With less than 30 days until Election Day, Donald Trump’s campaign has become a growing focal point in the contentious 10th Congressional District contest and in Virginia as a whole.
After the leak of the bombshell interview with NBC’s Billy Bush where Trump made sexual suggestions about women, incumbent Virginia 10th district representative Republican Barbara Comstock formally repudiate the GOP nominee for president, adding to the distance she previously had with the Trump campaign for many months.
“This is disgusting, vile, and disqualifying. No woman should ever be subjected to this type of obscene behavior and it is unbecoming of anybody seeking high office,” Comstock said in a statement. “In light of these comments, Donald Trump should step aside and allow our party to replace him with Mike Pence or another appropriate nominee from the Republican Party. I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump and I would never vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Her opponent, Democratic challenger LuAnn Bennett, followed up with a statement and press conference asking why Comstock took so long to rebuke him.
“My question for our congresswoman is where have you been? Trump’s total disdain for women and disregard for institution for marriage is nothing new,” Bennett said Oct. 12. “My opponent’s response in all previous statements was she was still watching, implying he was still earning her vote. I’m afraid of what my opponent was clearly watching for was to how best preserve her own political career.”
Recent polls have Comstock with a narrow lead as she seeks re-election for a second term in the House. Bennett’s campaign has tied Comstock to Trump for months, including in interviews and ads.
“What remains true is that Barbara Comstock and Donald Trump share the same reckless agenda, an agenda that is in stark contrast to the agenda I’m running on. – women’s health, immigration, equal pay, climate change and gun safety. These positions are out of stop with Northern Virginia. “
Loudoun County Republican Party Chair Will Estrada said voters are differentiating between the House and presidential races.
“People know Barbara Comstock. People are voting for her because of how she’s worked for them and helped them,” Estrada said. “For the presidential campaign, they’re looking at who will be better at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The whole thing of it’s going to pull down other people’s votes, we’re just not seeing it. I think the voters are smart enough to know there are two separate candidates.”
“Bennett had nothing to run on, so she’s trying to set up a strawman of Donald Trump,” Estrada added. “(Comstock) is really taking away the only talking point LuAnn Bennett prayed or hoped she would have. I think LuAnn Bennett is out of options.”
In the past week Trump has faced what could be his most negative publicity in a presidential campaign already unprecedented by the negative image of both major candidates. Trump made national headlines again on Oct 12, a few days after the leaked tape, when several women came forward accusing him of sexually assaulting them. Trump has vehemently denied the claims.
“It seems awfully weird that all of these allegations are coming out 30 days before the election, after, not before the NBC Billy Bush interview came,” Estrada said. “It feels like it’s been all prepped and coordinated for maximum impact, even with the lack of truth or evidence.”
A string of bad media reports have followed through in Virginia. On Oct. 13, NBC released a story citing unnamed Republican party staffers that the Trump campaign was pulling out of Virginia, a report Virginia Republican Chairman John Whitbeck refuted.
“There’s no legitimate sourcing to this story,” Whitbeck said.
Whitbeck said a few staffers were being reallocated to North Carolina to help with early voter registration, but there were no other changes in Virginia.
Estrada echoed a similar sentiment, saying campaign operations were continuing in the Commonwealth uninterrupted.
“I don’t have any evidence of this,” Estrada said. “We’ve got Trump staff who are here in Loudoun making phone calls, going door to door. No one has left, so I read that story and thought it was weird, because I’m not seeing anything.”
Whitbeck said one of the sources in the reporting about pulling out was Corey Stewart. The former head of Trump’s Virginia campaign was fired earlier this week after he took part in a protest outside Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. Whitbeck said Stewart, who is currently the Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair and a 2017 state gubernatorial candidate, was not authorized to speak on a possible withdrawal because he was no longer “in the know.”
Stewart’s protest in support of Trump against a perceived slight in allocated resources from the RNC was another headache for Whitbeck and the party as a whole.
“While this turn of events is disappointing, I support the Trump campaign’s decision to remove their Virginia chairman,” Whitbeck said in a statement Oct. 10.”With less than a month until election day, we can’t afford any distractions.”
All this comes among slumping polls in the national race. Real Clear Politics Polls has Clinton up 7.5 points on average in the Commonwealth. A poll conducted last week by Roanoke College has Clinton up by nine.
With third-party candidates removed, the polls have Clinton up 9.4 and 13 points, respectively, in a state that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
With Republicans struggling with an image of the Trump campaign in disarray, Democrats see a further opportunity to add to their lead.
“Stewart also complained that the RNC has not made critical investments in Virginia – this is consistent with what we’ve seen on the ground with their weak organizing operation,” said Democratic Party of Virginia Chair Susan Swecker in a press conference on Oct. 11.
“It means that the Republican Party is imploding, and more importantly, it raises major questions about the campaign in Virginia,” Swecker said.