By Jordan Pascal
Anyone wondering what the future holds for the Democratic Party might find a few answers in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Four young candidates are running in an open primary in the 87th House District, which covers much of Loudoun as well as a portion of Prince William County. Each has been motivated in some way by the actions of the Trump Administration, and each is running on a key issue, from health care to immigration to gun safety. And, if elected, many would carry superlatives: the first Indian-American delegate, the first Pakistani-American delegate, the youngest delegate, the third Muslim delegate or to serve in the House.
Representing A Changing Loudoun County
The contenders in the 87th are all first-time candidates, but none of them can avoid politics in their day jobs:
- Johanna Gusman is a human rights lawyer who once was arrested at a protest during the confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
- Suhas Subramanyam is a lawyer and former Capitol Hill and Obama administration policy analyst who now advises nonprofits.
- Hassan Ahmad is an immigration attorney who felt compelled to run after witnessing the effects of Trump’s travel ban at Dulles International Airport.
- Akshay Bhamidipati is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University and is going into cancer research.
“This has to be one of the most diverse tickets Virginia has ever has ever seen and that is something to be celebrated,” Gusman says.
Many young people are more interested in politics in the Trump era, says political scientist Rachel Bitecofer of Christopher Newport University. We’ve seen this on the national level, with a wide array of candidates seeking office in last year’s national midterms. Now we’re seeing it on the local level.
“There’s just not enough entry space for people to get involved,” Bitecofer says.
Most of this year’s primaries in Virginia drew two candidates, and some have three. The 87th District is the only race to have four.
“I think we’re finally heading to a more representative democracy when our legislators start to look more like their constituents,” Bhamidipati says.
This is especially true in Northern Virginia, where 2017 ushered in new faces like Del. Hala Ayala, among the first Hispanic women elected in the Commonwealth, and Del. Danica Roem, the first openly transgender candidate elected to a state legislature.
The exurban 87th has gone back and forth between favoring Republicans and Democrats. But like much of Northern Virginia, it has trended blue in recent years.
Loudoun County has seen significant population changes recently. It’s one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, and one of the richest. Nearly a third of residents are foreign-born.
The candidates have all found some early financial support. They’ve each raised between $30,000 and $200,000. Suhas Subramanyam has pulled in the most at $190,000, and he’s earned the endorsement of the district’s current delegate, John Bell, who is stepping down to run for a vacant state senate seat.
Each of the candidates also has a backstory that speaks to Loudoun and to the national political climate.