qarni said, he intends to push for more federal educational funding to allow for universal prekindergarten programs, a universal school lunch program and a “more meaningful” student loan forgiveness program.
“There are excellent candidates running in this district,” Qarni, 45, said. “I’m one individual that, to my knowledge, has actually represented the whole state.”
The other Democrats in the race include: state Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko; Dels. David A. Reid, Suhas Subramanyam and Michelle Maldonado; George Mason University librarian Mark Leighton; Brandon Garay, a legislative affairs specialist at the Defense Department; and Krystle Kaul, founder of a defense technology company.
Among the Republicans, Clancy — an executive with Oracle global technology company — has so far been the most active, holding fundraisers and posting on social media about his campaign to “restore America.”
“We are losing our country; you know it, and I know it,” Clancy, whose campaign did not respond to an interview request, says in a campaign video announcing his candidacy.
Highlighting his background as the son of a U.S. Air Force sergeant who worked his way through college and law school, he says in the video: “Believe me when I say: I know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet.”
Taylor, whose campaign also did not respond to an interview request, has not been active so far. Her campaign website highlights her experience as a defense industry subcontractor.
In 2022, after the 10th District was redrawn the year before to extend to the southwest, Wexton easily beat Republican Hung Cao by 6.5 percentage points.
Before that, voters in the district favored former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) over Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) by 1.6 points and President Biden over former president Donald Trump by 19 points.
With Wexton leaving, the race to replace her is more open, particularly among the crowded Democratic field, said Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
More mainstream candidates might split support from voters, leaving room for another candidate with more extreme positions to squeeze through in a nomination contest, Rozell said.
“All one person has to do is get more votes than the second-place finisher,” he said.