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Cook Political Report downgrades Garrett’s chances in VA-5 midterms

The nonpartisan election analysis site says the district now only 'leans' Republican

Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) is facing a more difficult reelection in 2018, The Cook Political Report says.
Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) is facing a more difficult reelection in 2018, The Cook Political Report says.

The Cook Political Report, an independent election analysis firm, lowered its predictions of the likelihood of incumbent Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) winning reelection in the upcoming midterm elections.

Previously, the Cook Political Report assessed Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District as “Likely Republican,” but it has now been changed to “Lean Republican.” 

The Cook Political Report also maintains a “Partisan Voting Index” to illustrate how strongly a district leans towards a particular political party. Currently, Cook Political Report has noted the Fifth Congressional District is “R+6,” meaning the district votes with the Republican Party 6 percent more than the national average.

In a published statement, David Wasserman, U.S. House Editor at Cook Political Report, said Garrett’s relatively small fundraising efforts — he has $142,000 in campaign cash — will hurt his chances against any Democratic nominee. Wasserman specifically mentioned Leslie Cockburn, the current front runner in the Fifth Congressional District Democratic caucuses.

“Ordinarily, it would be pretty easy for a GOP incumbent to define Cockburn as a liberal elitist and coast to victory in a seat this Republican,” Wasserman said. “But Garrett currently lacks the resources to build any kind of narrative in the fall, no matter what happens at the Democratic convention. The NRCC or Congressional Leadership Fund may eventually need to bail him out to keep this seat in their column.”

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a forecasting group based at the University, has kept the district “Likely Republican,” Crystal Ball associate editor Geoffrey Skelley said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. Skelley said the area’s recent history of conservatism might give Garrett a boost.

“It’s important to remember that VA-05 is more conservative than not,” Skelley said. “President Trump carried it 11 points in 2016, making it the 70th-most Democratic seat held by a Republican in the House. The most recent election result for us to consider is the 2017 gubernatorial election, and while now-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) won statewide by nine percentage points, he actually lost VA-05 by nine points.”

Skelley also noted the Democratic candidates may not be the right fit for the district.

“We just don’t know how strong of a candidate [Cockburn] will be and how well she’ll fit the district,” Skelley stated. “Cockburn has solid fundraising numbers and will attract national interest and support — her daughter, actress Olivia Wilde, could obviously help — but might Cockburn also fit some favorite Republican stereotypes of liberal Democrats? She’s a filmmaker and has myriad elite connections that Garrett will use against her in a district that [former Republican gubernatorial candidate] Ed Gillespie carried by nine points last November.”

But according to Skelley, any of the candidates currently running for the Democratic nomination could still falter.

“This is not to say that the other Democratic candidates don’t have weaknesses that Garrett could exploit — e.g. Huffstetler would be the target of ‘carpetbagger’ attacks and Andrew Sneathern actually has less money than Garrett — but we’ll just have to see how the race develops,” Skelley said.