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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

January 16, 2018

Attention Turns Towards 2018 Congressional Midterms

Midterm / National / Elections

United States Capitol Building

With the 2018 congressional midterms just 10 months away the Wason Center will provide Virginia voters previews of the races to watch. First, some context is necessary. In the wake of the landslide victories of the statewide Democratic Party candidates and the surprising loss of 15 seats by House of Delegate Republicans, there is good reason to expect that Virginia will see some competitive House races this cycle. Over the coming weeks, we will be highlighting each competitive district as the cycle moves through the primary process which culminates on Tuesday, June 12th and into the general election which occurs on Tuesday, November 6th. We will also discuss the senate race in which incumbent Senator Tim Kaine will run to retain his seat.

Virginia’s 10th Congressional District is one of the most highly-anticipated races of the 2018 electoral season and is considered the biggest target for the Democrats not only in the state but in the nationIncumbent Republican Barbara Comstock  will attempt to defend her seat despite the fact that her district broke for Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 points in the 2016 election and for Ralph Northam by 12 points in 2017 (for a truly excellent visual that displays the 2017 results by congressional district head over and visit our good friends at the Virginia Access Project). The 10th has been in Republican control since 1980 after being represented by Frank Wolf for 34 years, followed by Comstock for the past two terms. Many experts anticipated that Comstock would choose to retire rather than face what will be an uphill battle for reelection given the rigors of running and the large amount of money she will need to raise to hold off her Democratic challenger. According to Open Secrets, Barbara Comstock has raised $618,000 so far this cycle.

Vulnerable incumbents invite quality challengers and an astounding 11 Democrats have tossed their hat in the ring hoping to gain their party’s nomination. A few candidates have managed to separate themselves from the pack thus far: Jennifer Wexton, Lindsey Davis Stover, Alison Friedman, and Dan Helmer. Friedman, a former Obama official who specialized in preventing human trafficking, has proven to be the most capable fundraiser of the Democratic candidates thus far, having raised over $700,000.  Wexton is a current Virginia state senator who is attempting to make the leap from the state legislature to the national legislature, and she already boasts the endorsements of key Virginia Democrats Gerry Connolly and Donald McEachin. Stover is another former Obama official from the Department of Veterans Affairs and is now a communications strategist. Both Wexton and Stover have produced nearly identical fundraising numbers, with the two raising $457,000 and $443,000 respectively. Lastly, Dan Helmer is an Army veteran who has kept up with the more politically-connected candidates in fundraising by raising $534,000 thus far, while also making waves with his marketing strategy.

Virginia’s 2nd District is another House race to keep an eye on in 2018. Another normally safe seat, the 2nd congressional district broke for Ralph Northam over Ed Gillespie by 4 points, and in doing so, put the district on the Democratic Party’s radar. Despite facing a primary challenge from a “Trump Republican” the incumbent, Scott Taylor, is expected to retain his party’s nomination and take on one of the 5 Democrats currently running in opposition of him. Although the 2nd has only gone Blue once since 2000 in a House election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) marked this district as one of the biggest targets for Democrats this year after it finished within 3 points in the 2016 Presidential election and considering this is Taylor’s first reelection bid.

The 2nd District is another example of eager Democrats battling for the opportunity to challenge a Republican incumbent. The field includes two frontrunners, Elaine Luria and Karen Mallard, both of whom are making their first runs for office but hope to harness backlash to President Trump to topple Taylor. Also running is Shaun Brown, who ran and lost against Scott Taylor in the 2016 cycle, although her candidacy has been marred by a federal indictment for fraud.  Garry Hubbard and David Nygaard are also running. All of the candidates must overcome huge current deficiencies in fundraising to Taylor in order to have any chance at flipping the seat. The Cook Political Report currently has this race marked as a “Likely Republican” win.

David Brat hopes to maintain Republican dominance in Virginia’s 7thcongressional district and retain his seat in the House of Representatives. Brat became well-known nationally after unseating then-Majority Party Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 Republican primary. A Republican has held this district every term since 1970, but there are concerns that Trump’s record unpopularity and Brat’s membership in the ideologically conservative House Freedom Caucus, combined with a potential “Blue Wave” could leave this Republican stronghold vulnerable.

After Eileen Bedell (a former Brat challenger) withdrew from contention for 2018, two Democrats have emerged as the frontrunners in the Democratic primary: Dan Ward and Abigail Spanberger. Ward is a Marine veteran of 25 years, and he worked in the Obama administration on defense efforts for Syria and Ukraine. Spanberger is a former federal narcotics officer and a CIA Operations Officer. Both are new to politics and will need to adapt quickly in order to compete for Brat’s office. As of the most recent reporting, Ward and Spanberger are virtually equal in fundraising at $263,000 and $243,000 respectively, but both trail Brat’s cash-on-hand numbers by a substantial margin. In order for either candidate to realistically challenge Brat’s seat, they will need to fundraise at a much more competitive rate than they currently are. Cook Political Report currently has Virginia’s 7th District as a “Likely Republican” win.

It is also possible that voters will see a competitive race in CD 1, where Republican incumbent Rob Wittman is facing a growing field of Democrats lining up to challenge him. The largely rural district broke for Ed Gillespie by 10 points and is not likely to flip to Democrats. However, if the potential “Blue Wave” turns into a “Blue Tsunami”, districts such as Wittman’s could be flipped.

Virginia will also have a senate race this cycle. Reeling from the size of Ed Gillespie’s loss to Ralph Northam in what Republicans had hoped would be a competitive race after 4 years of Democratic Party control of the governor’s mansion, few Republicans have tossed their hat into the ring to challenge incumbent senator and former Democratic Party vice presidential party nominee Tim Kaine. Declared candidates include Corey Stewart, who narrowly lost the Republican nomination to Gillespie in last year’s gubernatorial race, Nick Freitas, a current delegate, and E.W. Jackson, a pastor who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2012 and for Lieutenant Governor in 2013.

With the Democrats utilizing a full-court press and the Republicans reeling in an effort to protect as many incumbent seats as possible, the 2018 electoral season is shaping up to be one of the more memorable cycles in recent history. Next week we will begin our series examining each competitive congressional race in detail, as well as the senate race, including interviews with candidates and incumbents. Stay tuned!

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