Virginia Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton announced this week that she won’t run for reelection after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder, aggressive progressive supra-nuclear palsy. She previously shared that she had Parkinson’s Disease, but her doctors modified the diagnosis when she didn’t respond to treatment.

“I’ve always believed that honesty is the most important value in public service, so I want to be honest with you now — this diagnosis is a tough one,” Wexton said in a statement. “There is no ‘getting better’ with PSP.” 

Wexton’s thorough defeat of Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock early on election night in the 2018 midterms was one of the first signs that suburban voters across the country were revolting against the Republican Party with Donald Trump in the White House. Five years later, the suburbs have continued to trend toward Democrats. The 10th district, based in Loudoun County in the D.C. suburbs and exurbs, has a Cook PVI of D+6. In the latest round of redistricting, the partisanship of the seat remained steady. 

State legislative elections take place in just seven weeks, and with control hanging in the balance, is sure to remain the focus for Democrats despite the opening of a U.S. House seat. (Republicans, who have a much thinner bench in northern Virginia than Democrats, might start their recruiting a bit earlier.) As for the potential candidates themselves, the news of Wexton’s prognosis came as a shock and many are still processing the news. After Nov. 7, however, Republicans and Democrats will have a better sense of who their strongest candidates were — and those candidates, win or lose, will feel less pressure about staying quiet about their future political ambitions. 

For now, the list of potential Democratic candidates is a long one, amounting to a bit of a wishlist for Democrats across the district. We’re unlikely to hear much from Del. Dan Helmer, who’s vice chair for outreach for state House Democrats, until after the election. He lost the 2018 primary against Wexton before raising nearly $2 million in a competitive race for the House of Delegates in 2019. 

State Sen. Jennifer Boysko is currently running for reelection in a district that includes parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties, but she proved her political chops after her near-defeat of a longtime Republican delegate in 2013. (She lost that recount by 32 votes, and the Republican incumbent didn’t run for reelection the following cycle.) Boysko is a strong fundraiser, having most recently reported raising $763,000 for her reelection campaign against a Republican nominee who has brought in only $51,000. Phyllis Randall, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, could run with support from local unions.

State Del. Suhas Subramanyam, who is running for a state Senate seat, might also have ambitions for higher office. He’s running for the seat held by state Sen. John Bell, who decided not to run for re-election so that he could focus on his health after a prostate cancer diagnosis. Del. David Reid, running for reelection in Loudoun County, could have an appealing resume as a retired Naval Commander. 

Former CIA officer Russet Perry is currently running in an expensive state Senate race — she and her Republican opponent have each raised over $1.7 million — and could run no matter the result of her upcoming election. Del. Wendy Gooditis, who represents a district that includes part of Loudoun County, isn’t running for reelection. 

We’ve even heard the name of State Dept. appointee Dorothy McAuliffe — a former Virginia first lady — floated, though her name also circulated in 2018. State Del. Danica Roem, the first transgender person elected to any U.S. state legislature, has popped up in conversation as well; however, that might be because of her local and national fame rather than an actual indication that she’d consider running. 

The state legislative elections might also tell us what issues are priorities for voters. Two years ago, parents’ rights, education and learning loss amidst the pandemic dominated Virginia elections — especially in Loudoun County. After November, we’ll have a better sense whether that issue remains resonant, or whether abortion has supplanted it.

Wexton had been a strong incumbent, and given that Biden carried her district by 18 points in 2020, she and the 10th district had taken a backseat for Republicans. Now an open seat, the 10th District remains a reach for Republicans — especially if Trump, who cost Republicans’ the suburban district in 2018, is leading the ticket again in 2024. 

But in 2022, Republican nominee Hung Cao, a Navy veteran and Vietnamese refugee, overperformed in the district, winning 47% of the vote even after Trump received just 40% in 2020. And Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who put on a show of distancing himself from Trump in 2021, lost the district by just two points

Cao is now running in a crowded GOP primary to face Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, and Republicans had been hopeful that he might consider swapping from a Solid Democratic race against a longtime senator and vice presidential nominee for an open House seat in the suburbs. Cao unexpectedly turned his race against Wexton into what we called “a long shot worth watching” in 2022, though he ultimately lost by seven points. However, Cao ruled out a run for the House on Tuesday afternoon in a statement to Punchbowl News. Mike Clancy, who was eliminated in the ninth round of ranked-choice voting for the nomination in 2022, could run again. He’s a political commentator who has been an activist in the parents' rights movement. 

If Republicans can’t convince Cao to swap races, they hope the seat could open the door for further recruitment efforts. Ideally, they’d find someone with a similar profile: nonwhite and with some experience in the military or foreign affairs who would appeal to the many federal workers in the district. Even if the presidential year and the partisanship of the district prove too tough for Republicans to break through, it could be worth getting a strong recruit just to push Democrats to spend in an expensive media market, deflecting their attention away from other competitive districts across the country.

It’s possible that another open seat in the 7th District — in the likely event Rep. Abigail Spanberger runs for governor — could also change the calculus. Top Democratic political talent like Jennifer Carroll Foy and Hala Ayala might opt to run the neighboring 7th District, which includes parts of Prince William County and all of Stafford County.

Democrats don’t necessarily need to worry about this seat, but Cao’s and Youngkin’s performance revealed a sliver of vulnerability. However, a presidential election year should bolster Democrats better than 2021 or 2022. It would probably need to take more than a strong Republican candidate to turn this into a real race, ultimately requiring some other weakness among Democrats, like a shift in the electorate or a particularly weak candidate. 

We’re moving the district to Likely Democratic, meaning we don’t see it as competitive just yet — and it may only get there under the right circumstances — but an open seat no longer belongs in the Solid column.

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