Reality Check for Barbara Comstock.
Barbara Comstock claims to represent the interests of Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, but does she? The available data is not so supportive. First, it’s important to determine what VA-10’s interests are. If interests are to be determined by looking at how people voted, the answer is clear: VA-10 did not want Donald Trump to be President. In fact, 40,000 people who rejected Trump and his agenda voted for Comstock, rather than her Democratic challenger.
Yet even with this 40,000-vote advantage, referred to as the “Comstock-Trump Split,” she only beat her opponent by 23,000 votes. Indeed, the Split vote was almost double the margin of votes that gave Comstock a victory over her opponent, district-wide. Most notable were the results in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, which together constitute over 70% of District 10 voters. In these counties, “ranked as the #1 and #3 places to live in the country,” an average 12.1 % of voters split their vote between Comstock and Clinton.
According to Loudon County Demographics, job growth is highest in the Dulles District of Loudoun County. Dulles and the Sully District of Fairfax county make up the technology and transportation hub of VA-10. This geographic region is home to Dulles International Airport and big-name technology companies along the Rt. 28 corridor (Orbital ATK, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Amazon and others). Comstock’s poor showing in Dulles should be alarming to her future campaign staff. The fact that she won the Dulles district by a mere 312 votes may serve as a bellwether for the next election in 2018. Given her sustained effort to court elements of the tech community, particularly cybersecurity, her votes there were surprisingly low.
The reasons why 40,000 people chose to split their vote between Comstock and Clinton are not readily apparent. Perhaps these Split voters believed Comstock when she attempted to separate herself from Donald Trump during the tail-end of the campaign. On October 9th, 2016, she issued a statement saying that “[she could not], in good conscience vote for Donald Trump.” These voters, who thought Hillary Clinton was a better choice for them than Donald Trump by a large margin of over 150,000 votes – over a 10% margin, may also have paid attention to the Washington Post, who endorsed Comstock before the election based on “her withering assessment of Mr. Trump, and some of her votes in Congress, [which] suggest she might bolster a conservative core of sane House Republicans who could face down the party’s ascendant dead-enders.”
Referring to the Washington Post’s endorsement, former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman and Virginia GOP Rep. Tom Davis told NPR, “Basically that’s a Good Housekeeping seal of approval that she’s not Trump, and gives independent voters license to vote for her.”
Echoes of several other reasons were found on social media, where some people stated that they split their vote because they thought a Democrat traditionally does better in the Office of the President, to advance social causes, while a Republican is preferable in the House to guide the fiscal approach. Others opined that they didn’t think Trump would “actually win.” Though anecdotal at this point, future in-depth polling to explore these issues could be enlightening to those wishing to forecast future elections in this battleground district.
If confronted with data on how constituents in VA-10 expressed their will at the polls, a rational person would predict that Comstock would adjust her votes on current House legislation to include a centrist, slightly left-leaning slant. Any guess what she’s done since being sworn-in? Barbara Comstock’s votes are 100% in line with Donald Trump’s position. Yes, her votes are demonstrably, completely Trump-aligned. According to prominent statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight project, which tracks “How often a member votes in line with Trump’s position,” Barbara Comstock has earned a score of 100%, meaning she has voted for the Trump agenda every single time.
Populous areas notwithstanding, we would be remiss to ignore the rural parts of Virginia’s 10th Congressional district. An analysis of votes in Clarke, Frederick and Prince William Counties shows that Split votes did not play a factor.
The results in these areas, therefore, show that the people who voted for Comstock also predominantly voted for Trump. Unfortunately, it’s the western rural counties that will bear the greatest impact of Comstock’s recent Trump-favored votes, especially concerning education and the environment. For example, school choice, which Comstock supports, is not likely to benefit these areas. Max Marchitello, of Bellwether Education Partners, offers a clear-eyed assessment of school choice’s impact, writing, “Families in rural school districts are actually the least likely in the country to have a choice about where to send their children to school. As a result, a school improvement strategy centered on giving parents more educational choice simply does not apply to these communities.”
Constituents in the most rural parts of Comstock’s district, which extends to the West Virginia line might also have something to say about her recent vote on H J Res 38 “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule,” which effectively killed the Rule that would have held coal mining companies responsible for testing and fixing the nearby streams and waterways that their operations pollute.
With the health of the environment inextricably linked to the health of the public, residents in these rural areas may find themselves at a higher risk of cancer, according to Less Cancer’s founder Bill Couzens, who spoke at Comstock’s anti-Cancer Caucus on the importance of preventing cancer by protecting the nation’s drinking water supply: “If we are to prioritize preventing any cancers, we must at the very least address the carcinogens in drinking water… While policy, legislation or regulation may not be a solution for every problem —-for the case of safe drinking water, it is the pressing priority.”
If Comstock continues to vote so faithfully for the Trump agenda, she may find herself in hot water with her voters in 2018. Many of the 40,000 constituents who voted for her but not for Trump, are already feeling the sting of her 100% Trump-aligned votes. For the people who usually like to split their vote, Trump’s controversial roll-backs on previous gains made for education, equal rights, the environment, and public health, may feel that splitting their vote in future races is too risky – especially if they would like Trump to be counter-balanced by more Democrats in the House for the second half of his term. If enough of these voters change their mind, Comstock’s next campaign may not be viable at any cost. If she wants to hold on to her seat, she would do well to heed the last lines of the Washington Post’s endorsement: “She has given some signs, if not yet proof, that she is willing; our endorsement is a calculated hope that after wrapping herself in a bipartisan banner, her actions will match her rhetoric.”
It seems that in VA-10, voters are still waiting to see how their “calculated hope” withstands the test of reality – only time, and voting records, will tell.
Guy Potucek and Amanda Christman