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Rob Wittman’s Hanover advantage

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Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), right, in 2016. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Democrats last won Virginia’s 1st Congressional District in 1974. It’s been reliably Republican ever since, with the current incumbent, Rep. Rob Wittman, winning reelection in 2016 with almost 60 percent of the vote.

But at least one measure of voter sentiment — a March 7 Wason Center generic ballot test – showed Wittman could be one Virginia’s most endangered Republicans, with 51 percent of respondents saying they would vote for a Democrat.

Granted, the 1st District sliver of the overall poll had a huge margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent. But the headline number is a shocker. Could Wittman really find himself swept away on a Democratic wave?

Anything is possible — except when you listen to the Democrats who hope to send Wittman down.

At a May 14 forum in Fredericksburg, the three Democrats — Edwin Santana, John Suddarth and Vangie Williams — shared their views on the issues.

They all want universal health care. They favor marijuana legalization. They are very much against the NRA. Williams suggested the organization should face a class action lawsuit and be disbanded.

And they all agree President Trump should be impeached.

Before a Democratic audience, and in advance of a Democratic primary, those points all play fairly well.

But how will they play outside the Democratic bubble? It matters, because taking out Wittman means running an unprecedently strong campaign that gets every conceivable break, and then some.

After court-ordered redistricting in 2016, the 1st District became, if anything, more Republican with the addition of Hanover County. But it’s also home to three “pivot counties” — Caroline, Essex and Westmoreland — that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but flipped to Trump in 2016.

Wittman won all three counties in 2016 and 2014. He won two of three in 2012. The one he lost in 2012 — Caroline — has moved steadily and strongly toward him since.

Sure, but how about after a year of Trump in the White House? Surely, that spectacle has eroded some GOP support.

In the 2017 gubernatorial race, Ed Gillespie won the 1st District 54-45 . Gillespie won Caroline by 9 votes, but he carried Essex and Westmoreland by more comfortable margins.

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