Ben Baldwin spent 10 years serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, flying in the backseat of F/A-18 jets as a weapons systems officer. Now, he aims to serve his fellow Virginians as a member of the House of Delegates.
Baldwin, 35, is the first Republican to declare his candidacy in the already crowded race for the 31st District House of Delegates’ seat.
Baldwin is a native of Centreville and a graduate of Virginia Tech who has lived in the Hope Hill subdivision in Woodbridge with his wife and 7-year-old son since 2015. Baldwin left active-duty service in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2016 and now works as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch.
As the son of a former City of Alexandria sheriff and a Catholic school principal, Baldwin said public service has always been a priority for him. He said he’s running to return students to public schools full-time, to boost the state’s economy and to help restore Virginia’s reputation, which he said has taken a hit under Gov. Ralph Northam and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
“I’m just a normal, everyday citizen who has seen what has been happening in our state over the last two years, and instead of sitting back and griping about it on social media, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and step up and doing something about it,” Baldwin said in an interview last week. “That’s who I am.”
Incumbent Del. Elizabeth Guzman, who has held the 31st District seat since 2018, announced earlier this week that she’ll run for her party’s nomination in both the lieutenant governor’s race and in the 31st District. Guzman faces seven other Democrats in the primary for the lieutenant governor and three opponents in the primary for her own seat. Guzman initially said she would not seek re-election for her House of Delegates’ seat, prompting fellow Democrats Rod Hall, Kara Pitek and Idris O’Connor to throw their hats in the race.
Baldwin said he has never before sought elected office but serves on the Prince William County Chamber of Commerce’s veterans and economic development committees.
If elected, Baldwin said he’ll look for ways to help small businesses, perhaps by reducing taxes and by incentivizing tele-working. He said tele-working has been effective during the pandemic and could be encouraged to reduce traffic congestion going forward.
Baldwin said he strongly opposes some Democrats’ efforts to repeal the state’s right-to-work law, which prevents labor unions from mandating membership. Baldwin said getting rid of the law would be bad for Virginia’s businesses.
Baldwin said he has been disappointed with virtual schooling during the pandemic, which he called “a failure.” He said he would push to open schools five days a week.
As of last week, all Prince William County schools had opened to students in all grades, who may now attend school in person on a two-day-a-week, hybrid schedule, although only about 40% of students have chosen to do so, according to school division officials.
The hybrid strategy is being used in most public school divisions across the state to limit class sizes and to allow for the 6 feet of social distancing required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for schools.
Baldwin said the private Catholic school his mother leads, St. Andrew the Apostle in Clifton, has had students attending school five days a week. Baldwin said he believes public schools should be able to do so as well. The private school has an enrollment of about 200 students, however, while Ashland Elementary School, the school zoned for Hope Hill, has an enrollment of nearly 800.
“I continue to be a strong advocate for the goal of getting our children back full-time as quickly as possible,” he said. “We need to keep that front and center in people’s minds.”
Baldwin said he and his family have been careful to abide by Northam’s mask requirement and said the issue has “unfortunately been politicized, which didn’t serve anybody well.”
Still, he said he looks forward to the day people can go outside without their masks “and see somebody smile.”
The 31st District straddles Prince William and Fauquier counties, although more than 78% of its voters live in Prince William County. The district is considered “competitive,” by the Virginia Public Access Project based on the 2016 presidential and 2017 gubernatorial votes, but the two counties are polar opposites politically.
In 2020, more than 62% of Prince William County voters cast ballots for President Joe Biden, while more than 57% of Fauquier County voters supported President Donald Trump.
Trump’s presidency has proved toxic for Republicans in Prince William County, as Democrats took control of the board of county supervisors, the school board and county’s 13-member state delegation in the years since Trump was elected.
Regarding the former president, Baldwin said he cannot support elected officials who do not uphold the U.S. Constitution. Baldwin said he believes Trump did so “for most of his presidency.”
“I think the events of Jan. 6 were not in keeping with who we are as a nation,” he added. “…I’m against any kind of political violence.”
Baldwin said he realizes Republicans have had a hard time in Virginia particularly since Trump was elected but also believes the Democratic majorities in the state General Assembly have overreached and strayed too far away from what he called kitchen table issues.
“I’ve seen a leftward lurch here. I feel that’s problematic,” he said. “It’s been more ideological than practical and problem-solving.”
Baldwin is so far the only Republican candidate in the 31st District race. GOP candidates will have until mid-April to file for the seat, and if the party has more than one candidate, a nominee will likely be selected in a May convention, according to Bill Card, the former Prince William County Republican Committee chairman who is overseeing the nominating process for the race.
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