Through the eyes of a political candidate: Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton shares what it means to be the “public face of a campaign”

The political world is messy and frequently brutal, and the media swarms representatives and candidates constantly in search of failures to exploit. Those involved are accused of being corrupt, power-hungry, or underhanded, and the divide between parties often seems impossible to navigate. So, why would anyone willingly choose to run for an office?

“I want to help people,” says congresswoman Jennifer Wexton to Robinson Professor Steven Pearlstein, during a political guest-speaker series, First Tuesday. “That’s always been my overarching concern both as a prosecutor, as an attorney, and as a legislator.”

Jennifer Wexton studied law at the University of Maryland, before continuing to pursue the subject through William and Mary’s law school. She served several years as an assistant district attorney, then by 2014, she was elected to the Virginia state senate, replacing Mark Herring (D). Four years later, Wexton defeated congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R) with a 56% vote majority. Presently Wexton is a member of the New Democratic Coalition and is running a congressional re-election campaign against Aliscia Andrews (R).

“As the candidate, you are the person who’s running, you are the public face of the campaign, you are the conduit to the community,” Wexton explains, reflecting on her role during a campaign. “I’m the one who ultimately decides what our message is going to be, what our vision will be, what our top issues are, because those are the things that are important to me, that I stand for.”

While Wexton finds herself well-suited in her current position, she did not see herself as a future politician until 2011. Despite her long-held interest in the political process, Wexton says joining politics “came down to seeing things going on that I didn’t agree with.”

“Most [congressional representatives] saw our republic and our democracy might’ve been hanging by a thread and felt the need to step up and do something about it. I think that recent events have proven maybe our concerns were not that hyperbolic after all.”

Recent events have certainly marked a greater division between the stances each party takes on issues. Finding what a state may stand for collectively is a difficult task, and one that is essential to the job of a congressional representative.

“I visited every corner of my district to meet with groups and talk to them about what their needs were and what we can do to help them,” Wexton continues, emphasizing how she collects many legislative ideas from local businesses and citizen. Thus, in her policies, she gives particular importance to affordable health care, gun violence prevention, LGBT rights, and tackling climate change – “for real this time”.

“There’s so much pent up demand for all these things – there will be a lot of good we can do. But the first thing we have to do is develop a national strategy to conquer Coronavirus, because for too long there has not been leadership at the top, and as a result we have 50 states engaged in a 50 state solution, all bidding against one another for the resources that they need to conquer and crush the virus.”

Professor Steven Pearlstein’s dive into the world of politics continues next Tuesday at 9am, where Mason graduate, Danny Diaz, will share his first-hand experiences as a Republican political and communication strategist. The First Tuesday series, sponsored by the Honors College and Schar School of Policy and Government, is open to the Mason community to sign up and participate in as we draw nearer to the November 2020 election.

Date      Speaker
Sept. 8

Peter Hart
Dean of American Pollsters

Sept. 15

Mike Henry
Former Campaign Manager, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Sept. 22

Rebecca Pearcey
Policy Director, Elizabeth Warren presidential campaign

Sept. 29

Rick Wilson
Co-founder, Lincoln Project Republican media strategist

Oct. 6

Amy Gardner
Political reporter and editor, Washington Post

Oct. 13

U.S Rep. Jennifer Wexton
Democrat, Virginia 10th District

Oct 20

Danny Diaz
Republican political and communications strategist, George Mason graduate

Nov. 10

Tom Davis
Former Republican Congressman from Virginia, Rector of George Mason University

Watch Past Events in the First Tuesday series