Can Virginia’s most vulnerable House Republican hang on to her seat?

By: - September 21, 2018 6:01 am

From left, U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R, and Virginia Sen Jennifer Wexton, D.

Both candidates for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District are lawyers. Both are experienced politicians.

And both are women, which is one reason why the race has become the most expensive and competitive in the state.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican. is attempting to fend off  State Sen. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat, and represent the Northern Virginia district for a third term. The race is leaning toward Wexton, according to Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Over the four Republican-held House seats Democrats are fighting to flip, Comstock’s has been consistently rated as the most vulnerable, said Geoff Skelley, political analyst with the UVA center.

The nearly $6 million race — Wexton has raised about $2 million and Comstock has $3.8 million will come down to suburban women, experts said.

That’s the only demographic whose voting record has shifted in recent years, said Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. Suburban women trended toward the Republican Party until 2008, when politicians like Ken Cuccinelli rose to prominence with strong stances on women’s issues, Kidd said.

“Comstock has been able to hold on because there are enough of those suburban women who have stuck with her,” he said. “This is the infamous incumbent’s advantage.”

Wexton’s and Comstock’s campaigns didn’t respond to multiple interview requests for this story.

Virginia’s 10th Congressional District stretches east from Winchester into the suburbs of Washington.

Comstock has strategically limited her public appearances and events so far in the campaign, likely in an attempt to avoid potentially tense interactions with voters who are unhappy with President Donald Trump in a district that strongly favored Hillary Clinton, Kidd said.

Clinton took the district in 2016 with 51 percent of the vote.

“Her problem is that with an R next to her name, she’s inextricably linked to Donald Trump,” Skelley said. And in this round of midterms, Trump has become one of the most important focuses, he said.

Comstock has been careful to dissociate herself from the president. In her first television ad, Comstock called herself an “independent voice” and avoided clearly identifying as a Republican.

In her campaign, Wexton has used familiar Democratic talking points in her ads, focusing on gun safety and women’s rights, claiming Comstock has failed constituents on those two points.

She’s also made an effort to illustrate where Comstock aligns with Trump, attacking Comstock after the president announced last month that he wouldn’t be giving federal civilian employees a raise, which would affect thousands of voters in the 10th District.

Comstock and Trump “blew a hole in the federal deficit by giving tax cuts to the rich, & now they’re going to pay for it on the backs of federal workers,” Wexton tweeted.

“Our public servants have been getting short-changed for years; including three years of pay freezes under the Obama administration,” Comstock said in a statement about nixing the federal pay raise. “We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our federal employees.”

Wexton, a former Loudoun prosecutor elected to the state Senate in 2014, has worked on improving voter access — like expanding accepted forms of identification — as well as legislation dealing with health care, traffic congestion and other issues. Her campaign site claims she has gotten 40 bills passed, “all with bipartisan support.”

Comstock, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, is doing the right thing to attract as many voters as possible, Skelley said. She’s spent her campaign so far highlighting her work on women’s issues in Congress.

She sponsored legislation that requires members of Congress to take sexual harassment training every year. Wexton proposed a similar bill in the General Assembly last year that was signed into law. 

Comstock also touts her success in lowering taxes, cracking down on MS-13, addressing the opioid epidemic and funneling more money toward Alzheimer’s research.

Both candidates have been endorsed and supported by PACs aimed at getting women in Congress.

Wexton has received more than $12,000 from EMILY’s List, a group focused on getting pro-choice female candidates elected.

“Jennifer Wexton is an experienced legislator and talented legal expert who has proven that she’s the champion Northern Virginians need in Congress,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List said in a statement.

Schriock cited laws Wexton championed in Virginia as evidence of her bipartisan work: A 2017 law that allows victims of revenge pornography to take legal action and a 2015 law that allows women to breastfeed in public.

Like Wexton, Comstock has gotten support from a PAC that works to get conservative women elected to Congress.

Winning For Women, a new PAC, donated $7,000 to Comstock’s campaign.

“She’s independent but she’s a strong Republican as well,” said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for Winning For Women. “She does a good job of being both. She knows you have to do what’s in the best interest of your constituents.”

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.