Even before the race for president began more than a year ago, Loudoun County was targeted by strategists in both parties as a must-win locality in the push to win Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. Last month, polls showed that Republican nominee Donald Trump gaining ground on Democrat Hillary Clinton, but the gap has widened in recent weeks and the campaign was dealt two blows on Friday.
First was the surfacing of a 2005 recording of Trump making crude sexual remarks about women. That was quickly followed by region’s top elected Republican, 10th District Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, calling for the business mogul to drop out of the race.
During her re-election campaign, Comstock had avoided commenting about whether she supported Trump, with her staff referring questions about the candidate to a Washington Post article from May in which she said “Donald Trump needs to earn the votes of me and many others” and that she would be “watching.”
“This is disgusting, vile, and disqualifying,” Comstock said in a statement Friday, hours after the voters heard recorded Trump comments. “No woman should ever be subjected to this type of obscene behavior and it is unbecoming of anybody seeking high office. In light of these comments, Donald Trump should step aside and allow our party to replace him with Mike Pence or another appropriate nominee from the Republican Party. I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump and I would never vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Comstock’s opponent, LuAnn Bennett, used similar language in a statement after the video was made public, released prior to Comstock’s statement. “Trump’s actions are vile and disgusting. These latest revelations are shocking, but they are sadly not surprising,” Bennett stated. “Donald Trump has demeaned women since before he ran for public office, and the Republican Party, with a few exceptions, have stood with him and enabled him every step of the way.”
Although Comstock had previously declined to take a stance on Trump, Bennett’s campaign has tried throughout the campaign to tie Comstock to the GOP presidential nominee, most recently this week at a debate hosted by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. See story, Page 20.
And Democrats are trying to keep the Trump hot potato in her hands.
“It’s one of those things that, you know, I wish Barbara Comstock had done earlier,” said Leesburg councilman and Loudoun County Democratic Committee Chairman Fernando “Marty” Martinez. “I think what she was trying to do was ride the fence and hope she didn’t have to endorse Trump.”
Polling data showed that Trump had moved within striking distance of Clinton in Virginia just a month ago. Real Clear Politics, which aggregates results from numerous polls, found that Clinton’s lead over Trump in Virginia narrowed from 13 points in April to just 3.5 in mid-September. But Trump’s numbers have been in a freefall since the first presidential debate. On Tuesday, RCP gave Clinton a 9-point statewide advantage.
If Trump loses Loudoun County, which makes up the majority of Comstock’s 10th District, he’ll have a hard time winning Northern Virginia—and without Northern Virginia, Trump will have a hard time winning the crucial swing state. Voters in Loudoun County have reflected the statewide results in each presidential campaign going back to the 1960s, with the majority backing Democrats only in 1964, 2008 and 2012.
The polls show incumbent Comstock maintaining a slight lead over Bennett, but RCP describes the district, represented by Republicans since 1980, as only a “weak hold” for the GOP. Comstock defeated her Democratic opponent by 16 percentage points two years ago. Polls show this year’s race may be the tightest 10th District House contest since Republican Frank Wolf won his first term by fewer than 5,000 votes, 2.2 percent.
Martinez said Trump makes him feel sorry for Republicans “who are positive, good people, who are looking for solutions and are looking for somebody who can carry their message, and unfortunately the candidate that they have now is not doing that very well and has let them down.”
But Loudoun County Republican Committee Communications Chairman Tom Toth III said the split between Comstock and Trump doesn’t sink the 10th District for Trump. He said the Loudoun Republicans are “extremely excited to endorse, support, and work for both Barbara Comstock and Donald Trump” and that Trump still faces a close race in the 10th.
“We are excited to be working for both of them, and we absolutely in no way think that Donald Trump’s chances in the 10th are mitigated because of any major factors in the last few weeks,” Toth said.
And Martinez doesn’t think a flagging Trump campaign equates to a free pass for Democrats farther down the ballot—such as in the upcoming Leesburg Town Council election.
“You can talk down-ballots, you can talk polls, but the bottom line is that if you’re going to sit there and ride on the backs of those, you’re going to lose,” Martinez said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m telling our candidates: you don’t assume anything, you work your butt off, get yourself out there, get your name known, get your face known, and talk about the issues.”
Toth said even without a Trump victory, Republican candidates can win locally.
“I think [mayoral candidate] Kevin Wright and [town council candidate] Ken Reid [for example], in your strict hypothetical, could win under any circumstances,” Toth said. “I think if they were the only two Republicans to win, they could win, because they are members of our community who contribute to our community in ways that go far above and beyond party politics.”
And he acknowledged that other candidates have a hard-working party machine behind them too. He said the Republican committee will be working hard to make sure voters who support Republican candidates are able and excited to make it to the polls, and that Republican candidates have the support they need.
“We are making sure that they have the foundation, and they have a committee that is working harder for them than any other party-endorsed candidates have working against them,” Toth said.