Presidential race affecting 10th District

TYSONS CORNER – The debate between U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock and Democrat LuAnn Bennett on Wednesday was held amid signs of a tightening race that began with Comstock as a modest favorite.

Republican Donald Trump’s deteriorating standing in the presidential polls has cast a long shadow over Comstock’s effort to win a second term after she replaced retired Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf in 2014.

Bennett has taunted Comstock throughout the campaign for refusing to say whether she would vote for Trump, whose blowtorch rhetoric and derogatory remarks about women, immigrants, Muslims and various individuals have brought widespread condemnation from Democrats and Republicans.

Comstock recently uncorked scathing criticism of Trump and said she would not vote for him, comments delivered in the midst of an uproar resulting from taped comments he made boasting about forcing himself sexually on unwilling women.

Charles Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, two prominent political analysts who run businesses devoted to handicapping congressional races, moved the 10th District this week from tilting toward Comstock to a toss-up or near toss-up.

Little polling has been done so far, but Bennett’s campaign has released its own results showing her with a 4-point lead after trailing slightly in late September.

Mark J. Rozell, the dean of the Schar School of Public Policy and Government at George Mason University, said in an interview after Wednesday’s debate that the outcome of the campaign in the 10th District has been thrown into doubt by Trump’s sinking poll numbers in Virginia.

At some point, Rozell said, even a generally well-liked incumbent risks being swamped when the nominee at the head of the ticket loses a congressional district by a large margin.

Comstock is caught in a pincers movement between ardent Trump supporters in her own party demanding loyalty to their candidate and a broader electorate in the 10th District that in past elections has shown a preference for more moderate candidates and sometimes voted Democratic in statewide races.

Rozell said Comstock will be in trouble if Democrat Hillary Clinton beats Trump by more than 10 percent in Virginia, a margin that would likely be quite a bit higher in the 10th.

A recent poll from Christopher Newport University in Newport News showed Clinton with a 15-point lead in Virginia.

Rozell said numbers like those show why Comstock had ample reason to disavow Trump, despite the potential backlash from his supporters.

“It’s a lose-lose situation for her, so she took the lesser of the two losses,” Rozell said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com.