Democratic Congressional candidate Dan Helmer speaks to voters at Dry Mill Winery in Leesburg
With the first few months of the Trump Administration keenly in mind, Fairfax resident Dan Helmer announced April 11 he will join a growing list of Democrats looking to to oppose Rep. Barbara Comstock in 2018.
Comstock is serving her second term as a Republican representing Virginia’s 10th congressional district, which includes all of Loudoun County.
Helmer, an Army veteran and consultant, is the third Democrat to announce their candidacy or file with the Federal Election Commission in the 2018 House race. A 35-year-old West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar, Helmer has never held political office. He said he has dedicated his life to serving his country, and following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, he felt running for office now was his best way to continue giving back.
“This election was a call to action because there’s a break in trust between our government and our people,” Helmer said. “There are seminal moments in our history where we need to ensure that that sacred obligation between our government and our people stay in place. To meet that, we need fresh perspectives and new leaderships.”
More than a year-and-a-half out from the 2018 midterms, Helmer enters what is already shaping up to be among the most high-profile races in the nation. The national Democratic party has identified Comstock’s seat as one of the country’s most vulnerable, and the incumbent is already facing unprecedented backlash from liberal activist groups in a district that has elected Republicans to the House in every election since 1980.
In what should also be one of the nation’s most expensive races, Comstock has already raised more than $500,000 in the first quarter of 2017. She won re-election comfortably in 2016 and has gone 5-0 in campaigns after two elections to Congress and three prior to that in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Helmer’s campaign has already raised more than $120,000 ahead of his first official day on the trail. He said his priorities in Congress would be fighting for continued infrastructure improvements, strengthening education and protecting federal contracting and defense programs that are among the key economic drivers in the district. Though he identifies himself as a pro-choice, gun-control supporting, life-long Democrat, Helmer said he will listen to all constituents to do what’s best for Virginia and the nation.
“We need people who are going to take all of the diverse viewpoints of the community that I love, and they’re going to synthesize and craft them into new solutions to take what seem to be opposing problems and actually find new ways of looking at them that appeal to a broader array of people,” Helmer said.
Helmer said he’s taking a broad approach to reach his would-be constituents, eschewing traditional labels and partisan tropes for a widespread appeal to dissatisfied voters looking for leaders willing to listen to new view points. In a district with one of the nation’s highest education levels and former and current military members as well as public servants, Helmer believes people in this election will support his vision of inclusion. He also points to the 10th district’s voting record, which in 2016 supported a Republican for Congress but a Democrat for the White House, as a sign that voters here want effective leaders, regardless of party.
To win the 10th, Helmer will need to gain traction in an increasingly diverse district that stretches from western Fairfax County to the West Virginia boarder. LuAnn Bennett, the 2016 Democratic nominee, was considered one of the best-supported party challengers to Republican homogeneity in the 10th in any election for the district since former Republican Frank Wolf first took that seat in 1980. Though she narrowly won Loudoun County, which has the largest population of any single jurisdiction in the district, she suffered lopsided defeats in the more conservative western parts of the 10th.
He will face a deep lineup of fellow Democrats seeking a win in the primary. Up to a dozen more candidates have been rumored to go after the seat, including better known and better funded political officeholders like state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, who represents Loudoun County. Having served overseas in the military, Helmer said he can stand out by his record of leadership and service, as well as an understand of foreign policy.
“I know what it means to put troops on the ground. I know what it means to make decisions that affect not only our state but our national economy,” Helmer said. “I think I can bring that in a way few other candidates will be able to do.”
Whoever comes out on top of the Democratic primary, the party is hopeful the 10th will be part of a larger wave of blue backlash to Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. In a district that went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2009, the 10th will be a major focal point of the upcoming election.