Virginia’s 5th Congressional district could give voters a taste of what a Donald Trump presidency might look like.
The 5th District seat became open when the Republican incumbent, Robert Hurt, decided not to run for re-election this year.
Democrats nominated Jane Dittmar, a former member of the Albemarle County of Supervisors. Her thoughtful, soft spoken campaign has caught voters’ attention across the district, which is about the size of New Jersey.
That may have been too much for right wing Republicans to stomach. Dittmar has been subjected to some of the worst harassment a candidate has faced this election year.
An armed Trump supporter stood outside of a Dittmar campaign office in the town of Fluvanna outside of the state capital of Richmond. Her staff has been intimidated while campaigning for her.
Her campaign Facebook page had to be taken down for a time because it was littered with obscene comments from her opponents.
Republicans sank recently into the gutter to make a case that Dittmar was charged and convicted of a DUI in Albemarle County in 1999. A criminal background check supports the claim, but court records and the Division of Motor Vehicles show no such offense or conviction.
What did Dittmar do to give Republicans such indigestion?
Dittmar’s campaign is well-funded, taking in about $1 million. She has pressed the flesh with voters from Danville north on U.S. 29 to the Northern Virginia suburbs. Her campaign signs can be found all over the district, a rarity for a Democrat.
Her Republican opponent is Tea Party Republican opponent, state Sen. Tom Garrett of Scottsville, a fervent Donald Trump supporter. He has the financial backing of the Koch Brothers and the Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC run by Paul Ryan.
Dittmar took Garrett to task for supporting controversial uranium mining and scooping up donations in the process. Garrett cried foul. His Republican colleagues came to his defense and said Dittmar’s charge was an overreach, but the prospects of uranium mining south and west of the James River is a real threat.
Garrett’s response to armed men intimidating Dittmar volunteers was to claim that they had a legal right to open carry their weapons. “I’m confused. Are you pro 2nd admit or pro call 911 when someone is legally carrying and abiding by open carry laws in VA?” Garrett posted snarkily on Twitter.
Republicans believe they have the race in the bag. The Garrett campaign released a poll showing them up 11 points. Dittmar’s camp puts them down 6 points.
Dittmar can only benefit from her endorsement by President Obama and the expected Hillary Clinton wave in Virginia.
Political observers have paid close attention to this race since this summer.
Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor for the Crystal Ball, says that Clinton’s double-digit lead in Virginia could hurt Garrett if polls are on target. Clinton appears to be doing better in Virginia in 2016 than President Obama did four years ago.
“The problems at the top of the ticket could hurt down-ballot Republicans such as Tom Garrett in the Virginia Fifth,” he said. We could witness 2008 all over again when Trump “ambassador without portfolio”, Virgil Goode, was ousted by Democrat Tom Perriello.
Virginia’s three incumbent Democratic members of the House – Bobby Scott, Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly, are considered not to be threatened in this election. In the Fourth Congressional District, in the Tidewater area of Southeastern Virginia, it is very probable that Democratic State Senator Donald McEachin, will take the seat, flipping it from Republican to Democrat. In Northern Virginia, Democrat LuAnne Bennet is seen as also having a chance to defeat Republican freshman incumbent Barbara Comstock. All, however, depends on turnout.