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Virginia Democrats Wrestle Over Nomination Process

10th District is holding primary, 5th isn’t, 7th and 2nd have yet to decide

Democrats have opted for a primary in Virginia’s 10th District, but the party committee in the 7th and 2nd districts have yet to decide how they’ll select their nominees. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democrats have opted for a primary in Virginia’s 10th District, but the party committee in the 7th and 2nd districts have yet to decide how they’ll select their nominees. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In the most competitive of Virginia’s congressional districts, Democrats have decided to hold a primary to nominate a candidate to take on two-term Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock.

But that wasn’t a given — and it’s still not in another contested district in the state.

In the days before the 10th District Democratic committee voted unanimously Saturday, chapters of the liberal movement Indivisible and local activists pushed for the primary.

Now some activists in the 7th District, represented by GOP Rep. Dave Brat, are hoping to win the same fight when their party committee votes in January.

Activists in the 10th phoned committee members and even showed up at the vote with signs that read, “Do the right thing” and “Vote for primary.”

The alternatives, they said, were undemocratic. The committee could have gone with a convention or a firehouse primary, sometimes known as an unassembled caucus, where there are only limited polling places across the district.

“I have always held as an article of faith that democracy at all levels is better served by the more people who are able to participate in the process,” said Mark Wolfe, a Manassas city council member who lobbied for the primary. 

“We need the energy that comes from the primary, the fight and the exchange of ideas,” Wolfe said, dismissing concerns that Democratic candidates would spend all their money against each other, leaving their coffers dry for the general election.

Wolfe has backed Lindsey Davis Stover, a former Veterans Affairs official and congressional chief of staff. She’s one of nine Democrats vying for the Democratic nomination in the 10th District race, rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales

Stover made the push for the primary part of her campaign. Her team sent out petitions and ran digital ads around the issue. Unlike most other candidates, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton didn’t immediately take a position on the process. Critics suggested she thought she would benefit from a convention given her state legislative tenure and connections to party leaders. But after sweeping victories by Virginia Democrats in the Nov. 7 state elections, Wexton came out in favor of the primary

David Pratt, a co-leader of Indivisble Winchester, hasn’t decided who he’s backing, which is one reason he believes in the necessity of a primary.

“I don’t think they’re all viable, but I do want to give them all a shot because it’s still early. Any one of them could surprise us,” said Pratt, who added that he wasn’t politically active until he attended the Women’s March earlier this year with his wife. 

This year’s gubernatorial primary influenced party activists, too.

“After the [Ralph] Northam/[Tom] Perriello primary in 2017, we all witnessed firsthand how a primary can drive turnout and enthusiasm, and after the results on Nov. 7th, we wanted to make sure we did everything possible to make our nominating process as open and accessible as possible,” Zach Pruckowski, chairman of the 10th District Democrats, said in an email. 

Democrats in the 7th District have yet to decide how they’ll select a nominee for the Likely Republican race. 

“We’re working to make sure we have a primary,” said Marine veteran and airline pilot Dan Ward, who’s one of seven running for the nomination.

He’s circulated a letter to the other candidates. One of his leading opponents, former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger, has not signed the letter but said she still believes in a primary. 

“I do support a primary and in all of my communication with our hundreds of volunteers, I talk about our planning and timelines for a June primary,” she said in an email.

“I declined to sign that letter because I do not feel it is appropriate for a candidate to dictate to the committee, and I was not comfortable with the text of the letter I saw,” she added.

The 7th District Democratic committee will meet to discuss options in December and again in January.

“The committee members take their responsibility to determine a method of nomination very seriously and intend to have a very thorough discussion,” committee chairwoman Abbi Easter said in an email. “Their goal is to have a strong and fair process that leaves the nominee in the best position to defeat Mr. Brat.”

Democrats in the 2nd District also not settled on a selection process for their nominee to take on freshman GOP Rep. Scott Taylor.

In the 5th District, which also features a Likely Republican race, Democrats have opted to hold a party-run convention caucus to select a nominee to take on freshman Republican Rep. Tom Garrett.

“This approach can offer more individualized attention to the diverse communities within the district, bringing people together by focusing on real solutions to problems and the betterment of the public interest,” Suzanne Long, chairwoman of the 5th District Democratic committee, said in an October statement. 

Five Democrats, including Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler and journalist Leslie Cockburn, are running in the 5th District.

Correction 2:52 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated when state Sen. Jennifer Wexton came out in favor of a primary in the 10th District. 

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