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Fifth district candidates respond to Trump comments

Republicans hope to hold seat

<p>Republican candidate&nbsp;Tom Garrett (left) and Democratic candidate&nbsp;Jane Dittmar (right) at a&nbsp;fifth district congressional debate &nbsp;at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on Sept. 28.&nbsp;</p>

Republican candidate Tom Garrett (left) and Democratic candidate Jane Dittmar (right) at a fifth district congressional debate  at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on Sept. 28. 

With the recent leak of a 2005 video of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump describing women in lewd terms, the question is now whether these issues will come to play an issue in the race for Virginia’s fifth congressional district.

The race for the fifth district — between Democratic candidate and former Albemarle County Board of Supervisors chair Jane Dittmar and Republican candidate and Virginia state Sen. Tom Garrett — has recently been seen as a Republican hold after redistricting following the 2010 census.

“[The district] runs down all the way to Danville and then all the way up to Loudon County,” Robert Roberts, a James Madison University politics professor, said. “Since the gerrymander, it has been very difficult for a Democrat to win it. The only real areas that lean [Democratic] are Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Nelson County, regardless of the national election.”

Roberts said if Dittmar wants to win, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton needs to win the district by more than six points. This could happen if more Republican voters stay home on Election Day and could translate into a Democratic win for the congressional race.

Clinton is now 11 points ahead of Trump nationally, according to a poll taken over the past weekend by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

Despite changes to the district, many political operatives think that there is a chance for the likely Republican district to change blue with the national election taking up so much of the conversation.

“It’s considered a possibility, the Democratic candidate has raised a tons of money, therefore she can run a campaign,” Roberts said. “The Republicans in the area tend to be very educated, therefore the possibility exists that they will be less likely to vote for Trump. The questions is if they would be so unhappy that they vote for a Democrat as the congressional candidate.”

As of Oct. 13, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball still predicts the congressional races as leaning Republican, with Democrats only gaining between 10-15 seats in the House of Representatives. They would need 30 to regain control.

Although the district is Republican leaning, Adam Kimelman, second-year College student and vice chair of campaigns for College Republicans, said he does not think one can assume who will win in this election.

“That is why many of us in College Republicans are calling and going out for Tom Garrett cause we don't want to take it for granted,” Kimelman said. “Tom Garrett is not taking it for granted either with all the work he has been doing on the campaign.”

University Democrats President Sam Tobin, a fourth-year College student, said he thinks Dittmar has a good chance of winning in the Republican heavy district.

“Since it is such a terrible year for the Republicans, Jane Dittmar may have great chance in winning the race,” Tobin said.

While the race is only congressional, the national election has become a key liability for the candidates. This is particularly apparent for Garrett, who has supported Trump, in a district that contains many well-educated Republicans.

“Well, my opponent is joined at the hip with Trump. I called for him to end his endorsement of Trump and he wouldn't do that,” Dittmar said. “I do know that when he criticized Trump for those words, people that are still supporting Trump have criticized him for saying that against Trump.”

Garrett has been a supporter of Trump, but condemned Trump’s comments in a criticism of the nominee.

“We need to join together to protect our daughters so that they are respected in both word and deed,” Garrett said in a statement on his campaign’s Facebook page. “As a prosecutor, I stood on the front lines defending women and children. As a soldier, I stood on the front lines defending the principled ideals of our nation. There is no place for rhetoric such as this in the national discourse.”

Garrett has since maintained his support of Trump.

With such high-profile figures at the top of both tickets, campaigns are working to keep the conversation on issues facing the district instead of on national topics.

“I am going to try to keep people focused on this congressional race, but it is so hard because the national election is sucking all the air in the room,” Dittmar said.

Garrett and his campaign did not offer comment before press time.

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