Three contenders emerging in Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Jennifer Wexton

Eileen Filler-Corn, Dan Helmer and Suhas Subramanyam are the leading candidates in Virginia’s 10th District

LEESBURG, VA - APRIL 28, 2024: Eileen Filler-Corn speaks with voters during the Loudoun County Democratic Committee Speed Dating Candi-Date Forum in Leesburg, VA on April 28, 2024. (Photo by Valerie Plesch for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Ahead of next month’s primary election, the crowded Democratic field in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District looks like it’s coming down to three candidates: former Statehouse Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, state Del. Dan Helmer and state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam.

Subramanyam’s campaign received a major boost with an endorsement from Rep. Jennifer Wexton, the outgoing incumbent who is retiring from Congress due to a terminal illness. The Democratic-leaning 10th District covers most of Northern Virginia’s western suburbs, including all of fast-growing Loudoun County.  

Filler-Corn and Helmer, who are both Jewish, have been outspoken about their support for Israel in their campaigns. Other candidates in the race, including state Sen. Jennifer Boysko and former Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni have been vocal critics of Israel, and numerous candidates spoke out in favor of conditions on U.S. aid at a League of Women Voters forum last week. Filler-Corn is endorsed by Democratic Majority for Israel.

Israel policy hasn’t dominated the race, however, and Subramanyam has not spoken out extensively about the war in Gaza. His campaign did not respond to multiple interview requests from Jewish Insider.

Speaking at the May 23 LWV forum, Subramanyam said he supports humanitarian aid without directly addressing the issue of U.S. aid to Israel. He said he’d “like to see a long-term two-state solution” but “one of the states can’t be Hamas — that’s the reality.”

He said he’d like to see a negotiated cease-fire including the release of the hostages in Gaza, but again emphasized that “long-term peace requires that Hamas not be one of the states.”

Subramanyam told WJLA-TV that “he thinks a cease-fire would be ideal as long as hostages are returned and it doesn’t allow Hamas to regroup and continue the war indefinitely,” the channel reported on May 3.

Asked at a May 17 NAACP candidate forum if they would vote to support a cease-fire, Subramanyam, Filler-Corn and Helmer did not raise their hands, according to DC News Now.

Subramanyam said, following last month’s massive Iranian missile and drone attack on Israel, that the attack was “a dangerous and unnecessary aggression that only undermines efforts for peace and de-escalation in the region.” He further condemned Iran for arming proxy groups that also harm peace efforts.

“Israel should have the full support of the U.S. in defending itself from attacks,” he continued. “We must build a path to stability in the region.”

When he was in the Statehouse in 2023, Subramanyam voted in favor of legislation adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. Filler-Corn also supported the bill.

Helmer voted against it, arguing that sponsors of the bill had supported antisemitic attacks against him on the campaign trail.

Subramanyam also supported other bills passed this year aimed at combating antisemitism and other forms of discrimination, including one led by Helmer.

Subramanyam seems to have at least some detractors in the pro-Palestinian community: a development director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee condemned Wexton’s endorsement on X, highlighting that Subramanyam had traveled to Israel on an AIPAC-affiliated trip, calling that a red line.

AIPAC declined to confirm the trip.

The local Jewish Community Relations Council will hold a candidate forum on Wednesday.

Also at last weeks’ LWV forum, Filler-Corn emphasized her support for “Israel’s right to self-defense and self-determination” but simultaneously highlighted her concerns about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noting that she’d participated in a peaceful protest against Netanyahu in Israel.

Helmer did not appear at the LWV forum.

Filler-Corn and Helmer have a preexisting rivalry from before the congressional race — Helmer, a progressive, helped lead the effort to unseat Filler-Corn as the Democratic House leader.

Helmer, who made a previous unsuccessful primary bid for the seat, led the field in fundraising as of the end of March with $1.1 million, followed by former defense official Krystle Kaul with $930,000 (Kaul lent her campaign more than $500,000), Filler-Corn with $760,000 and Subramanyam with $679,000.

Local experts say it’s difficult to handicap the race given the broad candidate field — many of whom are current or former state officials.

Bob Holsworth, a Virginia political scientist and analyst, said that Wexton’s endorsement of Subramanyan had come as somewhat of a surprise and helped elevate his position in the race. 

Both Holsworth and Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election handicapping newsletter, named Subramanyam, Filler-Corn and Helmer as the likely top candidates in the race, but said it’s difficult to predict beyond that.

“I find these primaries to be pretty difficult to handicap,” Kondik said. “I don’t have a strong feeling about this one — I guess you could say that Helmer’s had a few things break in his favor lately.”

The political observers downplayed the chances that another candidate could exploit the divided field to muster enough votes to beat all three.

“I think the reality is that because you have so many people in the race, a person could win with a relatively small plurality here,” Holsworth said. “There is a possibility that you have a winner, but it’s not the clearest possible winner.”

Kondik noted that Helmer received The Washington Post’s endorsement, which he said could be influential in the suburban Northern Virginia district.

The seat will likely remain in Democratic hands in November barring a major upset.

The race has also been roiled in recent days by a new independent expenditure campaign opposing Filler-Corn, which she and her campaign have criticized as antisemitic and sexist.

The attacks accuse Filler-Corn of catering to the interests of business groups, including the pharmaceutical, tobacco and oil industries, rather than voters, citing her past work at a lobbying firm.

“Eileen stood up for special interests, not us, getting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts in the process,” the ad alleges.”Eileen Filler-Corn: a good lobbyist for them, a bad Democrat for us.”

Filler-Corn’s campaign said she never lobbied for the pharmaceutical or tobacco industries and highlighted her endorsements from environmental groups.

“It is disappointing but unsurprising that I face false and baseless attacks from a dark money group,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “These false attacks are plainly sexist and rely on vile antisemitic tropes.”

The ads are being run by a new group, the Virginia Democratic Action PAC, the founder of which is also attacking Filler-Corn over a $110,000 donation her PAC made to Democratic Majority for Israel, following DMFI’s endorsement of her. DMFI has spent $120,000 supporting Filler-Corn.

Virginia Democratic Action PAC did not respond to a request for comment.

Connor Farrell, founder of Virginia Democratic Action, is also the president of progressive fundraising group Left Rising, which has spoken out against pro-Israel efforts to unseat anti-Israel incumbents; Left Rising has supported Squad members in their reelection bids.

Reed Elman, Filler-Corn’s campaign manager, described Virginia Democratic Action as “a dark money group with a history of false allegations.” Elman also emphasized Filler-Corn’s focus on reproductive rights, and described her as the “only woman positioned to win this race.”

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