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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

October 14, 2018

Better Know a Congressional Race: VA’s Fightin’ 10th

Elections / Midterm / National

Virginia Congressional District 10

Despite the fact that her district broke for Hillary Clinton by 13 points in 2016, Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock won her own re-election campaign by more than 5 points, demonstrating some cross-over appeal. Despite seeing her district carried by Democrat Ralph Northam by 9 points in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Comstock decided to run for reelection in a tough electoral environment for Republicans in the 2018 midterms.

Barbara Comstock has held the congressional seat for Virginia’s 10th district since 2015 and served in the Virginia House of Delegates before her congressional term. During her time in Congress, Comstock has focused on tax cuts, supporting law enforcement, and cracking down on MS-13 gang violence.

Comstock’s Democratic challenger, Jennifer Wexton, was elected to the Virginia state Senate in 2014 after winning a special election to replace Mark Herring once he became Attorney General. Wexton was re-elected in 2015 by a 13 point margin and more than 56% of the vote. Before serving in the Virginia Senate, Wexton worked as a prosecutor in the public and private sectors.

In late September, the candidates faced off in the first debate of the season. Wexton tied Comstock to President Trump who is deeply unpopular in the 10th district. Wexton called the GOP tax plan the “Comstock-Trump tax scam,” stating that it was unfair to the middle class. Comstock responded to this claim by stating, “these are results to celebrate and embrace, not resist…now we need to make sure we expand on those tax cuts.”

Comstock argued that Wexton is “too liberal,” and the race should focus on the economy over other issues. The healthcare issue proved to be a hot topic for the candidates during the first debate. Wexton pointed out that she supports the Affordable Care Act and the recent expansion of Medicaid under Virginia law while Comstock promotes a “piece-by-piece, change and reform system”. Furthermore, Comstock deftly avoided the topic of the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, which she voted against during the GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare last year. Wexton voiced her concern that Comstock has changed her mind on several key pieces of legislation, including Obamacare. However, Comstock responded by stating, “my record is one of getting results on your priorities…results, not resistance.”

According to FiveThirtyEight, President Trump’s approval rating in Virginia dropped 14 points from January 2017 to May of 2018, which is expected to make an impact on Comstock’s chances of re-election. According to a Monmouth University poll, 34% of Virginia voters say that Comstock has been too supportive of Trump while 17% say she has not been supportive enough. However, there is a significant gender gap with 43% of women stating that Comstock has been too supportive while only 24% of men say the same. FiveThirtyEight has created a “Trump Scorecard,” which tracks how closely each member of Congress aligns with the president’s policy positions. Comstock has a “Trump Score” of 97.8%, meaning Comstock has voted in line with Trump’s positions almost 98% of the time.

The Wexton campaign has capitalized on Comstock’s high “Trump Score”. Wexton ran a negative ad calling her challenger “Barbara Trumpstock” and criticized her position on healthcare. The ad narrated how President Trump is against the expansion of Medicare in Virginia and the protection of pre-existing conditions, predicting that Comstock would support these positions because she has supported Trump 98% of the time. Comstock’s campaign manager, Susan Falconer, responded to the ad by stating that “Barbara has been an independent voice who voted against the Obamacare repeal last year because of her commitment to protect those with preexisting conditions.”

Wexton has received endorsements from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Mark Warner, and the Washington Post. On October 1, former President Barack Obama announced his endorsement for Wexton as well as two other Virginia Democrats vying for a congressional win. President Trump has endorsed numerous Republicans running for Congress in the midterm elections; however, Comstock has not received an endorsement from President Trump. President Trump and Rep. Comstock have a far-from-friendly relationship. In 2016, Comstock called upon Trump to drop out of the race after hearing Trump’s comments about women. Furthermore, she was outspoken about her criticism towards Roy Moore during the Alabama Senate race, even though President Trump publicly endorsed Moore. In 2017, Comstock was the only Republican “no” vote for the repeal of ObamaCare, one of Trump’s largest policy agenda goals. Most recently, President Trump announced that if Congress did not vote in support of legislation that would crack down on illegal immigration, he would advocate for a government shutdown. Comstock countered President Trump’s statement by stating, “we don’t need a government shutdown on this.” According to the Washington Post, Comstock characterized the conversation as “polite” but others have characterized it as “an extraordinary public scolding of a sitting U.S. President.” It is unlikely that President Trump will endorse Comstock, and it is even less likely that the Comstock campaign would want his endorsement as she is working hard to distance herself from the president.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Comstock has raised $3,818,909 while Wexton has only raised $1,934,197. Although campaign fundraising has often been an indicator to who will in an election, the “Blue Wave” is likely to hit VA-10 regardless of campaign finance. According to the most recent survey data from the Wason Center, Wexton leads Comstock 51% to 44% among voters who have voted in at least two of the four last elections in Virginia or are new voters. However, Wexton leads Comstock 53% to 42% among voters who have stated they will definitely vote and are very enthusiastic about the upcoming election. 63% of voters surveyed stated that they are “very enthusiastic” about the upcoming election whereas only 27% say they are “somewhat enthusiastic” and only 10% say they are “not enthusiastic”. This “enthusiasm gap is an issue for the Comstock campaign because it suggests a Virginia electorate that resembles last year’s Blue wave electorate.

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