Comstock

VA-10: Comstock Moves From Toss up to Lean Democratic

Two-term GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock (VA-10) is a tough, resilient campaigner who has persevered as the prosperous Northern Virginia suburbs have zoomed away from her party in the Trump era. In 2016, she won reelection by six points while Hillary Clinton carried the seat 52 percent to 42 percent. But in the current political environment, Comstock is the single most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the House.

Last Tuesday, Democratic strategists got what they wanted when state Sen. Jennifer Wexton comfortably won her primary, taking 42 percent to former State Department official Alison Friedman's 23 percent. Wexton, a former domestic violence prosecutor, is a proven vote-getter in Loudoun County, home to nearly half the 10th CD's residents (in 2016, Comstock was able to portray her opponent as a wealthy DC carpetbagger).

Meanwhile in the GOP primary, Comstock took an underwhelming 61 percent against conservative veteran and self-described inspirational speaker Shak Hill, who raised $245,000 and attacked Comstock for calling on Trump to step aside as the GOP nominee in fall 2016. Hill narrowly beat Comstock in the Shenandoah Valley, indicating weak enthusiasm for Comstock in the most conservative region of the 10th CD. 

Moreover, Prince William County Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, an incendiary anti-immigration and pro-Confederate monuments activist, narrowly won the GOP nomination to face Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, 45 percent to 43 percent. Stewart's nomination could alienate independents, depress Republican interest in the Senate race and allow Kaine to run up the score in the 10th CD, compounding Comstock's challenge. 

It's difficult to overstate how rapidly the fast-growing 10th CD's politics have shifted. It's the most college-educated GOP-held district in the country, and 37 percent of its residents are non-white. In 2011, Republicans drew it to elect one of their own. But in 2017 Democrat Ralph Northam annihilated Ed Gillespie 56 percent to 43 percent in the 10th CD. Down-ballot, the "blue wave" swept out six overlapping incumbent GOP state delegates.

Comstock had $1.6 million in the bank in late May. With her primary in the past, Comstock will highlight her differences with Trump, including voting against the GOP's healthcare bill last spring. But she'll need to find ways to disqualify Wexton to survive. 

Wexton, a Leesburg resident who grew up in Maryland, carries some important advantages into the general. First, she already represents about a quarter of the 10th CD. Second, whereas 2016 nominee LuAnn Bennett lived in extravagant McLean and was easily caricatured as a wealthy DC liberal insider, Wexton can campaign as a family advocate and political pragmatist who recently voted to pass a bipartisan bill to expand Medicaid in Richmond.

But Wexton is also somewhat untested at this level. She isn't known as the most natural or polished retail politician, and may not have dominated the primary without valuable nods from Gov. Northam and the Washington Post. Republicans point to her intro ad, which featured campaign workers dressed up in rented police uniforms, as disrespectful to law enforcement and evidence Wexton's campaign isn't ready for prime time. 

This race is far from over. But several Republicans privately express doubts about spending millions on expensive DC television trying to save this seat when there are far cheaper routes to holding the majority. It moves from Toss Up to the Lean Democratic column.