Two veterans face off in Virginia’s 10th district GOP primary

The candidates are aiming to take back a district that’s has become solidly blue in recent years

Two military veterans in Virginia are hoping that serving in Congress will become their next mission.

Victory this November will be an uphill battle for the winner of the Republican primary in the state’s 10th congressional district, which was flipped blue when Rep. Jennifer Wexton unseated two-term incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) in 2018. Now Republicans in the district are looking to reclaim the seat.

Jeff Dove, who deployed to Iraq as an Army chemical operations specialist, and Rob Jones, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine combat engineer tasked with identifying IEDs, are considered top contenders for the nomination. Both men said their military service has shaped them, and their political aspirations, in fundamental ways.

“In the Marine Corps, I learned to be a person that took responsibility for the things that are important to them,” Jones, who lost both legs above the knee in an IED explosion and went on to become a paralympian and advocate for disabled veterans, told Jewish Insider. He said that after studying Wexton’s background and record, “I set my sights on a new mission to return conservative leadership back to my home on behalf of my home and on behalf of my family.”

Dove told JI that “one of the things that I learned while serving in Iraq was, don’t take anything for granted.” He recounted memories of distributing school supplies to Iraqi schoolchildren. “Going to Iraq and going and being in war makes me think twice about reasons why we go and fight. I don’t necessarily think that we should be getting involved in every single conflict out there.”

This is not Dove’s first congressional run — in 2018, he challenged longtime Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) in the neighboring 11th district, losing by nearly 44 points. Despite that loss, Dove said going toe-to-toe with a prominent Democrat like Connolly, who has won by significant margins against Republican opponents since redistricting in 2010 turned the district solidly blue, helped him identify his party’s weaknesses in campaigning, and prepared him to discuss and debate major issues.

Wexton won by more than 10 points in 2018, has stronger name recognition than either Republican and is better funded than her opponents. Jones has $77,000 on hand and Dove has $41,000, while Wexton has $1.8 million. Jones and Dove have both spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their primary campaigns.

Given that the district is a long shot with an expensive media market, neither Republican should expect much additional investment in his campaign, John McGlennon, a professor of government at Virginia’s College of William & Mary, told JI.

“That district has been trending Democratic at a very fast pace, and I don’t see it turning around in this election,” he said.

But this is not Jones’s first battle against difficult circumstances — he fought to survive a gruesome injury and remain physically active and mobile following the amputation of his legs.

Rob Jones (Jones for Congress)

“When I first got wounded, a lot of people would struggle with that, with this drastic change in their life circumstances,” he said. “But one of the things I realized early on was my mom was going to be devastated, and so what was best for her was that I be fine, that I be okay with my injury. Because of that, I think it forced me to rise to the occasion.”

Since leaving the military, Jones has become an activist for wounded veterans, raising money through athletic achievements. He bicycled across the country, from Maine to San Diego, in 2013 and 2014, and ran 31 marathons on 31 consecutive days in different cities around the world in 2017.

“I was in this position where I felt this desire to continue to serve my fellow Marines and continue to serve my country in some capacity,” he said of the marathons. “I didn’t see any of the stories [in the media] where there was this kind of post-traumatic growth after coming back from the war. And so I wanted to make sure that both sides of that coin were told.”

Dove would also bring a unique perspective to Congress if he is elected. With Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) retiring, Dove could become the only black Republican in the House. 

Dove is sharply critical of the way Democratic politicians address the black community. “It’s a shame that politicians on the Democratic side feel they need to do something… to show that they’re so called ‘down with the struggle,’” he said, referencing the announcement made by Democrats last week regarding a police reform package, which the party’s leaders made while wearing stoles with a traditional Ghanaian pattern

“And also they seem to like to talk to us in a certain way to make it seem like we’re not intelligent enough to handle normal English speech,” Dove added, focusing on Joe Biden’s controversial appearance on “The Breakfast Club” radio show. “It’s all pandering and it’s ridiculous. We don’t want to be talked at. The black community wants to be talked to, and heard.”

Dove blames the controversial 1994 crime bill for many of the issues regarding policing in black communities, noting that law enforcement became more aggressive toward black Americans following the legislation’s introduction into law. “When I was in high school, that legislation was first put in place,” he said. “And we could see the difference in how police reacted to us.”

Dove added that, although he has personally had negative experiences with police, including being pulled over and handcuffed, he does not see all police officers as an issue. “I think 99.9% of law enforcement is here to protect and serve us like they’re supposed to,” he said.

Dove praised the bipartisan First Step Act, which reformed federal prisons and sentencing, as a positive move toward meaningful criminal justice reform, and added that he wants to see more portions of the 1994 crime bill repealed. He also said he wants police to be better integrated into the communities they serve, rather than holding what he called an “us versus them mentality.”

He suggested that relations between law enforcement and communities could be strengthened with more direct outreach that brings police closer to the communities they serve.

It’s a mindset that can also be applied to his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dove suggested that the parties need to directly engage in order to move forward.

Dove said he supports a two-state solution, but, “it’s ultimately not going to be our decision. It’s going to be the parties involved… They’re going to have to come together at some point and end this fighting. Because it’s not beneficial for either side to continue.”

Still, the Army veteran sees a role for the U.S. in the peace process — as a mediator in the conflict “making sure that both sides are at the table and continuing discussions and making sure no one is taking too much advantage of the other.”

Jones largely agrees. He also supports a two-state solution, and said the U.S. should “help them come to a solution between the two of them that both of them can be happy with.”

Republicans in the 10th district will pick their nominee at a drive-through convention this Saturday at Shenandoah University, where only pre-registered delegates will be permitted to vote. Also in the race are Matthew Truong, who emigrated from Vietnam at age 12 and built a career in the tech world, and Marine veteran Aliscia Andrews. The convention was originally scheduled for May 30, but delayed due to the coronavirus. A similar convention last Saturday in Virginia’s 5th district has raised significant controversy, but Saturday’s convention in Winchester is expected to go smoothly.

Jones, who announced his candidacy on the ninth anniversary of the attack that took his legs, is confident that delegates will pick the best person for the job — and that he is that person.

“I think the biggest thing is selflessness, acting on the best interests of people that you care about, places that you care about, things that you care about,” he said. “[That] is the key to overcoming anything and accomplishing anything in life.”

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