The race between U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10) and State Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-33) is viewed as one of the most heated contests in November’s mid-term Congressional elections. Recently, Loudoun Nowreporter Kara C. Rodriguez was given the opportunity by both campaigns to shadow each candidate for a day, to give readers an eye into what a day in the life of a Congressional candidate looks like. Election Day is Nov. 6.
Barbara Comstock is surrounded. She’ll spend much of this campaign Sunday thronged by supporters, some patiently and some not so patiently waiting in line for a turn to shake her hand, take a picture, share input or ask questions. Often there will be words of thanks, even hugs, for her years working for the 10thDistrict and her constituents.
Her apparent popularity at these events means the itinerary for the day, with its arrival and departure times listed for each stop, is more of a guideline than a fully executed plan. Each stop is made but with each constituent conversation not wanting to be cut short, arrival and departure times should be listed in pencil rather than pen—there are many hands to shake, pictures to take and, even, songs to dance to.
For Comstock, it’s another hard-fought race in her political career. Despite the national attention the race between her and challenger State Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33) is receiving, the incumbent is quick to point out, “I’ve never had an easy race.”
And she’s right. She won her first election, to the state House of Delegates, in 2009 by a mere 422 votes. She was re-elected twice before vying to replace her former boss, Frank Wolf, as the representative of Virginia’s 10thCongressional District. She won her initial election to the 10thDistrict seat in 2014 by 56 percent of the vote over Democrat John Foust and by a smaller margin, 53 percent, over LuAnn Bennett two years later. She is the first woman to hold the 10thCongressional seat, which has been in Republican hands since Wolf’s first victory in 1980.
As Comstock’s time representing both the 34thHouse of Delegates District and the 10thCongressional District has worn on, the once staunchly conservative state has become more of a swing state with shades of blue and some posit that Wexton’s challenge could be her greatest yet.
But, political prognostications aside, Comstock’s popularity at this Sunday’s schedule of events is apparent. She began the day speaking at two church services and then took a mid-day break for a visit with her grandkids, of which she now has five.
Comstock has built a record of reliably attending constituent events, and this Sunday is no different. For most of the events she makes the rounds at this day, she notes, she has been personally invited by constituents, some of whom she’s worked with on myriad issues, from funding Metrorail to children who have participated in her popular Young Women’s Leadership Program, which she founded in 2013. She cites her predecessor Wolf as her inspiration in being engaged with constituents and recalls his advice: “The more you’re out talking to people the better you’re going to be at being their representative.”
“It’s not just stopping in and taking pictures,” she emphasizes. “It’s relationship-building.”
The “deep expertise” offered by her constituents help inform her work on Congress, she notes.
“Many of the bills I’ve sponsored or co-sponsored have come out of these relationships,” Comstock says. “It’s lifelong learning which I enjoy doing.”
She drowns out the political pundit noise and focuses on those relationships.
“Two years ago, everyone had us counted out. I try to focus on the community and issues and the priorities of the district. Those don’t change. It’s about relationships. I do tend to go out and go where people are involved and engaged. I’m building these relationships so [constituents] can come and talk to me.”
Her memory is impressive as she lists off the names of constituents whose advice and experiences have helped inform her work on behalf of the district. She even drew the admiration of Congressional colleagues on a trip to India, as she there bumped into 10thDistrict constituents.
“Barbara Comstock is a huge friend of the Indian community,” one man tells the crowd gathered at one of her final stops of this day, at Broad Run High School for the Hindu Festival of Flowers.
And that’s her base on this day, which will also include a Diwali celebration in Chantilly and another flower festival in Reston.
The first stop of the day, at Sterling’s Park View High School for the Northern Virginia Bengali Association Festival, brings forward many constituents with questions about H1 visas and the impacts it is having on local technology businesses.
“My wife needs to talk to her,” one man says as he navigates the crowds in the packed cafeteria. “We have some different viewpoints, but we’re going to vote for her in November.”
“She comes to our picnic every year,” another lady says, beaming.
When she stops to take questions on an NVBA video broadcast, she again is broached about the topic of H1 visas.
“I strongly support being able to keep talent here,” she affirms.
She and her campaign and Congressional office team have heard many stories from constituents whose family, friends or colleagues have become so frustrated with the visa backlog that they decide to stay in their home country, or go back, and start a business there. That’s business revenue and jobs that the U.S., or especially the 10thDistrict, will not get the benefit of, she says.
A man who is watching her answer questions on the video broadcast asks the congresswoman her stance on gun control and an assault weapon ban. Without hesitation, Comstock cites three related gun control bills passed this year, as well as one addressing gang violence.
“We still have challenges to work on,” she said. “My son was at Virginia Tech in 2007 [during the mass shooting] so this is personal to me.”
Before leaving, a father approaches Comstock with his Boston-based son who surprised his family with an unannounced visit. When she learns of his songwriting degree, she cites her support of funding for the arts council, which draws thanks from the 20-something.
It’s no accident that the incumbent is quick to point to her record during campaign stops. It’s a results-oriented campaign she is running and, on the drive between campaign stops, she lists off her work on everything from addressing the opioid addiction crisis to funding for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other medical research to opening a veterans center in Leesburg. She said she feels especially fortunate to represent the dynamic district which she glowingly refers to as a “microcosm” of all the diversity—both people, industry and other—of the country.
At her stop at South Lakes High School for the first of the two Hindu Flower Festival celebrations, Comstock is quickly ushered into gymnasium full of colorfully garbed women, who are all eager to engage her in ritual dance and teach her a move or two. Comstock doesn’t hesitate and, within moments, has nailed both the movements and the rhythm.
“You always have a seat at the table with us,” she tells the audience, before being pulled into another dance.
Before leaving she’s the subject of yet another video broadcast. This one will be broadcast to several channels in India, one man said.
“Thank you for the privilege of working with you and for you,” she said.
“We all support you, Barbara Comstock. Thank you for joining us,” a man’s voice booms over the microphone.
Comstock grabs a Diet Coke on the drive to the next stop, where two constituents are standing outside waiting to snap a picture with her. Once inside the NOVA Field House for the Diwali celebration, she speaks to the crowd about hate crime legislation. That, along with the H1 visa, are the two biggest topics broached by both her and constituents on this day.
Before heading closer to home in McLean, Comstock stops in to Broad Run’s Flower Festival, where she once again is gobbled up by the crowd of supporters in more than a few pictures and embraces.
“Namaste, it’s wonderful to be here,” she says, going on to note her “open door” policy for constituents and expressing her appreciation for “the expertise of this wonderful community.”
“Let’s elect our Indian friend Barbara Comstock,” an announcer shouts to cheers.
Comstock hopes that those relationships she has built along the way will make the difference Nov. 6.