Republicans called Democrat John W. Foust an insensitive sexist after he questioned whether his opponent in the race to succeed Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a woman who has been a congressional aide, lobbyist and Justice Department spokeswoman, had “even had a real job.”
Foust, a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors running in Northern Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, was trying to cast himself as more in touch with the needs of working Virginians when he questioned Republican state Del. Barbara J. Comstock’s commitment to creating jobs at a campaign event Thursday evening in Leesburg.
“In her mind, that means giving tax benefits to special interests and the super wealthy,” Foust said. “I don’t think she’s even had a real job.”
Republicans quickly pounced on the chance to portray Foust as insensitive to women — a critical voting bloc in Virginia that Democrats have successfully courted in recent elections by accusing the GOP of being unfriendly on issues that are important to them, including birth control and abortion.
“This desperate attack shows how out of touch he is with who it is that lives and works in the 10th District and the challenges that working women, working moms and moms at home face every day by men who demean their many and demanding roles,” Comstock’s campaign manager, Susan Falconer, said in a news release.
Foust said he wasn’t attacking Comstock as a woman and called the characterization by Republicans “a stretch.” In a telephone interview, he said his speech on Thursday included “a whole long prelude leading up to that statement, which was focused on her claiming to be a job creator. The statement was in that context.”
Foust added that Comstock’s “hyperpartisan” career as a former House reform committee investigator, a political appointee in the Justice Department and a lobbyist for conservative clients “are not the types of jobs that we’re looking to create in Northern Virginia. I think I made that point pretty clear that evening, and they’ve tried to read more into it.”
How the candidates are seen by women voters is vital in a key swing district that is home to a sizable population of working women — as well as stay-at-home moms who are active in their neighborhoods. Even a misconstrued statement could become a potential problem.
Throughout the state, Democrats have relied on women voters to win a string of recent elections, including victories by President Obama, U.S. Sen. Timothy M. Kaine and Kaine’s predecessor, Jim Webb.
In last year’s gubernatorial election, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) won the women’s vote by 51 to 42 percent over former Republican attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, according to network exit polling — a margin that overcame Cuccinelli’s slight advantage among men in the state.
Whether Foust’s remark is enough to cause him to lose ground with women voters remains to be seen. Foust has been hammering Comstock relentlessly over some of her more conservative positions on women’s issues — especially her vote, two years ago, for a legislative initiative that Democrats turned into an emblem of what they called the GOP’s “war on women.”
The measure, which eventually failed, would have required women seeking an abortion to first have an invasive, “transvaginal” ultrasound to determine the gestational age of the fetus. Foust talked about Comstock’s support for that bill at his campaign stop in Leesburg — part of his “Women’s Priorities Tour” across the 10th District.
That strategy may help explain why Comstock and her allies went positively nuclear on Foust on Friday in an effort to shift the dynamic.
“Hey @johnfoustva, can my wife stop paying taxes since according to you she doesn’t have a real job?” read one Twitter post from John Whitbeck, chairman of the Tenth District Republican Congressional Committee.
“John Foust thinks this is an episode of “Mad Men,” and if he wants to walk around like Don Draper demeaning women in the workplace, he’s more than able to, but that’s not going to help him in the election,” said Katie Prill, spokeswoman for the National Congressional Republican Committee.
Comstock’s campaign also joined in, issuing a news release that described several of her previous jobs, including working at a movie theater during high school, waitressing and babysitting.
While staying at home to raise her two sons, Comstock studied at night to become a lawyer, which led to her stint as a top aide to Wolf (R-Va.). She then became head of opposition research for the Republican National Committee before serving as a Justice Department spokeswoman during the second Bush administration. After that, she worked as a lobbyist.
State Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) attended Foust’s event Thursday and said that although she didn’t hear his comments that evening, she doesn’t find them offensive.
“I suspect this is an attempt on behalf of her campaign to distract people from her real record and the way she votes on women’s issues,” Wexton said of Comstock. “I think they’re taking a snippet out of context from a very lengthy speech that he gave.”
Also fighting back Friday on behalf of Foust, “VAPolitical” — a Twitter account that supports Democrats — tweeted about what it called Comstock’s “Extreme Anti-Women Voting Record,” linking to several bills she supported aimed at cracking down on abortions.
The mudslinging is sure to continue into the fall as both sides attempt to gain advantage with crucial women voters.