The destruction of the Republican Party in my home state of Virginia is well underway. Corey Stewart, who barely lost in last year’s gubernatorial primary to Ed Gillespie, on Tuesday won the GOP nomination for Senate and will face Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in November. Stewart will carry his pro-Confederate-flag, anti-immigrant, pro-Trump message into the general election in a state that elected Democrats for all statewide offices and flipped 15 House of Delegate seats in 2017. Former Republican lieutenant governor Bill Bolling fretted on Twitter, “I am extremely disappointed that a candidate like Corey Stewart could win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”
Republicans rightly fear a weak candidate at the top of the ticket will make matters even worse for already vulnerable down-ticket Republicans such as Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) in the 10th Congressional District. Comstock had a disappointing primary, winning with about 60 percent of the vote against a hard-core Trumper challenging her conservative credentials. She will face off against the Democrats’ favored candidate Jennifer Wexton, who plowed through her six-person primary to win with 42 percent of the vote.
Two further details from the primaries in the 10th District deserve mention. First, the total Democratic primary vote (about 53,800) comfortably exceeded the GOP total vote (about 46,000); Comstock in her two-person contest got not even 6,000 votes more than Wexton in her six-person race. Second, Wexton is no far-left firebrand. Other candidates attacked her for supporting a bill that allowed reciprocity with states with looser concealed-carry permits “in exchange for stiffening penalties for domestic abusers caught with guns and mandating that state police perform background checks for private transactions at gun shows.” Rather than beg for the left’s forgiveness, Wexton held her ground, telling voters that legislating involves compromise and step-by-step progress. That message resounded extremely well with voters in a predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle-class district outside Washington. Chalk one up for Democratic moderates.
Comstock has tried to walk a tightrope — voting against Obamacare repeal but for the tax bill, arguing for tougher penalties for sexual harassers on Capitol Hill but being a good soldier for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) on most matters. (She did not, for example, vote for the discharge petition to bring moderate immigration legislation to the House floor.) She is generally regarded as being to the right of her district, but she’s a familiar face at community events and a friendly figure to voters who simply refer to her as “Barbara.” Nevertheless, given the Trumpification of the rest of the GOP ticket and above-average number of college graduates in the district, one has to give the edge to Wexton. She has a slew of issues that will play well in the district: abject corruption in the Trump administration, inhumane immigration policies, the wrecking of our trading system and mindless assaults on government agencies. (The top five employers in the district are government entities.)
More broadly, voter enthusiasm remains sky-high for Democrats. A new GW Politics poll finds nationally, “Democrats were more likely to report talking to people about how to vote or sharing a viewpoint on social media. They were more likely to have been involved in the campaign in other ways — donating, wearing a button or sticker, attending a meeting or rally, or working for a candidate.” Democrats average a 7-point lead in the generic congressional ballot, and, in the GW Politics poll, 46 percent strongly disapprove of President Trump, compared with only 28 percent who strongly approve. If the national scene is tilted in Democrats’ favor, Virginia is even more vulnerable to a blue wave. And if you had to pick a spot most likely to be submerged, it would be a district such as the 10th.