State Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Buckingham) defeated Democratic candidate Jane Dittmar in the congressional race for Virginia’s fifth district seat with close to 60 percent of the total vote.
Garrett, the current senator for Virginia’s 22nd district, was announced as the winner Tuesday night, and will replace retiring Congressman Republican Robert Hurt.
Garrett is an Army veteran and formerly served as a prosecutor in Virginia. He served as the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Louisa County from 2007-11, and then was elected to the Virginia Senate, where he served for five years.
His win contrasts with the majority of University students’ views. In a pre-election survey conducted by The Cavalier Daily in partnership with a faculty advisory committee and the Center for Survey Research, University students strongly favored Dittmar, with 50 percent supporting her and only 22 percent supporting Garrett.
Dittmar, who was endorsed by both President Barack Obama and current Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, garnered a majority of votes in Charlottesville City, with 78 percent of the vote. Garrett earned 22 percent of Charlottesville’s vote.
First-year College student Tanner Hirschfeld, chapter director at Tom Garrett for Congress, said he was pleasantly surprised by the turnout of the race, including in the historically liberal Charlottesville area.
“We are really excited with the results,” Hirschfeld said. “We thought it was going to be closer — we are extraordinarily satisfied with the 19 point lead it came out to be.”
Hirschfeld said students on Grounds campaigning for Garrett worked hard to present a clean, conservative platform to young voters.
“We ran a solely positive campaign [on Grounds],” Hirschfeld said. “We talked about Tom, about Tom’s policies, because that's what it’s really about. I know we had a lot of people really behind Tom because of his dedication to individual liberties and his dedication to his constituents.”
At a debate hosted at the Batten School in late September, Craig Volden, the Batten associate dean for academic affairs, said he felt there was comparable support for both candidates among the students and community members, and that both candidates presented well-informed platforms.
“The Batten-held debate showed both candidates to be thoughtful on the issues and to seek out common ground where it could be found,” Volden said in an email statement.
The fifth district has historically leaned right, Volden said. The district includes not only large metropolitan areas like Charlottesville, but also many rural, smaller areas. It is the largest district in the state of Virginia.
“The fifth district has tended to favor Republicans,” Volden said. “But the popularity of Tim Kaine on the ballot and the lack of an incumbent [offered] a greater balance.”
Third-year College student Delaney Davis, member of Students for Jane Dittmar, said she is proud of the success of Dittmar’s campaign despite the loss.
“In the beginning this was completely a long shot,” Davis said. “I think the fact that we made it such a close race really speaks volumes about the work we put in and Jane's platform.”
Davis said for her personally, Dittmar and Garrett diverged a few key issues, including women’s reproductive rights and climate change.
Both candidates strongly stressed job creation in their campaigns.
In a public statement Tuesday night after the results of the congressional election were announced, Garrett emphasized his goals for improving the local economy.
“I look forward to working on rolling back the destructive regulatory burdens on our job creators and pursuing creative solutions to replace Obamacare with a more affordable, market-based system,” Garrett said. “Further our legislators need to focus on pushing resources and decision making away from Washington and back to our localities.”
“I will also make it a priority to fight to secure our borders and protect our nation from threats at home and abroad,” Garrett added.
After the vote was counted, Dittmar addressed voters in Charlottesville and offered support to Garrett.
“I urge all those who supported me to join me in not just congratulating Tom, but offering him our goodwill and support in the important work ahead,” Dittmar said. “I promised to him and requested that he promise me in return, that we now abandon partisan feeling and yield to patriotism in generous service to the fifth district and to our nation.”
Hirschfield lends Garrett’s success to the strong involvement of student volunteers, interns and community members.
Volunteers for Garrett specifically concentrated on reaching out to millennials on Grounds and in the greater Charlottesville area, among others, Hirschfeld said.
“We saw higher numbers than we’ve seen among in past years, in a very blue county, in a very blue city,” Hirschfeld said. “We think that contributed to our larger success.”
Hirschfield said University graduates were behind Garrett’s victory.
“They played a big role,” Hirschfield said. “It was really nice to see people form the greater Charlottesville area come together for Tom.”