Comstock walks away from NewsChannel 8 interview following debate with Foust

Republican Barbara Comstock and Democrat John Foust shake hands at a debate in Leesburg, Va. on Sept. 24, 2014. (NewsChannel 8 photo)

LEESBURG, Va. (AP/WJLA) - Republican Barbara Comstock sought in a congressional debate with Democrat John Foust to portray herself as the natural successor to popular, retiring incumbent Frank Wolf, invoking Wolf's name more than a dozen times in an hour-long debate Wednesday.

Foust, meanwhile, sought to portray Comstock as a hyper-partisan Beltway warrior who will perpetuate congressional gridlock.

NewsChannel 8 NewsTalk host Bruce Depuyt moderated the event. During the hour-long debate, the candidates answered a wide range of questions on topics like the Affordable Care Act, taxes, regulations, immigration reform and energy policy.

NewsChannel 8 reporter Mike Conneen covered the event, but afterward he had a hard time getting Delegate Comstock to answer his questions.

As Conneen tried to interview Comstock, her campaign manager, Susan Falconer, stepped in front of the camera. “You won't let me talk to her?” Conneen asked. “No, sir. I gave you my business card. Can't we set up an interview, please?” Falconer replied.

The candidate walked away as Falconer and another Comstock supporter blocked Conneen’s path.

Wednesday's somewhat testy debate, sponsored by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, highlighted clear differences in the candidates' philosophies. Comstock said she would work to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare; Foust said he wants to keep it, but improve it.

Comstock described the National Labor Relations Board and Environmental Protection Agency as federal departments "out of control" in their support of labor unions and environmental regulations, respectively. Foust said he believes the NLRB fulfills an important duty and that he supports efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

More than anything, though, Comstock sought to remind the crowd of more than 200 of her ties to Wolf, the retiring Republican who was first elected to the House in 1980 and has rarely faced serious opposition since, even in a district that at times has supported Democratic candidates. Wolf has endorsed Comstock.

She mentioned Wolf's name at least 13 times, and talked about her work as a Wolf staffer.

"I can hit the ground on day one ... to be able to continue the tradition of my mentor, Congressman Frank Wolf," Comstock said.

Foust, though, reminded the crowd of some of Comstock's other Capitol Hill work, saying she made her name in Republican circles in the 1990s as a House committee investigator who specialized in digging up opposition research on Bill and Hillary Clinton.

"Delegate Comstock has a history of extraordinary partisanship," Foust said. "That partisanship is a problem in Washington ... These are the type of people we have to get out of Washington," Foust said.

After the debate, Conneen wanted to give Comstock an opportunity to reply to Foust's closing argument when he repeatedly criticized her stance on abortion. It was the first time abortion came up at the debate. And because of a coin toss, Foust got the last word.

The issue of abortion has also been the focus of a controversial Foust campaign ad. In it, a female character tells viewers, “Barbara Comstock even voted with right-wing Republicans to require women seeking an abortion to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds. That's all I need to know.”

In a rebuttal ad, Comstock's camp calls Foust desperate and dishonest, labeling his attacks as “sexist, bizarre, insensitive, ignorant.”

After the debate, Foust defended his ad. When asked whether he’s suggesting that abortion is the most important issue female voters need to consider in this race, he said, “That's all they need to know on the choice issue. That's for sure. Obviously there are other issues involved in the race. But on a fundamentally important issue, a woman's right to make her own healthcare choices, Barbara Comstock has demonstrated that she's anti-woman.”

In response, Comstock supporters called that "anti-woman" comment ridiculous. They said voters – specifically female voters – are focused on bread-and-butter issues this election cycle. Loudoun County Supervisor and Republican Suzanne Volpe said, “[Voters are] worried about their jobs, they're worried about whether their kids are going to be able to go to college. They're worried about whether they're gonna lose their job and then lose their home.”

Throughout the debate, Foust highlighted his work with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to maintain a balanced budget through a recession. Comstock countered that Fairfax County balanced its budgets by raising property taxes and other taxes.

The campaign has been one of the most closely watched House races in the nation, and is also expected to be one of the most expensive as it plays out in the Washington media market - the 10th District includes wealthy inside-the-Beltway neighborhoods in McLean, and stretches west into the Loudoun suburbs and beyond, out to the rural Shenandoah Valley.

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