Herb Jones to challenge Wittman again, but second Democrat may join race

Herb Jones got a late start a year ago in his bid to unseat Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, in a newly drawn congressional district that includes parts of the Richmond suburbs.

Jones, 65, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former treasurer of New Kent County, is ready this time, as he launches a new campaign to challenge Wittman in congressional elections next year.

“I got into the race very late” last year, he said. “We’re not going to make that mistake again.”


Wittman glides to re-election in 1st District

Jones recently filed his statements of candidacy and organization at the Federal Elections Commission for the election in the 1st Congressional District, which includes parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties, as well as his home in New Kent and much of eastern Tidewater from the James River to the Potomac.

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He said he’s focused on helping Democrats win seats in the General Assembly elections in November, but he’s also looking ahead to his second shot at Wittman after losing by 13 percentage points and almost 45,000 votes in a three-way race that included independent candidate David Bruce Foster.

“I think I’m in much better position to win next year,” Jones said in an interview.







Herb Jones

Jones


First, he may have to overcome a challenge for the Democratic nomination.

Leslie Chambers Mehta, an attorney who serves as chief of staff and counsel to the CEO of the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority, confirmed that she is considering running for the party nomination to challenge Wittman.

“At this point, it’s something I’m very seriously considering,” she said. “I’m talking to people in the district. I’m still at the point of listening.”

Mehta, 46, a resident of Moseley in Chesterfield, is former legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, with an extensive background in civil rights law and a strong personal interest in health care policy. She served on the Commission to Examine Racial and Economic Inequity in Virginia Law, which then-Gov. Ralph Northam created in 2019 to identify racial inequities in state law.







1st Congressional District

The 1st Congressional District, represented by Republican Rob Wittman, includes western Henrico and western Chesterfield counties as well as part of Hanover County. Those three counties form the new district’s largest voter blocs.




She also served as a clerk for then-Chesterfield Circuit Court Judge Cleo Powell, the first African American woman to serve on the state’s highest court.

“She’s been a great mentor,” she said.

Both Mehta and Jones are African American.

Mehta’s interest in health care policy comes from difficult personal experience. Her oldest daughter, Brooke, who would have turned 8 years old this week, died two years ago after living with Rett syndrome, a rare genetic neurological disorder. She also has a 4-year-old daughter.

“My decision is a personal one,” she said.

Jones and Mehta have talked about her potential candidacy.

“He knows about my interest,” she said. “I certainly appreciate his efforts from the last time around.”

Jones said he hopes she doesn’t decide to run.

“I have name recognition,” he said. “I have proven this is a flippable district. She’d start from scratch.”

Wittman, 64, has served for 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. After succeeding the late Rep. JoAnn Davis, R-1st, in 2007, he has won eight consecutive terms. He lives in Montross, on the Northern Neck, but grew up in Henrico.

He said he’s ready for an election he considers a referendum on President Joe Biden.

Biden is seeking re-election as the Democratic presidential nominee next year, potentially in a rematch with former President Donald Trump, the Republican whom he defeated in 2020 in an election that continues to have political and legal consequences.

“Joe Biden won the 2020 election, and now families are struggling with skyrocketing inflation, record-high gas prices, and increasing crime in their communities,” Wittman said in a statement. “As I meet with constituents in Virginia’s First District, I continue to hear how the Biden administration’s failed policies are directly impacting their families, businesses, and day-to-day life.”

“My top priority is serving those I represent and fighting for policies that uplift Virginians, including through lowering energy prices, reining in runaway government spending and curbing inflation, making our communities safer by supporting our law enforcement officers, and ensuring our children have access to quality education,” he said.

Jones contends that Wittman sided with those who disputed Biden’s victory and sought to overturn the results in a protest that turned into a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress prepared to certify the election result.

“He voted for the insurrection,” Jones said. “He voted to overthrow our government.”

Wittman voted not to certify the electoral votes of Pennsylvania that night because of what he called “unconstitutional procedures” used there. However, he subsequently voted to certify the electoral votes of Arizona, another swing state that Trump disputed after losing the election.

He also condemned the violence at the Capitol that day, calling it “a blemish on the nation.”

“We may disagree on policy and who we support for President, but this country is built on law and order,” Wittman said in a three-page statement the next day. “We must continue to stand for the great American tradition of peaceful disagreement and debate rather than anarchy and violence.”

Jones is basing his campaign on three policy pillars – protecting women’s right to privacy and reproductive health care, including abortion; more attention to the needs of military veterans; and public education, including higher teacher pay and protection of students from gun violence.

“Our public school system is not getting the credit it deserves,” he said.

At the same time, Jones said he agrees that “parents matter,” the campaign slogan that helped Glenn Youngkin become governor in 2021.

“The education system needs to be family focused, not just on children,” he said. “Parents absolutely need to be involved.”

Mehta isn’t ready to talk about Wittman’s record or issues in the campaign until she decides whether to run, but she expressed concern about the congressman’s “alignment with President Trump.”

“I believe the people are ready to hear new voices,” she said.

Michael Martz (804) 649-6964

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

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