With echoes of the gubernatorial campaigns, the race for the 34th District House of Delegates seat has been one of the most contentious and most expensive delegate races in the state, with the candidates sparring over everything from ideology to debate appearances.
Democratic challenger Kathleen Murphy’s campaign is centered on her belief that Del. Barbara Comstock (R) does not adequately represent the values of the district, which includes portions of McLean, Great Falls and eastern Loudoun County.
“I want us to have real representation in the House of Delegates,” Murphy said. “We have some really important issues that have not been addressed.”
She highlights Comstock’s votes on women’s issues and gun control to argue that the Republican delegate puts her party and social views ahead of the district. For example, she points to Comstock’s vote in favor of a controversial 2012 bill that required women to have a transvaginal ultrasound prior to having an abortion.
“People don’t know how she votes,” Murphy said. “That has been our goal for this campaign, for people to make an informed decision based on how she votes.”
Comstock says that Murphy is distorting and exaggerating her voting record. Some of the votes that Murphy has criticized Comstock for were policies that had bipartisan support, Comstock said.
She also points to her support for allowing birth control pills to be sold over the counter to adult women as evidence that she does back issues important to women.
“I think she is very focused on the past and looking backwards,” Comstock said of Murphy. “She has run a negative campaign from the start.”
Comstock’s campaign has done its share of negative campaigning, as well. For example, in a press statement following a recent debate, campaign manager Susan Falconer called Murphy “the Leona Helmsley of Northern Virginia” and said the Democrat has no plans to support local business development.
Comstock lists job creation as a top priority, citing her legislation providing tax credits for data centers as one example of a bill that helps attract businesses to Northern Virginia.
It has helped Loudoun County attract data centers to locate there and “it gives us an anchor for all of our other tech jobs,” she said.
Murphy says that Comstock’s positions on social issues are bad for business and that she would improve the business climate by fostering a more welcoming environment.
“When we are focused on really unfriendly, extreme social positions … that’s not going to thrill businesses and have them come here,” Murphy said.
Both candidates say they will work to ensure that the new transportation funding is implemented in a way that benefits the district, even though Comstock voted against the legislation that is providing that funding.
Comstock says she opposed it because of “double taxation” of Northern Virginia. “We are taxed more than anybody in the state on that bill,” she said.
The funding from Northern Virginia-specific taxes and fees from the transportation bill is designated to spend on local projects.
Murphy and Comstock also both state that maximizing state education funding would also be a top priority for them in the General Assembly.
The proposed expansion of Medicaid in Virginia under the federal Affordable Care Act is an area where the two candidates differ sharply.
Comstock, like many of her Republican colleagues, believes that the program should not be expanded until the state is able to enact reforms on its current Medicaid program, which has been a growing expense in the state budget.
“It threatens to be the Pac-Man of our budget and swallow up our K-12 and college funding,” Comstock said.
Murphy, on the other hand, supports the expansion, which would be completely paid for with federal funds for the first three years, because “I believe it’s the right thing to do.”
A cancer survivor, Murphy recalls a fellow cancer patient being told that her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of her chemotherapy, prompting the woman to ask her doctor if she was going to die.
“That is burned in my memory. I will never forget it,” she said.
Spending in the race was approaching $750,000 as of Sept. 30, compared to the approximately $220,000 average spent in similar races, according to analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Comstock has raised more than $940,000 in this election cycle and still had $363,567 to spend as of Sept. 30, according to campaign finance records.
Murphy has raised more than $380,000 and had $218,225 left at the end of the last filing period.
Comstock won re-election in 2011 with about 55 percent of the vote in a district that became more Republican-leaning after picking up Loudoun County precincts and losing some Tysons-area precincts in the 2011 redistricting.