LEESBURG, Va. – A Halloween parade here Wednesday night set the stage for one of those rare political moments when two congressional opponents campaign in the same place, at the same time.
But at a time of high partisan and political tensions, there was no noticeable animosity as Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock and Jennifer Wexton, her Democratic challenger in Virginia’s 10th District, stood about 20 feet apart in a field, waiting for nearly an hour for the Kiwanis Halloween Parade to begin.
The two were able to put some distance between them once the parade took off over its one-mile route. The candidates passed out candy to non-voting-age children and shook hands and chatted with their parents — the people who really matter six days before Election Day.
The swing nature of the suburban D.C. district, which Comstock has represented for two terms now, was noticeable as this reporter spent time walking alongside both candidates. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Democratic.
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Several shouts of “Barbara! Barbara!” and an occasional “Good to see you again” greeted Comstock along the first half of the parade route.
Even one child seemed more excited about seeing Comstock than the candy she was passing out.
“Barbara, remember me?” he said. “I remember seeing you.”
The Republican never specifically asked anyone for their votes, but Ana Quijano let her know she had her support. The lifelong Leesburg resident said Comstock “really puts America first, our military, our police force” and wants to cut taxes.
Quijano, who is Hispanic and a mother, said she also supports Comstock’s stand on immigration, specifically her efforts to crack down on the MS-13 gang. Comstock was the lead sponsor of a bill the House passed to expand the federal government’s authority to detain and deport gang members and to provide grant funding for task forces to address the issue.
“She inspires me and the future I want my girls to have,” Quijano said of the incumbent.
Cheers for the challenger
Wexton, a state senator, was also greeted with cheers from supporters along the parade route. “Good luck,” one person said. Another gave her a high-five.
A local rabbi gave her a hug, a gesture of friendship and thanks after she attended a vigil at his synagogue Monday for the victims of Saturday’s deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. He declined to say whom he was supporting, noting that he works with local politicians from both parties.
Sitting on the sidewalk, Roundhill resident Beth Paquette explained her support for Wexton this way.
“I agree with the Democratic platform, and I teach her son,” the Leesburg teacher said, adding that she hates President Donald Trump and wants all Republicans voted out of Congress.
Paquette said Wexton’s pledge to help address the disastrous traffic congestion in the area resonated with her, pointing to her one-hour daily commute that would normally take 15 minutes without traffic.
The two candidates have sparred over transportation, in particular the toll rates on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway. Comstock has accused Wexton of supporting increased tolls. Wexton has denied it.
“Spooky Halloween. It’s $47 tolls,” one Comstock volunteer shouted, emphasizing the first word like a ghost would say boo.
Taxes were also on voters’ minds.
Sharon Thomas of Sterling cited the Republican tax overhaul that Comstock voted for as evidence that she was “supporting the rich.” Wexton, who has campaigned against the law, “supports us,” Thomas said, referring to lower- and middle-income Virginia residents.
While Republicans cut tax rates across all income levels, Thomas said it “really doesn’t make a difference to us,” citing the Democratic refrain that the benefits are all going to the top 1 percent.
“Stevie Wonder can see that, and he can’t even see,” she said.
But Comstock supporter Barbara Rusciolelli said she faulted Wexton for supporting “too many taxes.”
The longtime Republican said the congresswoman has done a “great job.” She said she likes that Comstock is “with” Trump, citing their efforts to improve the economy and crack down on illegal immigration.
The Democratic lawmakers both said Wexton exemplifies the quality stock of candidates that will help their party win the House this cycle.
“Jennifer is a wonderful public servant,” Kaine said, noting that Wexton provides a “sharp difference” on health care to Comstock, whom he accused of “being against the Affordable Care Act at every turn.”
But Comstock wasn’t against it last year when she voted against the GOP health care bill that would have repealed major pieces of the law.
Sarbanes identified Wexton as one of the candidates helping push a “government reform” package that a congressional task force he’s chaired has been working on developing in hopes of Democrats being in the majority next year. The package would include changes to ethics, voting rights and campaign finance laws.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said that a campaign finance overhaul will be the first item on a Demcoratic to-do list, which Sarbanes said is a shorthand she’s been using to refer to the three-prong package he mentioned.