McLEAN, Va. (AP) — Suburban women could hold the keys to control of Congress this election year. Once considered reliably Republican, college-educated, affluent women may be turned off by President Donald Trump and some of his party’s policies, recent polling has shown, and Democrats are eager to offer them an alternative.
The outer suburbs of Washington, D.C., provide a case study.
Virginia’s 10th Congressional District stretches from the wealthy precincts of McLean, just outside Washington, through very suburban Loudoun County and west to rural areas surrounding Winchester near the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Two-term Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia is one of the most vulnerable Republicans in Congress in a year when Democrats are hoping to pick up dozens of seats and take control of the House. The district has been represented by a Republican for more than three decades, but the affluent, highly educated area is diversifying and newcomers are not showing party loyalty.
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Democrat Jennifer Wexton, a state senator and former prosecutor, won a six-way primary for the right to take on Comstock and has been highlighting her dual roles of attorney and mother.
Both women are spending millions of dollars in the pricey Washington media market.
WHY IT MATTERS
Democrats need to add at least 23 members to regain control of the House. Districts like Virginia’s 10th, which Hillary Clinton won by double digits in 2016, are prime targets. With commuting federal workers, a thriving tech sector and sizable defense contractors based in the area, the district is filled with the sorts of highly educated, independent voters who have been resistant to Trump. It remains to be seen how the contentious battle to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh will play out among those same voters.
WHAT TO WATCH
This race could provide an early sign on Election Night of how Democrats are performing. If Wexton does well, winning by double digits, Democrats across the country will feel more confident about their strength in suburban areas.
The heart of the district, Loudoun County, is a swing county in a swing state, routinely vacillating between Democratic and Republican control. It is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, and has seen tremendous growth over the past few decades. Many of its residents are newcomers and political free agents.
Wexton lives in Loudoun County, while Comstock lives in neighboring Fairfax County, which is closer to Washington.
While the Comstock-Wexton battle has received national attention, it is one of four Republican-held House seats in Virginia where Democratic women look to have a strong chance to flip Republican districts.
In the 2nd District, former Navy commander Elaine Luria is seeking to unseat Rep. Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, in a Norfolk-based district with a large military population. In the 7th District, a swath of central Virginia with a population base in the suburbs of Richmond, former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger is challenging Rep. Dave Brat. The college professor turned congressman shook up the political establishment in 2014 by knocking out then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary.
And in the sprawling 5th District, which stretches from Charlottesville to the North Carolina border, former “60 Minutes” producer Leslie Cockburn is running against distillery owner Denver Riggleman for an open seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Garrett, who dropped his re-election bid after announcing he’s an alcoholic.