LuAnn Bennett, a former Highland resident, is bringing her Midwest values to her East Coast campaign as she aims to win Virginia’s 10th District in the November election.
“All the values that I’ve grown up with and still live by were formed in those early years on the farm,” she said. “The importance of family, community, hard work, and honesty is what my family taught me.”
Bennett, the daughter of the late Jack and Grace (Porter) Leder, still remembers what it was like waking at the crack of dawn to tend cattle and plant crops on the farm, west of Highland.
“When I was young, we had cows, and I certainly worked on the farm. We planted soy beans, corn and wheat and my dad raised cattle,” she said.
Bennett lived in Highland for the first 22 years of her life, which she said shaped who she is today.
“I can still hear my dad tell me to be honest, to look someone in the eye and tell them the truth,” Bennett said. “These values are so fundamental to Midwestern character, and I feel so lucky to have grown up with them.”
It was her father who played a major role in not only developing her character, but her political views as well.
“When I was at home, we’d debate issues around the kitchen table. My dad and I would debate separate issues,” she said. “He was more conservative than I am today, and yet he was one of the best men I ever knew.”
Bennett says her political views are “slightly left of center.”
“I’m not extremely to the left. More closer to the middle, and I think that’s how most people live,” she said.
Bennett said her mother was also influential in her life.
“My mom is an amazing woman. She’s self-reliant and kind. She taught me so many values that shaped me growing up,” Bennett said. “She was a tremendous influence in my life.”
Bennett’s move to the East Coast was an unexpected one. She met her first husband, Rick, after he returned home to St. Louis to take the bar exam after graduating from Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C., in 1976.
Their paths crossed, the two fell in love, married and moved to the east, where they started a real estate business together in 1980.
But Rick was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away in 1994, leaving LuAnn the sole proprietor of a business and a single mother caring for three little boys.
Getting involved in politics
The launch of her political career wouldn’t happen for another 20 years, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a front-row seat to see how the system worked.
Bennett was married to Congressman Jim Moran, a Democrat, from 2004 to 2011 while he represented the neighboring 8th Congressional District in Virginia. Though now divorced, they remain friends.
Bennett said she learned quite a bit through her up-close look at government.
In addition to seeing her former husband at work, she also eagerly served on several commissions to help children and families throughout the region and across the state. She served as an appointee of then Gov. Tim Kaine, now the vice presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, on Virginia’s Climate Change Commission, the Virginia Health Care Foundation, the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, Turnaround for Children, and the National Children’s Museum.
Deciding to run
“People laughed at me when I told them I was going to run for Congress. They told me not to, because I know what it’s really like,” Bennett said. “But I know the government can make a difference for the good.”
Along with Moran, her children were also supportive, although she admits they were a bit worried at first.
“When I first threw the idea out there, my oldest son, Kevin, wanted to know why I was doing it. Once I told him, he said, ‘You’ve convinced me.’ My middle son, Bryan, and I had a long conversation. After we talked, he told me he knew dad would be proud of me.”
Bennett’s youngest son, Richard, was skeptical and protective at first.
“They know this can be a very tough and ugly business, and Richard was concerned. But a couple of months into my campaign, I went to visit with him, and he said, ‘Mom, I was wrong. I’ve never seen you with more energy than you have today.’ That made me feel good,” Bennett said.
Bennett is currently running against freshman Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock, who won election two years ago after having served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2010-2014. Comstock won her first election by 15 points, and the 10th District leans Republican. However, experts say the race should be competitive, with this being a presidential election year.
“We have someone in the congressional seat that doesn’t properly represent the district. I got frustrated by her voting and was looking at running,” Bennett said. “I gave her two years, watched her record, and decided to run. I now have the full support of my party of elected Democratic officials in Northern Virginia.”
Bennett said she believes if she wins, she can make a big difference on a number of key issues.
“The economy has come a long way, but it’s not an even recovery, and too many people are working too hard to make ends meet,” she said. “I feel strongly that if I can make a difference, I will. I want to focus on the middle class, which can help finish off our economic recovery.”
But the economy isn’t the only thing on her “to-fix” list. Being a mother and a grandmother has Bennett thinking about the future of the planet as well.
“We are passing this country along to the next generation. I have a 2-year-old grandson and I’m concerned about the country I pass along to him,” she said. “I want to make it a better place and these things are fixable if we get more people in our government who live in the real world.”
About LuAnn Bennett
Hometown: Highland, Ill.
Now lives in: McClean, Va.
Parents: Jack and Grace (Porter) Leder
Siblings: Edward Leder and Carol S. Adams
Children: Three sons, Kevin, Bryan, and Richard
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University
Job: Owns her own real estate company, Bennett Group, which operates in the Washington, D.C., area
Running for: Congress in Virginia’s 10th District as a Democrat