In Bellwether Virginia House District, a Democrat Builds Momentum

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Virginia’s 10th Congressional District is home to one of the most closely watched races ahead of the upcoming midterm elections, the contest being one in which an incumbent Republican is facing a stiff challenge from a former Democratic state senator.

Election prognosticators consider Virginia’s 10th District a potential bellwether of the much-discussed “blue wave” that’s been a rallying cry for Democrats.

But don’t try to either get Jennifer Wexton, the Democrat, former prosecutor and one-time state senator, or Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock on the phone. Despite repeated attempts to reach them, neither candidate made herself available to Courthouse News for an interview.

The Wexton campaign did respond with boilerplate answers to some questions, saying the candidate is a “better alternative” for the district than Comstock, who, it claims, voted “with Trump 98 percent of the time.”

The campaign also said that because of the district’s close proximity to the Capitol, it is home to large numbers of federal workers, defense contractors, and people who work in the intelligence community, “all of whom have been repeatedly attacked by the Trump Administration.”

“Jennifer Wexton will stand up for them,” the campaign said.

Comstock’s campaign did not respond to Courthouse News at all.

If Wexton can flip the district, it will be the first time Democrats have held the seat since it was created in 1952.

Wexton has run an aggressive campaign against her opponent.

One Wexton advertisement refers to the incumbent as “Barbara Trumpstock,”– a jab at Comstock’s alleged record of regularly voting in line with Trump administration policies like Trump’s tax plan, now a cornerstone of Comstock’s midterm campaign.

Wexton’s campaign has also held forums on national and election security with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner; and she has moderated other events representing keys issues on her own platform. Last week she hosted a reproductive rights discussion in conjunction with Planned Parenthood.

Comstock has pursued a comparatively quieter campaign across the district. The candidate did not schedule any town halls for the duration of the midterm race.

The incumbent has, however, attended private fundraisers in Herndon, Virginia and elsewhere, while also making appearances on television and radio.

During these appearances, Comstock has criticized Wexton for purportedly failing to relate to constituents in the “agriculture community” and insinuated that Wexton spent time with the so-called “resistance crowd.”

The 10th district consists of five counties and several small,  independent cities. The most recent Washington Post poll, conducted between October 15 and 21, has Wexton up by 13 points over Comstock, while the most New York Times/Siena poll and Christopher Newport University poll, both conducted between late-September and mid-October, showed Wexton ahead by 7 points.

The results are a comedown for Comstock who won the district by a 6 point margin in 2016, despite a winning showing by Democratic Hillary Clinton in the presidential contest.

Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science and director of the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies in Fredericksburg, Virginia, has been watching the 10th district for years and did an analysis of the 2016 vote there.

Farnsworth said Comstock received more votes than Donald Trump in every single precinct, but growing displeasure with the president and his rhetoric has significantly winnowed her support.

“It’s very hard for Comstock’s people to chart an independent course from Trump when the president dominates every single news cycle,” he said. “What Comstock has to do is thread a needle. She has to figure out a way to keep the Trump supporters sufficiently engaged to support her but at the same time, not be seen as so pro-Trump that you lose more moderate voters.

“If she loses the district, she loses it because of Trump,” he said.

Dave, a longtime resident of the district who asked that his last name not be used, said he sees Comstock as “far removed” from her constituents.

The 56-year-old said he was particularly let down by her “tepid” response to Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey last year.

Her support of the administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy and willingness to “stand by” while children were separated from their parents also bothered him, he said.

“No statements, no hearings, no stance,” he said of the incumbent.

By comparison, he said, Wexton seems like a “serious, thoughtful adult.” He also said he supports her stance on tougher gun safety and forward-thinking positions on climate and the environment.

“Most importantly, she explicitly touts her intent to be a balance against Trump, which I view as essential,” he said.

Hal Donohue, a retired entrepreneur who moved to Great Falls, Virginia from Scranton, Pennsylvania said he will vote for Wexton because he believes “Trump needs heavy oversight.”

“Comstock has been little more than a rubber stamp,” he told Courthouse News in a phone interview.

Regardless of who wins, Donohue said, “We have to make Congress function. I think there’s an opportunity regardless of who gets control of the House but the makeup of it should change enough that there will be an assured opportunity for moderates – and the people who have proven they can work together – to have some effect.”

“Wexton is really middle of the road, but she talks nice. Don’t know if she’ll always vote that way,” he said.

In this race, he added, it’s better not to “count your eggs before they hatch.”

Henry Mullins, a human resources administrator from Arlington said he didn’t like Wexton but believed Comstock was by far a worse pick.

“The incumbent administration and legislative majority’s conduct has relied on infringing constitutional rights in order to guarantee success [through voter purges, redistricting and gerrymandering],” Mullins said. “I don’t believe any Republican or Democrat will keep my best interests at heart but I do believe that I can hold a Democrat accountable through pressure and using my voice.”

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