Polling In Bellwether Virginia Congressional District Bodes Ill For Republicans
New polling in a bellwether Congressional District in Northern Virginia appears to signal bad news ahead for the GOP.
A new poll in a bellwether Northern Virginia Congressional District appears to show bad signs for Republicans heading into the final three weeks of the midterm election:
President Trump’s unpopularity fuels a clear lead for Democrat Jennifer T. Wexton over Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), putting a prized Northern Virginia district within reach for Democrats for the first time in almost four decades, a new Washington Post-Schar School poll finds.
A month before the midterm election, Wexton, a state senator and former prosecutor, is ahead by 12 points, 55 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters.
In the survey, likely voters say the president is the most important factor influencing their choice for Congress, more so even than the strong economy, which would boost the party in power in a typical election year.
Instead, Trump’s approval rating is weaker in the 10th District, 35 percent, than in a parallel survey of competitive House districts across the nation, which finds 43 percent approve of the president.
In Virginia’s 10th District, 87 percent of voters who disapprove of Trump support Wexton, while 98 percent of those who approve of the president support Comstock.
While Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” may rally voters elsewhere in the country, it has the opposite effect in the 10th District, where about 3 in 10 likely voters are or live in households with federal government employees or contractors.
Wexton has the edge among these voters, with 61 percent supporting her, while 37 percent support Comstock.
“The data make it clear this election so much is about the president, and that’s a big challenge for Comstock in running for reelection,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
The Post-Schar School poll was conducted by sending mailed invitations to randomly selected registered voters in Virginia’s 10th District identified through official voter records. Respondents had the option of completing the self-administered survey by computer, mobile device or phone. The margin of sampling error among 866 likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll was conducted from Sept. 19 through Oct. 5, mostly before Comstock’s Republican colleagues credited her last week with pushing their leadership to raise federal wages, in defiance of Trump.
Wexton’s advantage in the Post-Schar School survey is at least slightly larger than in two other surveys conducted in the past month. A Monmouth University poll conducted Sept. 26-30 found Wexton with a six-point advantage, within the margin of error, while the Democrat held a seven-point advantage in a Christopher Newport University survey Sept. 23-Oct. 2.
The 10th District includes all of Loudoun County and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, as well as all of Clarke and Frederick counties and the city of Winchester to the west.
The data shows that self-described independent voters favor Wexton by a 24-point margin, 60 percent to 36 percent, while each candidate receives support from at least 90 percent of likely voters from her own party.
Mirroring other polling that we’ve seen from other parts of the country, respondents to this poll seem to be focusing on issues that tend to favor Democrats at the ballot box. For example, the top issue that respondents said was most important to their decision regarding who they would vote for is the President himself, with 35% of respondents saying that the President himself is the primary motivating factor. Considering the fact that the poll also found that the President’s job approval is worse among voters in the 10th District than it is in either Virginia as a whole or nationwide, this is obviously not good news for Comstock. After Trump, the top issues mentioned are the economy (19%), judicial nominations (13%), immigration, (10%), health care (10%), gun violence (6%), and the Mueller investigation (6%). Additionally, the poll finds that 64% of the likely voters in the district favoring stricter gun-control laws. Favoring Comstock is the fact that 84% of respondents say both the economy and their family’s financial situation is “good” or “excellent,” which isn’t surprising considering that Northern Virginia is among the most prosperous in the Commonwealth. All of this adds up to a difficult road ahead for Comstock, and potentially for other Members of Congress from Virginia.
The 10th District race is significant because it is the only district in the population heavy area of Northern Virginia currently held by a Republican, something that has been the case since Frank Wolf was first elected in the district in 1980. While the lines of the district have changed several times since then, at this point the 10th Congressional District consists of Loudoun County and parts of Prince William County and also extends west to parts of Clarke County and a few of the more rural parts of the state near the borders with West Virginia and Maryland. Because of population, though, it is largely the voters in Loudoun and Prince William that have the loudest voice in the district and the fact that a Republican has been able to hold on to the district for so long, even while the Northern Virginia area generally becomes more inclined to support Democrats, is something that has stood out. In no small part, the reason for this is the fact that Comstock, like Wolf before her, is in many respects a more moderate Republican than other Republican members of the Virginia Congressional delegation. The fact that she appears to be endangered now is a sign of just how much of a danger the President is to Republicans in suburban districts not only in Virginia but around the country.
In addition to Trump, Comstock’s race also appears to be being negatively impacted by the presence at the top of the ticket of Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee for Senate who has been a source of controversy ever since he started openly courting the so-called ‘alt-right’ during his bid for the GOP nomination for Governor last year. When we last looked at that race, Stewart was badly trailing incumbent Senator Tim Kaine, who currently has a +18.5 edge in the RealClearPolitics Average. The combined down-ballot impact of Trump and Stewart isn’t just posing a problem for Comstock. Other potentially vulnerable Members of Congress in the Commonwealth of Virginia include Scott Taylor, who has represented the Second Congressional District since being elected in 2016 and now finds himself under scrutiny related to efforts to get a third-party candidate on the ballot in his district, Dave Brat in the Seventh Congressional District, who famously defeated Eric Cantor back in 2014, Thomas Garrett in the Fifth Congressional District, and the open seat in the Sixth Congressional District created by the retirement of long-serving Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who currently serves as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. While it’s unlikely that the Virginia GOP will lose all of these seats, if Stewart’s presence on the ballot, combined with the Trump effect, makes them more vulnerable, then that is going to cause problems for the GOP in Virginia and nationwide.
That’s partly because, until recently, this piece of Northern VA was not “population heavy”. It was a mix of rural blue collar and rural wealth (in the form of horse country), with no cities and few big towns.
Since then, Loudoun has exurbized to a stunning degree — former pastures are covered with acre after acre of town homes and garden apartments, Leesburg is now a city, and the border with Fairfax County is fully urbanized. As a result, the demographic makeup of the district has changed drastically, just over the past 10 years. Even the demographics within the wealthy set are changing, with horses giving way to wineries and retired beltway executives.
Another aspect of this, in congressional terms, is that Corey Stewart is a controversial figure in local politics, and mid-term representatives are a locally influenced election. His Trump support and ‘alt-right’ interests are less of an impact, at least in conversations with local folks, than his making enemies of a lot of the local Republican groups in the area over local things in his day job – school board choices and support for certain developers. I’m not saying whether he’s right or wrong in anything he’s doing, but his choices have made enemies out of groups that normally do grass-roots organizing for local elections.
I am in Wittman’s District in NVA and we have a heavy population. His district is just carved out deeply rural enough southeast to keep him in Congress. That and turnout has saved his butt most midterms. I hope he loses as well