By Alan Suderman and Rockbridge Report Staff
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Rockbridge County voters will have some important races to decide when casting their ballots today.
The biggest races are the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner and GOP challenger Ed Gillespie, along with Libertarian challenger Robert Sarvis.
The state also needs to fill former U.S. House Majority leader Eric Cantor’s seat in the House, in addition to 10 other house districts, including the 6th District that serves Rockbridge County.
Polls opened in Virginia at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. Here are things to know about the contests.
TOP OF THE TICKET
The marquee matchup in Virginia is the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner and GOP challenger Ed Gillespie.
A popular former governor, Warner has maintained a lead throughout the contest but polls have shown the race getting closer.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” Warner told reporters after a get out the vote rally in Richmond on Monday. “We’re not giving up a single corner of the state.”
Warner has emphasized his bipartisan record and has been closing out the final days campaigning with former Republican Sen. John Warner, who is not related.
The Senate race has not drawn much national interest or outside money. Outside groups spent $50 million in the 2012 Senate race in Virginia, but virtually nothing this campaign. The absence of outside groups has helped Warner, who has held a huge cash advantage over Gillespie.
Gillespie is hoping to ride a wave of disapproval of President Barack Obama’s polices to victory.
Gillespie has spent much of the campaign linking Warner to the president, particularly Warner’s vote in support of the Affordable Care Act. At a stop Monday to fire up some Richmond-area supporters, Gillespie portrayed his campaign as a scrappy underdog.
“We’ve been outspent but we have not been outworked,” said Gillespie, a former top GOP operative who was chairman of the Republican National Committee. “We’re going to surprise a lot of experts in Washington.”
Worth noting: Libertarian Robert Sarvis will also be on the ballot. Last year, he won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial election.
VIRGINIA’S CLOSEST RACE
The most competitive congressional race has been in the 10th District, where longtime GOP Rep. Frank Wolf is retiring. One of his former aides, Republican Barbara Comstock, is looking to top Democrat John Foust.
Comstock, a three-term state delegate from McLean, campaigned as Wolf’s natural successor and promised to bring a bipartisan approach to the job.
Foust attacked her political history, saying she made her name in Washington as an opposition researcher digging up dirt on Bill and Hillary Clinton.
In the early months of the campaign, Foust held a slight fundraising edge, buoying hopes he could turn the seat. Comstock ultimately pulled ahead in fundraising, though, and at one point the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pulled millions of dollars in ads from the race.
In an acrimonious campaign, Comstock complained that Foust was trying to demonize her position on social issues such as her opposition to abortion. Comstock attacked Foust for a statement that she had never held “a real job,” portraying it as a sexist remark. Foust acknowledged he misspoke but said his words were taken out of context.
Economics professor Dave Brat, who shocked the political world by beating then-U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary, wants to seal the deal with a victory in the 7th District.
Brat rode a wave of tea party support in June over Cantor, the second-ranking member of the House of Representatives. Cantor was in his seventh term and was widely considered a likely successor to House Speaker John Boehner. He resigned in August and took a job with a New York investment bank.
The district’s voters must cast two ballots Tuesday: one to fill the remaining few weeks of Cantor’s unexpired term, another for the next two-year term.
Democrat Jack Trammell teaches sociology. He and Brat teach at Randolph-Macon College. Neither has held elected office.
During the general election campaign for Congress, Brat trumpeted his opposition to most of President Barack Obama’s policies, including health care reform and less restrictive immigration rules.
Trammell defended some of Obama’s policies. However, he sought to overcome the president’s sagging popularity in Virginia by reminding voters that Obama was not on the ballot and by portraying himself as a bipartisan consensus-builder.
Immediately after his surprising primary victory, Brat retreated from the public spotlight for several days.
When campaigning resumed, Trammell accused Brat of being inaccessible — the same label many of Brat’s supporters had attached to Cantor. Brat countered that Trammell ran deceptive television ads against him and accused him of running a dishonest campaign.
GOODLATTE UP FOR REELECTION
Republican U.S. House of Representatives 6th District incumbent Robert “Bob” Goodlatte is projected to safely retain his seat in the House.
The Washington and Lee Law School graduate has held his position in the House since 1993, and this year faces challenges from two third party candidates on the ballot and a Democratic write-in candidate. On the ballot are Libertarian representative William “Will” Hammer and Green Party representative Elaine G. Hildebrandt.
Democrat Bruce Elder of Staunton was listed as a write-in candidate on handouts distributed in Lexington.
Virginia is not holding any down-ballot statehouse election this year but dozens of local contests will be decided around the state.
Voters will also decide on a state constitutional amendment that would exempt the surviving spouses of U.S. military members killed in action from paying real estate taxes. For a detailed preview on the amendment, please click here.
Cory Smith of the Rockbridge Report contributed to this story.