First Congressional District voters to choose Democratic challenger in Tuesday's primary election

Three first-time Democratic candidates will vie for the chance to unseat U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman in the First Congressional District in a primary election on Tuesday.

The First Congressional District, which spans from Northern Virginia down to the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, including parts James City County, has been represented by Wittman since 2007. Since then, Wittman has won re-election five times, most recently in 2016, where he won with nearly 60 percent of the vote, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

Although this would be the first time any of the three Democratic candidates have held a position in public office, Vangie Williams, Edwin Santana and John Suddarth all say they’re ready to address the state’s increasing needs for education, transportation infrastructure and single-payer health care.

All three candidates say it’s crucial for residents in the district to have access to single-payer health care, calling the current system broken.

“I think it’s the best way and that it’s the morally and fiscally right thing to do as well,” Santana said. “In the meantime, I will continue to take any interim steps that we can, like we just saw Virginia expanding Medicaid, but single-payer is the ultimate goal.”

Williams is a long-time resident of King George and comes from a background as a strategic planner, where she has 30 years experience as a consultant and contractor managing high-level government projects.

She says her experience assisting the federal government in coordinating projects involving NASA, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration all show she is a proven leader and problem solver.

“My background is to find out what’s broken and to fix it, and right now our Congress is in strategic failure,” Williams said. “If you go in and you can’t get a job done, there’s a problem.”

Williams said she wants to build up the First District’s small businesses, health-care facilities, education and transportation resources.

As a 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran, Edwin Santana is the youngest candidate in the primary race. The Stafford County resident says President Trump’s election in 2016 was a wake-up call, and his connection to the area’s young working class has been a strong asset.

“Election night came and I had to look back at myself and ask if I had done everything that I possibly could to prevent it from happening, and I realized that I didn’t,” Santana said. “I decided that I was going to run for office because I didn’t like the direction that our country was going in. I saw a lack of moral and ethical leaders in government.”

Santana said an increased investment in renewable energy sources, increased pay for teachers in the state and access to single-payer health care are among his top priorities.

John Suddarth is an Army veteran and businessman, with 25 years experience as a corporate executive with multiple manufacturing companies. He says his time managing factories internationally has given him a strong understanding of the economy and the ability to solve complex issues.

“I’ve got a lot of experience working with difficult people in some of my international businesses and joint ventures, so I think that my ability to look for win-win solutions to complex issues and my talents are the best fit for Congress,” Suddarth said.

All three candidates say they have been disappointed by Wittman’s lack of transparency with this constituents and continued commitment to big business over local interests.

“Rob Wittman has not done a thing to help us,” Williams said. “No matter how many letters you send him, no matter how many times you go to his office and protest, he does not help people, his focus is on shipbuilding and big business.”

For his part, Suddarth has committed to holding at least two town halls per year in each of the district’s 19 counties and the city of Fredericksburg.

Williams and Suddarth also cited traffic in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia as a constant issue for voters. Both candidates have called for comprehensive studies to find ways to improve the district’s highways, with Williams saying she would implement the findings of the traffic study within six months of taking office.

“Commuters in Northern Virginia waste an hour per day stuck in traffic. The lost time alone is worth $2 million and Hampton Roads is almost as bad, and Washington is just not addressing it,” Suddarth said. “These aren’t problems that can just be solved by VDOT, and we need a comprehensive approach.”

Election day information

To vote on Tuesday, all registered voters must present a valid photo ID. Polls will open at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. Voters in line at 7 p.m. will still be allowed to vote.

To find your local polling place, visit Saturday is the last day voters will be able to request an absentee ballot by appearing in-person at their local voter registration office.

James City County residents may visit the James City County Voter Registration Office at 5300 Palmer Lane for more information or call 757-259-4949.

Williamsburg residents may visit the city’s registrar’s office at 401 Lafayette St. or call 757-220-6517.

York and Poquoson residents may visit the county Registrar’s Office at 224 Ballard St. in Yorktown or call 757-890-3440.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the boundaries of the District. It covers parts of James City County.

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