It wasn’t long ago that the 10th Congressional District was considered a practical shoo-in for Republicans, with Frank Wolf handedly outpacing opponents for most of his 34 years in office.
But this year is different.
The incumbent is freshman Republican Barbara Comstock, and the challenger, LuAnn Bennett, has gotten the help of national committees who see this year as their best chance to bring the district into the blue for the first time since 1980.
Two years ago, nonpartisan polling aggregate RealClearPolitics described the race against Comstock and her then-opponent Democrat John Foust as a toss up. This year, they called the district, represented by Republicans since 1980, the only “weak hold” for the GOP.
The 10th Congressional District includes all of Loudoun County and stretches from McLean to the east to Winchester to the west.
LuAnn Bennett is the political newcomer in the race for the 10th District—a badge she wears with pride.
Bennett likes to point out her experience as a business owner, the president and owner of Bennett Group, a business she started with her late husband Richard Bennett in 1980. Bennett was born in Highland, IL, and moved with her husband to Great Falls. After her husband’s death of leukemia in 1994, Bennett stepped in as president of the firm.
She was also an appointee of then-Governor Tim Kaine to Virginia’s Climate Change Commission and currently serves on the boards of The Virginia Health Care Foundation, the Charity Works Advisory Board and the National Children’s Museum. She was married to former Congressman Jim Moran from 2004 to 2010, during which time he represented the neighboring 8th District.
Bennett said her business experience sets her apart from Comstock, whose made her career in politics, and prepares her for work in a divided Congress.
“Right now, what I believe that Congress needs is people who have spent their life solving problems, who have spent their life making compromises,” Bennett said. “You know, compromise isn’t a bad word. I’ve negotiated many, many business deals in which you understand that you don’t get 100 percent of what you want, but you work together to move the ball forward.”
Her campaign has tried to link Comstock to Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. Although Comstock has disavowed Trump and called for him to drop out of the race, Bennett’s campaign claims Comstock’s policies closely mirror Trump’s views. She dismisses Comstock’s experience.
“This Congress has worked less than half the working days available to it,” Bennett said. “It has passed only about 20 consequential laws in this Congress, so it’s really got nothing done, so I don’t know why that should be an advantage to be part of a Congress that gets nothing done.”
Bennett’s campaign declined to answer allegations from the Comstock campaign that she only moved to the 10th District shortly before declaring her candidacy, and that she is has been a DC resident since purchasing a condo in The Ritz-Carlton Residences in DC’s West End. In December 2015, Bennett began renting a home in McLean, shortly before declaring her candidacy that same month.
Bennett’s campaign has previously said her primary residence is her farm in Delaplane, and that she keeps the DC condo to rent out.
Update: The Bennett campaign has responded to the Comstock campaign’s allegations that Bennett has been a DC resident, comparing those allegations to the “birther” controversy around President Barack Obama.
“LuAnn has lived in Northern Virginia uninterrupted since she moved here with her late-husband 35 years ago,” wrote Bennett spokesman Robert Howard in a statement. “She pays her taxes here, she raised her children here and this is where her home is and has been. Period.”
Bennett says transportation is one of the big topics on everyone’s mind in the 10th District. She sees a lot of opportunity to break up gridlock on the district’s roads—from telework, to Metro, to Dulles Airport, to mixed-use communities getting people off the commute and working closer to home.
“We need to get people off the roads and back into their homes,” Bennett said. “It’ll impact the economy. There’s a real cost, a loss of productivity, increased fuel costs—it’s not great for the economy or quality of life for our families.” She also pointed out the environmental damage of hundreds of thousands of cars driving into and out of DC every day.
“We have to find alternative ways of commuting,” Bennett said. “We have to look at bus services, bike trails, road improvements. … There’s not one solution that’s going to solve all of our problems, but we need to be able to fund these solutions.”
That’s why Bennett says she supports the creation of a federal infrastructure funding authority.
“I think across the county we clearly have problems in infrastructure,” Bennett said. “Metro is a perfect example of our issue here locally, but we need revenue sources in order to fix our Metro system, so I will fight for an infrastructure funding source from day one. I will get the federal government to set up and play a role in funding Metro properly.”
She said she wants the federal government to contribute both capital and infrastructure money to Metro. Currently, it only contributes capital money.
Bennett also supports international trade deals to help boost business at Dulles Airport.
Working Across the Aisle
Bennett said things will be different after the election, when she expects Democrats to take many more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, although not the majority.
“That’s going to change the face of Congress,” Bennett said. “No one thinks that we’re going to have the same proportion of Republicans and Democrats in Congress after November 8.”
She said things will change after Democrats get “more of a critical mass,” but that she is willing to work across the aisle, starting with meeting with every representative individually to start a relationship—including everyone in a divided Republican party.
“I have a belief that we’re all more the same than we’re different, and I think we have to listen to one another, which we don’t do very often,” Bennett said. “But it’s more important that we have to hear one another. We have to hear the challenges that they face back home.”
She also decried gerrymandering that has made it difficult for Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives, calling it “one of the greatest dangers to our democracy right now.”
“I think the Republican Party, after this election cycle, should embrace independent redistricting,” Bennett said.
Barbara Comstock is considered the political veteran in the race for the 10th Congressional District.
That’s a factor that her opponent has used to characterize her as a Washington insider, but a point the incumbent has said is an asset to her constituents.
Comstock worked as an aide in Congressman Frank Wolf’s office for five years, and later as chief investigative counsel and senior counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform. She represented the 34th District in the Virginia House of Delegates from early 2010 to late 2014. That year, she beat Democrat John Foust by 16 points, stepping in as the successor to Wolf, upon his retirement after 32 years in the seat.
Comstock said her years of experience in politics has helped her to build relationships with area elected officials, entrepreneurs, police chiefs and sheriffs and other community leaders.
“I’ve been immersed in this district,” she said. “I am the only one in this race who has experience [in] getting things done on a bipartisan basis.”
She accused her opponent, Democrat LuAnn Bennett, of spending more time in Washington, DC, than in Virginia’s 10th District. “Someone who comes from DC is not someone who’s working with a lot of Republicans. I’ve actually practiced what she’s preaching.”
Who Comstock will be backing for president on Election Day has been the topic grabbing headlines and air time on debate stages, but the congresswoman said that’s not what constituents are talking to her about. As she’s knocked on doors throughout the district, residents repeatedly bring up Northern Virginia’s congested roadways.
It takes all parties working together to improve the district’s transportation infrastructure, she said. She touted the five-year $305 billion transportation bill that Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law in December 2015. Now, she’s talking with county supervisors and state officials about where this region’s share of the funds should go. “So that we can work with them to get the best bang for our buck,” she said.
She also wants to free up opportunities for technology companies to come up with transportation solutions, such as driverless cars and high-tech tools to track maintenance issues on Metro.
She pointed to mending Metro’s service and safety record as a major factor in curing the region’s transportation woes. She said she’s so far impressed with new Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and his stated goal to create “a culture of safety.”
“We’ve asked him ‘what resources do you need,’ and he said we have too many staff in the back office, not enough staff on the front lines,” she said, noting that the contract Metro has with its union workers is “a big problem” because it prohibits any work from being outsourced to private companies.
The day-to-day maintenance fixes, such as downed escalators, would cost less if done by a private company, she said. “We need to add a little competition there and get back to having an on-time system,” she said. “And make sure, as Metro comes to Loudoun, that we have a system that’s really working right.”
Fixing Gridlock in Congress
This year’s presidential battle has played more of a role in the 10th Congressional District race than any in recent history. Bennett’s campaign has worked to tie Comstock to Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, repeatedly accusing her of standing with the controversial candidate.
After a 2005 tape of Trump making lewd comments about grabbing women was made public Oct. 7, Comstock publically distanced herself from him. She released a statement saying she could not in good conscience vote for Trump and she “would never vote for Hillary Clinton.”
This week, she said she plans to write in a Republican on Nov. 8, but she would not say whom.
“I’m my own woman and I have my own record,” she said. “I’m the only one in this race who has already demonstrated that I will stand up to a candidate, to my party, to do what’s best for my district.”
She predicted that Bennett would be a “rubber stamp” for Clinton. “Clinton has said she needs a Congress that works for her. I think a congressperson should work for the 10th district,” Comstock said.
Asked what it will take to relieve the gridlock in Congress after the hard-fought presidential election that proved to be divisive not only across party lines but especially for Republicans—Comstock said “a change in focus.” The key is for elected officials to turn their attention to solving “common ground” issues, such as national security, jobs and the economy, and health care.
“When you organize around issues and bring people together around good commonsense ideas, you tend to attract Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “You’re better off finding points you can agree on and starting there.”