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Barbara Comstock House campaign difficulties in Virginia mirror Republicans

November 20, 2018

Rep. Barbara Comstock has done seemingly everything an endangered Republican House member can do to win in 2018, whether it’s raising millions of dollars for her re-election campaign or standing up to President Trump to endear herself to her Northern Virginia constituents.

It still might not be enough.

Election forecasters are already penciling in a loss for Ms. Comstock in her race against Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Wexton in Virginia’s 10th congressional district, a sign of the stiff political headwinds that suburban-area Republicans across the country are feeling.

Ms. Comstock, a lawyer and former top Capitol Hill staffer, says she’s been counted out before, and that she’ll continue to fight for every vote through Election Day.

“I don’t think the pundits, or certainly not the Democrats, have ever predicted I would win any of my seven races in nine years, so we are doing what we always do, which is we’re out in the district around the clock and talking to everybody,” she said.

She acknowledges the race is close, but said she’s running strong against Ms. Wexton in her campaign’s internal polling. In her previous races, she says, she’s never underperformed her internal numbers.

Ms. Comstock said that Ms. Wexton would be the “most left-wing person” to ever represent the 10th District, which includes wealthy D.C.-area suburbs like McLean as well as vast rural areas closer to the West Virginia border.

GOP Rep. Frank Wolf held the seat for more than two decades before Ms. Comstock, a former state delegate and Wolf staffer, was first elected in 2014.

Conventional wisdom says Ms. Comstock’s seat will be a casualty of Mr. Trump, with suburban voters recoiling from the over-the-top persona and constant clashes that have characterized this White House.

Yet Ms. Comstock says House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is actually even less popular than Mr. Trump in her district and said that reflects on Ms. Wexton.

“She is a follower of the resistance, of Nancy Pelosi,” Ms. Comstock said. “If this seat goes, Nancy Pelosi very well [could] be speaker.”

In a cycle where GOP officials have harangued many of their incumbents for getting out-raised by their Democratic opponents, Ms. Comstock has raised more than $5.8 million for her re-election to Ms. Wexton’s $5.4 million.

Outside groups have also poured millions more into the race, with about an equal amount being spent to boost each candidate.

Ms. Comstock said that she’s built relationships with the Northern Virginia business and technology communities, and says she’s an important bridge to the GOP.

“Without a Republican voice when we have a Republican administration, you would have nobody who would really be able to go fight for and make the case the way I’ve been able to do,” she said.

She says she’s been able to back Mr. Trump on some issues such as tax cuts and increased military spending, but says she warned Mr. Trump to his face against shutting down the government, which would be harmful in a district home to many federal employees.

Ms. Wexton’s campaign, meanwhile, says voters will punish Ms. Comstock for those times she did back the president.

“Jennifer Wexton will be a truly independent voice for Virginia’s 10th District in Congress, who will fight for their priorities rather than voting with Donald Trump and the Republican Party line nearly every time, as Comstock has done,” said campaign spokesman Aaron Fritschner.

Ms. Comstock has had to straddle a line, showing some resistance to Mr. Trump while also maintaining enough of her conservative credentials to defeat a primary challenge from the right.

Rick Buchanan, who heads the Virginia Tea Party, said Ms. Comstock’s done enough to hold the right.

“I’m praying that Comstock pulls this through,” he said. “I don’t agree with her all the time, but I got to say, she is one hard worker. She knows how to run a campaign, and nobody beats her work ethic, I can tell you that.”

The 10th District is one of four GOP-held seats in Virginia that Democrats think they have a realistic shot at winning, and election forecasters say the other three are essentially up for grabs. Republicans currently have a 7-to-4 edge in the House delegation, while Democrats hold the state’s two Senate seats and the governorship. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine is heavily favored to win another term Tuesday over Republican challenger Corey Stewart of Prince William County.

In the 7th district, GOP Rep. Dave Brat is trying to fend off a stiff challenge from Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA agent, in his quest for a third term in Congress.

In the 5th district, Republican Denver Riggleman, a distillery owner, and Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a onetime investigative journalist, are battling to replace the retiring GOP Rep. Tom Garrett.

And in the 2nd district, GOP Rep. Scott Taylor is trying to hold off Democrat Elaine Luria, a Naval Academy graduate and small businesswoman.

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