Comstock’s Primary Win Could Bolster House GOP’s Thin Female Ranks

There are only 19 female House Republicans in Congress. After winning her primary Saturday, Barbara Comstock gets the chance to add to that number.

Comstock: Now Virginia delegate.
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
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Jack Fitzpatrick
April 28, 2014, 2 a.m.

Vir­gin­ia state Del. Bar­bara Com­stock won the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion Sat­urday in the race for re­tir­ing Rep. Frank Wolf’s battle­ground dis­trict, giv­ing the loc­al and na­tion­al GOP a rare op­por­tun­ity: the chance to add a high-powered wo­man to its fed­er­al ranks.

Vir­gin­ia, which has 11 seats in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, hasn’t sent a wo­man to Con­gress since 2008, and it’s one of the states that has nev­er even had a fe­male sen­at­or. There are only 19 wo­men Re­pub­lic­ans in the House, com­pris­ing less than 10 per­cent of the GOP con­fer­ence. Hav­ing cleared the first hurdle of her cam­paign eas­ily, Com­stock has the op­por­tun­ity to shift some of those trends.

A former Wolf aide, Com­stock has been seen as the GOP fa­vor­ite since en­ter­ing the race, and she re­ceived nearly 54 per­cent of the nom­in­at­ing vote, ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial res­ults from the dis­trict Re­pub­lic­an party. State Del. Bob Mar­shall re­ceived 28 per­cent, Navy vet­er­an How­ie Lind re­ceived 8 per­cent, polit­ic­al con­sult­ant Steph­en Holling­shead re­ceived 6 per­cent, con­gres­sion­al aide Rob Wa­sing­er re­ceived 2 per­cent, and Na­tion­al Trade As­so­ci­ation Ex­ec­ut­ive Marc Savitt re­ceived less than 2 per­cent.

Com­stock’s wide mar­gin of vic­tory, com­bined with her fun­drais­ing abil­ity and her status as an ex­per­i­enced fe­male law­maker, give loc­al Re­pub­lic­ans the sense that she could hold the chan­ging seat for a long time and at­tract na­tion­al at­ten­tion while do­ing so. Com­stock worked for the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee as an op­pos­i­tion re­search­er, and for the 2012 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign of Mitt Rom­ney, who en­dorsed her in the primary race. She raised $761,000 in the first three months of the year.

Fair­fax County Re­pub­lic­an Party Chair­man Matt Ames, who en­dorsed Com­stock even though the county party usu­ally does not take sides, said Com­stock’s fun­drais­ing num­bers show she can rally sup­port from Re­pub­lic­ans around the coun­try.

“The kinds of people who are writ­ing her checks aren’t just writ­ing her checks just be­cause she’s a Re­pub­lic­an or just be­cause she worked for them in the past,” Ames said. “They’re see­ing some­body who has a fu­ture, not just win­ning this race, but long-term.”

“Up­per middle-class wo­men really re­spond well to Bar­bara,” Ames said. “I mean, she’s smart, she’s driv­en, she’s hard-work­ing, she’s suc­cess­ful. I think a lot of them see them­selves in her.”

Com­stock’s op­pon­ents tried, without much suc­cess, to turn her ex­per­i­ence in Wash­ing­ton against her dur­ing an April 9 de­bate. They called her an “es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­an,” said she was too mod­er­ate, and cri­ti­cized her for vot­ing for Pres­id­ent Obama in the 2008 primary elec­tion — a de­cision Com­stock said was part of Rush Limbaugh’s “Op­er­a­tion Chaos,” al­though that plan called for Re­pub­lic­ans to vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton in the primary. (Plus, Limbaugh an­nounced it after the Vir­gin­ia vote had already taken place.)

An­oth­er touted fe­male GOP fa­vor­ite with an es­tab­lish­ment repu­ta­tion, Flor­ida state Sen. Lizbeth Ben­ac­quisto, also had the op­por­tun­ity re­cently to add to the ranks of Re­pub­lic­an wo­men in Con­gress, but she fell in a spe­cial primary elec­tion to a self-fund­ing mil­lion­aire run­ning as a tea party-en­dorsed “out­sider.” Com­stock, eas­ily the best-fun­ded Re­pub­lic­an in her dis­trict, faced no such struggle.

“This whole out­sider-in­sider thing is greatly ex­ag­ger­ated and over­blown in a lot of places,” Com­stock con­sult­ant Ray Al­len said on Sat­urday. “Say­ing I’m an out­sider is not a mes­sage. It doesn’t tell any­body what you’re go­ing to do when you’re elec­ted. And we’ve had our fair share of that around here — it just doesn’t seem to be catch­ing on at all.”

It helped that Com­stock had more con­ser­vat­ive bona fides than most so-called mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans. She re­ceived en­dorse­ments from con­ser­vat­ive fig­ures like Sean Han­nity and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick San­tor­um in ad­di­tion to sup­port from Re­pub­lic­ans like Rom­ney and House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor.

Win­ning the primary was only the be­gin­ning for Com­stock. She now has to win a likely hard-fought, ex­pens­ive gen­er­al elec­tion in a tightly di­vided dis­trict where the likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee, Fair­fax County Su­per­visor John Foust, will also be well-fun­ded. If Com­stock is to add to the ranks of Re­pub­lic­an wo­men in Con­gress, she has more steps yet to climb.

Cor­rec­tion: The ori­gin­al ver­sion of this art­icle gave an in­cor­rect first name for Fair­fax County GOP chair­man Matt Ames.

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