The Army vet who made that goofy 'Top Gun' campaign ad might actually have a real shot at winning a congressional seat

Dam helmerDan HelmerDan Helmer in a campaign ad.
  • Dan Helmer is a Democrat running in in Virginia’s 10th Congressional district.
  • He’s a US Army veteran and Rhodes Scholar who has never held public office.
  • In 2016 the district went for Hillary Clinton, but Republican Barbara Comstock won the House seat.

WASHINGTON — When Dan Helmer released a “Top Gun”-themed ad in September, his campaign strategy was mocked and ridiculed as the video populated across the internet.

But it briefly captured people’s attention in a crowded race and a 24/7 news cycle in which recognition is scarce.

One month later, Helmer’s campaign is taking a more traditional approach in one of the most high-priority targets on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2018 wish list, even though the ad was removed due to a copyright claim.

Virginia’s 10th congressional district has held Republican for years, but it has become increasingly less Republican since GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock took over for longtime Rep. Frank Wolf in 2014. Couple the changing demographics with a flurry of Democratic candidates jumping in the race after the devastating 2016 cycle, and you see a candidate like Helmer emerge.

Helmer is not a seasoned legislator like fellow Democratic challenger Jennifer Wexton, a state senator, nor does he have the government experience of former Obama administration officials Lindsey Davis Stover and Alison Friedman, two Democrats also vying for Comstock’s seat.

Helmer, whose grandparents came to the United States as Holocaust survivors, graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point, where he went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a Rhodes Scholar. His background — coming from an immigrant family coupled with a military career and business savvy — creates a prime outsider candidacy.

“It’s not to my advantage,” Helmer said of his outsider status in an interview with Business Insider. “It’s to our country’s advantage that the political insiders and lobbyists who have broken our system are outed. Comstock is one of them, certainly some of my competitors in the primary have a different sort of background than the one I present.”

Helmer thinks that if he is able to serve in Congress, he would be a “positive but disruptive force” in contrast to the many career politicians in both parties.

His combination of business and military backgrounds are ideal for the House Armed Services Committee and oversight role on the Intelligence Committee, Helmer said, citing the district’s considerable population of public servants and defence contractors.

“It’s that nexus of national and economic security for our district and for our country that I think I would serve well,” he said.

In terms of fundraising, Helmer has a decent amount of cash on hand at $US397,941 after a slump in the last quarter compared to other Democrats in the race. Both Wexton and Friedman outraised Helmer during the most recent quarter, pulling in $US255,075 and $US241,857, respectively.

Another major concern looms over Helmer and the handful of other Democrats in the race — Comstock knows how to win. She beat the odds in 2016, winning her race by six points, while at the same time, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried the district by 10 points. Comstock won in 2014 while Mitt Romney barely carried the district. She knows how to weather the political storm in ways first-time candidates might not.

However, Comstock has been particularly skittish since the election. She rarely holds town hall events, and even came under fire earlier this year for skipping multiple “mobile office hours” across the district, which Helmer thinks will come back to bite her at the ballot box.

“I’m sure she’s a nice person, but this isn’t about being a nice person,” Helmer said. “This is about having people who are gonna put service before self, who are gonna put their country first and not be just part of the broken political system that we have today.”

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