- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rep. Barbara Comstock romped to an easy election in 2014, but the freshman Republican is having a much tougher time in her Northern Virginia district this year, in what analysts say is clear evidence of the Trump effect on down-ballot races.

Republicans say Democrats are being overly optimistic, predicting the long-red district will stay in GOP hands. But political handicappers are calling the race a pure tossup, and Democrats say Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has turned off wealthier, white suburbanites, along with Hispanics and Asian-Americans who populate the region.

“VA-10 probably is a pure tossup, almost entirely because of Trump,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of “Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” a political forecasting newsletter. “The district is highly educated and affluent, and Trump is unpopular there. Clinton will win the district, and probably not just by a point or two.”

Ms. Comstock has tried to distance herself from Mr. Trump in recent weeks, calling for him to quit the race after a 2005 tape was released in which the GOP nominee was caught on a hot mic bragging about leveraging his celebrity status to force himself onto women.

A survey from a Democratic pollster released earlier this month showed LuAnn Bennett, Ms. Comstock’s Democratic challenger — and who owns a D.C. real estate company — holding a 4-percentage-point lead. In September, it was Ms. Comstock who led by 4 points.

In her short time on Capitol Hill, Ms. Comstock has quickly emerged as a rising GOP star, securing a subcommittee chairmanship on the House Science Committee in her first term. Before that she served as a congressional staffer and a member of the Virginia state House.

“You know me,” she told the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce at a debate this month. “My opponent has had little involvement in the Virginia business community or the issues driving our diverse innovation economy.”

Republicans are counting on those ties to win the race.

“I’m confident that Barbara Comstock is headed back to Congress,” said John Whitbeck, who chairs the Republican Party of Virginia. “She has a great record of public service to the 10th District. People in her district know there’s no better advocate for them on Capitol Hill.”

Democrats, however, say in a presidential election year with higher turnout and anger at Mr. Trump, Ms. Bennett will defeat Ms. Comstock.

“My opponent just recently said she can no longer support the candidate Donald Trump,” Ms. Bennett said at the debate. “Unfortunately, she continues to support his agenda.”

Elsewhere in Virginia, Democrats are expected to pick up a seat after the 4th Congressional District was redrawn by a judge’s order. Democratic state Sen. A. Donald McEachin is expected to win that race.

Two Republican incumbents are retiring, but both of their seats are expected to stay in GOP hands. The closer of the two races is for Virginia’s 5th district, which stretches from the state’s southern border all the way up to the outer Washington, D.C. suburbs.

There are no competitive races in Maryland, where Democrats are expected to maintain their 7-1 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation. Longtime Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is retiring, but Rep. Chris Van Hollen is poised to keep Ms. Mikulski’s seat in the Democratic column.

Democratic state Sen. Jamie Raskin is expected to win the race to replace Mr. Van Hollen in the House, while former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is expected to win the 4th district seat held by Rep. Donna F. Edwards. She lost to Mr. Van Hollen in the Senate primary.

The race for Mr. Van Hollen’s old House seat is the most expensive in the country this year, topping $20 million spent, thanks to the rough-and-tumble primary.

The Comstock-Bennett race is far cheaper than that.

Ms. Comstock had raised more than $4.3 million for her campaign as of Oct. 20, and had about $910,000 on hand. Ms. Bennett had raised about $2.1 million and had just shy of $83,000 on hand at the end of the same period.

Outside groups have also combined to spend a total of more than $8.3 million on the race, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, with conservative groups slightly outspending liberal ones.

“There’s a ton of money pouring into the district on both sides,” Mr. Kondik said. “Looming over all of this is the fact that suburban districts like VA-10 are vital to any future Democratic House majority. So this is a district Democrats need to win and keep to make the House math work nationally.”

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