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NoVa primaries defined by crowded field, experts say

Sen. Boysko talks about her bills
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, talks about her bills during an interview on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 in her office at the General Assembly Building in Richmond, Virginia.

29 candidates are competing for open seats in the 7th and 10th Congressional Districts.

Primary elections for two open seats in Congress will largely be determined by turnout, experts told VPM News.

Virginia’s 7th and 10th Congressional Districts will be without an incumbent, following the resignations of Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D).

“Most of these candidates are going to agree on 90, maybe even 95% of the issues,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor at the University of Mary Washington. “When you have this kind of intramural party contest, it's often hard, particularly in a big field, to stand up for something that others are not also standing up for.”

Between the two districts, 29 candidates are seeking their party’s nomination.

Internal polling sponsored by two Democrats show a front-runner in Virginia’s 7th, but no clear front-runner in the 10th District.

With issues uniform across the spectrum, political observers look at fundraising as a measure of who can turnout more voters.

“It really becomes a matter of turnout: Who raised enough money to turn out the vote and who's got the better ground game, who's knocking on more doors and who's going to turn out the voters,” said David Ramadan, a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

7th Congressional District

The 7th District is currently represented by Spanberger, who is resigning to focus on a gubernatorial campaign. (Because Virginia follows off-year elections, its next governor will be determined in 2025.)

Parts of Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties make up more than 70% of the district’s electorate, according to VPAP. The organization also lists the district as having a Democratic lean.

That party primary’s front-runner appears to be Eugene Vindman. Vindman, who first gained notoriety during the Trump-Ukraine scandal, has faced criticism online for apparent gaffes.

His campaign sponsored the poll showing him ahead of the other candidates, but he also has a significant fundraising lead, with nearly $4 million raised.

“I think he's hard to beat exactly for that reason, even though he doesn't have deep roots in the community and may not have the greatest facility regarding all the details of state and local politics,” said Mark Rozell, dean of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

Farnsworth said that Republicans might view it as a chance to pick up a seat in light of there not being an incumbent.

“Republicans have a more appealing environment, even though these are seats that Democrats have held in the past, because they're open seats,” he said. “When you have the rare opportunity for an open congressional district in Northern Virginia, you can expect a lot of money and a lot of candidates.”

Spanberger held the seat, despite headwinds facing Democrats last year and after significant redistricting changes.

10th Congressional District

About half of the registered voters in Wexton’s district are Loudoun County residents, and another quarter live in Prince William County, according to the VPAP.

Twelve Democrats and five Republicans are running to succeed Wexton, who is retiring after her term for health reasons.

The district leans heavily Democrat, so the winner of the Democratic nomination will likely take the seat.

Polling sponsored by candidate Atif Qarni, a former state secretary of education, showed Del. Dan Helmer (D–Fairfax) with a slight lead, but also noted a significant number of undecided voters. Helmer also leads in fundraising. He has raised $1.1 million as of March 31 and political action committees have also spent more than $2 million in support of his run, according to VPAP.

“It becomes a micro-community voting game … . Who can identify a certain number of voters that they relate with on a certain affiliation and turn them out?” said GMU’s Ramadan, who represented parts of the district as a Republican delegate from 2012 to 2016.

He pointed to Indian communities, Muslim communities and women as key constituencies in the region.

Corrected: June 7, 2024 at 11:10 AM EDT
A previous version of this story misstated the affiliations of Mark Rozell and David Ramadan.
Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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