Voters who support Democratic challenger Jennifer T. Wexton in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District race are more motivated to vote against the incumbent, Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, than to vote for Wexton, a new Washington Post-Schar School poll finds.
The opposite is true in 69 battleground districts across the country where more voters who support Democrats say they are rooting proactively for the party’s candidate rather than against the Republican, according to the survey.
In another departure from the national picture, the Republican Party’s reputation is weaker in the Northern Virginia district represented by Comstock than in battleground districts overall.
Nationally, Republicans are underwater by a narrow six points (53 percent unfavorable, 47 percent favorable) while in Virginia’s 10th District, negative views outpace positive ones by 20 points, 60 percent to 40 percent. The Democratic Party is rated favorably by 52 percent of voters in the district and unfavorably by 48 percent.
The results add up to a challenging reelection contest for Comstock, a two-term congresswoman who has tried to separate herself from President Trump. He lost the district to Hillary Clinton by 10 points in 2016 and is deeply unpopular among Comstock’s constituents.
The new survey finds that Wexton leads by 13 points among likely voters (56 percent to 43 percent), which is similar to the 12-point margin found in an initial poll of the same voters.
Wexton enjoys a clearer advantage in the 10th District than Democrats have in battleground districts overall, where Democratic candidates have a thin three-point margin, 50 percent to 47 percent, a gap that is statistically insignificant.
Recent public polls of 10th District voters conducted by Monmouth University, Christopher Newport University and the New York Times’ Upshot/Siena College found that Wexton leads by a margin of six to seven points.
Comstock’s campaign has tried to combat the public polls by breaking from previous practice and releasing an internal poll of the district that shows Comstock nominally ahead by one percentage point.
A conservative website, the Washington Free Beacon, on Wednesday reported a second poll from undisclosed “consulting clients” of the firm TargetPoint, which found that Comstock and Wexton are tied.
The Post-Schar School poll, which was conducted in the field Oct. 15-21, was a follow-up with voters who were initially interviewed in late September and early October. The margin of sampling error among 430 likely voters is plus or minus 6.5 percentage points.
Of four competitive races in Virginia, independent analysts consider Comstock to be the most vulnerable because midterm voters want to send a message to Trump and because demographic changes in the district increasingly favor a Democrat.
Comstock backers say polls do not take into account the congresswoman’s deep reservoir of support from community groups who judge her based on her accomplishments and constituent services and not solely as a Trump ally.
Comstock’s supporters are slightly more motivated by opposition to Wexton than in favor of the incumbent, 44 percent to 38 percent. But Wexton’s supporters say opposition is their primary motive by a wider 17-point margin, 42 percent to 25 percent. A sizable 30 percent of Wexton’s backers say they are equally motivated by support for her and opposition to Comstock.
In battleground districts, Democrat-backing voters say by 45 percent to 29 percent that they are more “for” the Democrat rather than “against” the Republican.
Roger Payne, a 52-year-old truck driver from Leesburg, said he will vote for Wexton because she is the Democrat and he wants the U.S. House to hold Trump accountable.
“I don’t even know anything about [Wexton], but I don’t like Trump,” he said. “We need to flip Congress back to Democrats to put a check on Trump’s craziness.”
Payne, who is African American, never voted until Barack Obama ran for national office. He said he hasn’t missed a primary or general election since.
This year, he will not vote early but on Election Day, Nov. 6, to make sure his youngest daughter, who just turned 18, also votes. He worries the biggest recession the nation has ever seen is coming, and he doesn’t trust Trump to handle it.
“He can get up there and lie, and people believe it,” he said. “I have friends and you can show them where he has misspoken or told an untruth, and they don’t care.”
Payne considers himself an independent — in Virginia, voters don’t register by party — but he can’t recall voting for a Republican.
Among likely voters in the district who consider themselves independent, 37 percent have a favorable view of the GOP while 63 percent are unfavorable, compared with a 52-48 favorable-unfavorable split in views toward the Democratic Party.
The poll finds deep partisan divides over sexual assault allegations following the debate surrounding Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
By almost a 28-point margin, 10th District likely voters say women not being believed when they report a sexual assault is a bigger problem in the country than men being unfairly accused, 64 percent to 36 percent. More than 9 in 10 Democrats and over 6 in 10 independents say doubts about female accusers are a bigger problem, while 6 in 10 Republicans say the greater concern is unfair accusations against men.
A separate pair of questions found significant concern about both issues: 52 percent are very or somewhat concerned that men close to them might be unfairly accused of sexual assault, while 79 percent are concerned that women are not believed when they report sexual assault. Combined, 39 percent say they are concerned about both.
Despite positioning herself as a champion of female victims of sexual harassment, Comstock, who is friends with Kavanaugh, declined in late September to say whether she believed his accusers or whether she wanted the FBI to investigate the claims.
Wexton, a former prosecutor, said Comstock should judge everyone by the same standard and said she wanted the FBI to investigate Christine Blasey Ford’s claims.
Kavanaugh was sworn in Oct. 6.