by TRENTON MOORE
Nov. 3, Republican incumbent Rob Wittman will face off against Democrat challenger Qasim Rashid to compete for his seat for Virginia congressional district one (VA-1).
Sitting Congressman Wittman is the Republican representing VA-1. Wittman’s campaign is centered around traditional conservative values, while seeking bipartisan solutions to issues facing the country. Wittman is focused on eliminating regulations and lowering taxes on businesses and individuals to promote a strong economy. On abortion, Wittman is pro-life.
The Democratic challenger, Qasim Rashid, supports cancelling student loan debt, freeing up $1.6 trillion in outstanding loans. In addition, Rashid believes healthcare is a human right, thus supporting a universal healthcare system. Rashid supports police reform measures, the Green New Deal, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and is pro-choice.
On Sep. 21, Dr. Stephen Farnworth, professor and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies, hosted a debate between the two candidates.
“The debate itself was a very effective presentation of [the] views of both candidates. Unlike the first presidential debate, which was marked by nearly constant interruptions and violations of debate rules, the candidates for the first district did not let their sharp differences degenerate into an unproductive free-for-all,” said Farnsworth.
Wittman has served as Congressman for VA-1 since 2007, succeeding the late Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis (R) in a special election. Virginia’s 1st congressional district is viewed as a “solid Republican” district, according to The Cook Political Report. This seat has been held by a Republican member of Congress since 1977, according to The Cook Political Report.
According to his campaign website, Wittman’s political career started in 1986 as a Town Council member in Montross, Va. Before being elected to represent VA-1, he also served as Mayor of Montross, a member of the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors, Chairman of the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors and eventually a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, where he held his seat until his special election win for Virginia congressional district one.
An ROTC graduate of Virginia Tech, Wittman has served on the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Natural Resources since 2011 in Congress. He also serves as Co-Chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, seeking to bring high-speed internet to unaccounted for parts of the country, according to Ballotpedia.
On political issues, Wittman views himself as a “proven conservative for the first district,” according to his campaign website. According to Wittman’s campaign website, he supports incentivizing rehiring laid off employees through grants to affected businesses and removing regulations on businesses to promote small business growth.
Returning the supply chain to the United States from China and creating jobs domestically has been a top priority of the Wittman campaign.
“Strengthening America’s education system is important in fostering innovation and promoting our economic security,” said the campaign spokesperson for Team Wittman. “That means prioritizing workforce development and continuing to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in K-12 schools.”
The campaign spokesperson also said Wittman is “working on providing more options for saving and more opportunities for developing skill sets for today’s workforce.”
Wittman supported the CARES Act which “provides relief for college loan borrowers through the end of the year and provided $14 billion in grants to universities and colleges to aid students through this difficult period,” according to the spokesperson.
Wittman’s challenger, Qasim Rashid (D), is a political outsider, as Rashid has not held a seat in a local, state or national election.
Rashid emigrated to the United States with his family at age five. He graduated from the University of Illinois – Chicago with a degree in business marketing in 2006. In 2012, Rashid earned his Juris Doctorate at the University of Richmond School of Law.
At the University of Richmond, Rashid served as the president of the Muslim Law Student Association, a justice on the Richmond Law Honor Council, and as executive editor for the Journal of Global Law and Business.
Despite no electoral wins to date, Rashid has been an author and freelance writer, championing civil rights. Rashid led a Muslim youth group to rally on Washington DC for the Muslims for Peace campaign.
“Rashid believes healthcare is a human right” and is a strong supporter of a single-payer healthcare system, according to his campaign website.
On education, Rashid supports at least a 5 percent increase for teacher pay to address the vacancy problems Virginia schools are facing. “It starts with three words: raise their salaries,” Rashid said about the teacher shortage during an interview. “Both my parents were educators and today I have two children in the Virginia public school system. I know how important it is to take action on this issue.”
Rashid also spoke on the issue of student loan debt.
“In America, we literally have more student loan debt than credit card debt,” said Rashid. He was endorsed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who created a similar approach to combating student debt. “I’m in wholehearted agreement with [Warren’s] approach, which involves broad cancellation of student loan debt and also provides universal tuition-free public two- and four-year college and technical school,” he said.
Rashid supports restoring voter rights to felons that have served their time. In addition, he supports reforming the bail system to avoid keeping nonviolent offenders from staying in jail because they cannot post bail.
Rashid also supports passing police reforms. “My top priority would be the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It contains numerous and sweeping reforms, all of which are urgently needed. Passing that law would make an incredible difference,” he said.
Rashid was endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, a student-led coalition fighting for climate change policies. He believes he’s the best candidate for students.
“My conversations with student activists, both online and offline, inform my worldview and my political philosophy. I try to meet students and young people where they are, and I stay open to considering new ideas. Not too long ago, I was a student myself. I still have student loans. I’m the best candidate for students because I’m 100% committed to delivering for young people when I get to Congress,” said Rashid.
Both Wittman and Rashid agree on supporting measures that will give high speed internet to underserved communities.
UMW Votes has been active in spreading the word for the general election. There has been an equal effort to inform student voters about the Virginia congressional race.
“One of our (many) goals is to help people understand who/what is on the ballot this fall. We had a social media post that listed the candidates for the Congressional race, and plan to have at least one future post on that topic,” said Dr. Sarah Dewees, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement and head of UMW Votes. “We have information on our website, including a link to the sample ballot.”
Ambassadors for UMW Votes have guided students throughout the pandemic.
“UMW Votes has made an effort during COVID to do tabling events…on campus to remind students about voting such as absentee ballot. UMW Votes has also held an event called Walking Wednesday for students to walk together to the downtown registrar,” said Maya Moore, senior psychology major.
Although there is much attention surrounding the general election, many students have not lost sight of meaningful local elections.
“The topic of discussion within the UMW community is not just about presidential candidates but more so about voting at all levels of government to enable the change that we want to see…students are equally invested in this race as much as the general election because of the awareness that voting in all elections is important,” said Moore.