Politics

Virginia Candidates Pin Hopes on White House Race

Bennett speaks with Heidi Zollo of Herndon at the Clearview Precinct at Clearview Elementary School in Herndon, Va. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Before the sun had risen over Langley High School in McLean, Va., Tuesday, LuAnn Bennett had passed in and out of the gymnasium to cast her vote for Hillary Clinton and positioned herself outside the exit.  

Standing in front of a table of Dunkin' Donuts ("free for everyone") manned by volunteers for the Virginia Democratic party, Bennett, who's running for Congress in Virginia's 10th District, greeted early risers who straggled in to cast their vote for president on Super Tuesday.  

Normally buzzing with teenagers, Langley High School, partially under construction, was closed Tuesday to accommodate the anticipated crush of primary voters. With the rising sun came a steadier stream of McLean residents, but not enough to stop a school employee from asking, "Where are the crowds?"  

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Just before 7 a.m., freshman GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock, cloaked in red, arrived to vote for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. "I think he speaks to the melting pot that is my district," Comstock told Roll Call. She appeared with Rubio this weekend at a rally in Loudoun.  

With Bennett outside the exit doors, Comstock stuck to the opposite end of the parking lot. After a quick hit with a British TV station in the school gym, Comstock exited through the entrance, shaking hands and embracing supporters who addressed her warmly as "Barbara."  

Comstock won the 10th District by 16 points in 2014, but she's on the National Republican Congressional Committee's Patriot Program for vulnerable members because the 10th has been a swing district at the presidential level. President Barack Obama carried the district by 3 points in 2008, while Mitt Romney carried it by 1 point four years later. It's a top target for Democrats, who recruited Bennett, a businesswoman and an ex-wife of former Virginia Rep. James P. Moran, a Democrat, to take her on in a presidential year.  

"I think it’s what gives us a great opportunity. You know, this district is right on the bubble. It’s gone both ways. But in a high-turnout election, which a presidential year usually gives us, I think we have a real good opportunity to get all the Democrats out and win this race," Bennett said. Democrats hope that if Donald Trump, who's led recent Republican primary polls in Virginia, is at the top of the GOP ticket, they'll have an even better shot at taking out vulnerable Republicans down the ballot.  Comstock has criticized Trump 's statements in the past, and speaking at the polls on Tuesday, she was vocal about his high unfavorable numbers. Asked if she'd support him if he were the nominee, Comstock simply said, "Well I’m focused on Marco Rubio winning the nomination." She noted the Florida senator already has events planned in the state for later this spring. Her constituents, she said, are turned off by Trump. "They want to win in Virginia. They understand that the path to the White House for Republicans goes through Virginia, goes through the 10th district," Comstock said.  

Charlotte Nicholson, a Republican who voted at the high school Tuesday morning, said she almost voted for Trump but chose Rubio instead because she fears Trump couldn't "get the Latin vote."  

"I'm not sure he could beat Hillary Clinton," she added.  

Several Democrats, who can vote in the GOP primary, and Republicans said they voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich just to cut into Trump's margin. "So my voice will be heard before I have to vote for Trump," said one Republican explaining his vote for Kasich. "I don't want Trump to win," one woman said to explain her vote for Rubio. "Me neither," shouted another young woman on her way out the gym doors.  

Some McLean residents, though, see Trump as best suited to widen the GOP's tent.  

"Why the GOP establishment excoriates him so when he's bringing in such a wide base is beyond me," one man said. He and wife agreed that by not focusing on social issues, Trump is broadening the party's appeal.  

"I know the wall between Mexico will never happen," said Sonia Schmitt, a Trump supporter who acknowledges that his campaign promises are little more than entertaining rhetoric. But on social issues, she said she likes "the fact that he's opposing the traditionalists."  

That sentiment likely cost Trump some GOP votes, too. "Trump belong on the Democratic ticket," said one female Republican who declined to say whom she is supporting. "The only reason he's not there," she added, "is that Hillary Clinton is already running."  

For all those of both parties who scoffed at his lead in the polls, plenty said they voted for the businessman or are prepared to support him in the general election without reservation.  

"The Clintons know how to play against Rubio or Cruz. They don't know how to play against Trump," said Derek Linden. Others, like Linden's wife, Mary Ann Shaw, are taken with Trump's message.  

Asked why she voted for him Tuesday, she said, "Oh. I just want to make American great again."  

Contact Pathé at  simonepathe@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at  @sfpathe .   Related: Congressman's Ex-Wife Announces Bid Against Comstock In Purple Virginia, Bill Clinton Revs Up Democrats Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.