2014 Offers Va. GOP Opportunities After 2013 Setbacks

Some are trying to move the party to the center after string of electoral losses.

National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
Jan. 3, 2014, midnight

Com­ing off last year’s highly com­pet­it­ive and ob­sess­ively scru­tin­ized Vir­gin­ia gubernat­ori­al race, voters and those ob­serving the com­mon­wealth’s polit­ics may be temp­ted to kick back and take a breath­er from the high-stakes swing state. But there’s plenty at stake in the Old Domin­ion, and — un­less they opt for a course cor­rec­tion — it ap­pears likely that flawed can­did­ates and a nom­in­at­ing pro­cess that fa­vors the ex­treme will con­tin­ue to dog Re­pub­lic­ans’ chances of win­ning com­pet­it­ive races in the com­ing year.

Demo­crats swept the GOP in the three statewide elec­tions last year, led by Terry McAul­iffe’s vic­tory over Re­pub­lic­an At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Cuc­cinelli in the gubernat­ori­al race. And on top of their elect­or­al losses last fall, Re­pub­lic­ans will see Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell end his term just ahead of a pos­sible in­dict­ment.

But 2014 will present a range of new op­por­tun­it­ies for Vir­gin­ia Re­pub­lic­ans to re­claim their foot­ing, start­ing with spe­cial state Sen­ate elec­tions to re­place Lt. Gov.-elect Ral­ph Northam and At­tor­ney Gen­er­al-elect Mark Her­ring, which will de­term­ine par­tis­an con­trol of the cham­ber, all the way up to the U.S. Sen­ate race at top of the tick­et this Novem­ber. The mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion is wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans will double down on their nom­in­at­ing pro­cesses and right­ward bend at the risk of los­ing win­nable races, or wheth­er they will opt for a course cor­rec­tion to avoid the mis­takes of 2013.

Com­ments made to Politico by Vir­gin­ia Re­pub­lic­ans in early Decem­ber at their an­nu­al re­treat in Hot Springs in­dic­ate they have no plans for a course cor­rec­tion. State House Speak­er Wil­li­am How­ell said re­ports of Re­pub­lic­ans’ de­mise are “pre­ma­ture,” and Vir­gin­ia Re­pub­lic­an Party Chair Pat Mullins said that claims Cuc­cinelli was too con­ser­vat­ive “is false nar­rat­ive by false proph­ets…. Re­pub­lic­ans do not win when we are mini-Demo­crats or Demo­crat Lite.”

Former Rep. Tom Dav­is, R-Va., is crit­ic­al of that view. “The party has not kept up to date with what’s happened” over the past few years, Dav­is said. “Un­til you can re­con­cile the com­pet­ing fac­tions and hang the wel­come mat out” to a broad­er co­ali­tion of voters in Vir­gin­ia, Dav­is says, Re­pub­lic­ans will con­tin­ue to suf­fer from “self-in­flic­ted wounds.”

Spe­cial Sen­ate Elec­tions

State Sen. Bar­bara Fa­vola (D) be­lieves any hope for bi­par­tis­an com­prom­ise, wheth­er it be on Medi­caid ex­pan­sion or men­tal-health ser­vices, rests on Demo­crats’ abil­ity to re­tain their hold on the state Sen­ate. To do so will re­quire keep­ing the seats va­cated by Northam (Sen­ate Dis­trict 6) and Her­ring (Sen­ate Dis­trict 33).

Fa­vola says if Demo­crats can hold those two seats Re­pub­lic­ans in the House of Del­eg­ates “will have to deal with us” and Demo­crats will “have a point of lever­age” that could force some com­prom­ise.

McAul­iffe took both dis­tricts in Novem­ber 2013 by a healthy mar­gin, win­ning Her­ring’s dis­trict in the North­ern Vir­gin­ia sub­urbs with roughly 56 per­cent of the vote, and se­cur­ing Northam’s dis­trict en­com­passing the East­ern Shore and part of Nor­folk with 53 per­cent of the vote. Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried both dis­tricts in 2008 and 2012.

The spe­cial elec­tion for Northam’s 6th Sen­ate Dis­trict seat is sched­uled for next Tues­day, and the party’s chosen nom­in­ees, Demo­crat­ic Del. Lyn­wood Lewis and Re­pub­lic­an busi­ness­man Wayne Cole­man have been busy on the cam­paign trail and on the air­waves with TV ads. The Jan. 21 con­test to re­place Her­ring in the 33rd Sen­ate Dis­trict is shap­ing up to be a three-way race between Demo­crat Jen­nifer Wex­ton, Re­pub­lic­an John Whit­beck, and Re­pub­lic­an Del. Joe May, who is run­ning as an in­de­pend­ent.

If Demo­crats slip in either race, McAul­iffe would be­come just the fourth Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor in 2014 to preside over a le­gis­lature con­trolled en­tirely by Re­pub­lic­ans, join­ing the ranks of Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nix­on, Arkan­sas Gov. Mike Beebe, and Montana Gov. Steve Bul­lock.

VA-10

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Frank Wolf’s re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment in Decem­ber nearly guar­an­tees the pro­spect of yet an­oth­er elect­or­al show­down in the state. The 10th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict in­cludes parts of Loudoun, Fair­fax, and Prince Wil­li­am counties in the North­ern Vir­gin­ia sub­urbs, as well as parts of Clarke, Fauquier, Fre­d­er­ick and War­ren counties to the south and west. Loudoun, Prince Wil­li­am and Fair­fax have been all key swing counties in re­cent statewide elec­tions, and Loudoun and Fair­fax also rank first and third among the na­tion’s wealth­i­est counties, re­spect­ively.

On the Re­pub­lic­an side, Del. Bar­bara Com­stock, Del. Timothy Hugo, state Sen. Richard Black, and busi­ness­man Keith Fimi­an have been men­tioned as pos­sible can­did­ates. Black has already formed an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee, and Com­stock and Hugo have long been rumored to be in­ter­ested in run­ning to re­place Wolf when he re­tires. Former Demo­crat­ic Rep. Ar­tur Dav­is, who moved to Vir­gin­ia from Alabama, de­clined a pos­sible bid in late Decem­ber.

Com­stock is con­sidered to be a rising star in the Re­pub­lic­an Party and would bring con­sid­er­able ex­per­i­ence and re­sources to the race. The second term del­eg­ate’s polit­ic­al résumé is long. She was a former head of the Justice De­part­ment’s Of­fice of Pub­lic Af­fairs un­der the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, a former re­search dir­ect­or at the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, a friend of Re­pub­lic­an strategist Karl Rove, and, as a Mas­sachu­setts nat­ive her­self, was con­sidered to be in Mitt Rom­ney’s “in­ner circle” dat­ing back to 2007 lead­ing up to his first pres­id­en­tial bid.

Just last year Com­stock made an ap­pear­ance on the na­tion­al stage as one of few state le­gis­lat­ors gran­ted a speak­ing slot at the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion in Tampa, Fla.

Giv­en her gold-plated bon­afides and easy fit in­to the RNC’s Pro­ject GROW aimed at re­cruit­ing more fe­male can­did­ates, Com­stock would enter the race with a run­ning start. But a Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tion — which ap­pears likely — could throw a wrench in Com­stock’s path if she chooses to run. Black, for his part, is a former Mar­ine who pre­vi­ously served in the House of Del­eg­ates and says “I am what I am. I am pro-life, I am pro-gun, I am pro-free en­ter­prise — these things are not go­ing to change.”

On the Demo­crat­ic side, Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­visors mem­ber John Foust an­nounced he would chal­lenge Wolf the week be­fore he an­nounced his re­tire­ment, and he joins a primary along­side Fair­fax law­yer Richard Bol­ger and Lees­burg ar­chi­tect Sam Kubba.

Foust says since the day he launched his cam­paign, “it has been ab­so­lutely crazy. I would say I’m get­ting an enorm­ous amount of sup­port. People are call­ing gen­er­ally, of­fer­ing to help,” and says Wolf’s re­tire­ment “seems to have en­er­gized people even more.”

Foust said he “had no reas­on to think” Wolf was plan­ning on re­tir­ing this cycle and was sur­prised when he made the an­nounce­ment. “It’s very ex­cit­ing to be, you know, one of the lead­ing can­did­ates in an open seat,” Foust said.

Elect­or­ally, Foust de­livered the strongest per­form­ance of any Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate run­ning for a con­tested spot on Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­visors in 2011, and be­came the first-ever Demo­crat to win reelec­tion to the seat, win­ning 60.7 per­cent of the vote and every pre­cinct in the swing dis­trict. Re­gard­ing the Demo­crat­ic primary in the race, Fa­vola, whose Sen­ate dis­trict over­laps with Foust’s su­per­visor seat, stated with cer­tainty: “I’m sure Mr. Foust will win that.”

U.S. Sen­ate

If former RNC Chair­man Ed Gillespie pulls the trig­ger on a chal­lenge to Sen. Mark Warner, he too will quickly find him­self star­ing down the bar­rel of a Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tion slated for early June in Roan­oke.

Gillespie has already faced cri­ti­cism for his status as a Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ive and Wash­ing­ton in­sider, but he could present a mod­er­ate, ac­com­plished al­tern­at­ive to Warner, whose strong ap­prov­al rat­ings have scared off oth­er po­ten­tial can­did­ates.

Re­pub­lic­an Re­bound

Eager to get his party back in the win­ner’s circle, Dav­is, the former con­gress­man and one­time chair­man of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, is lead­ing ef­forts to cre­ate a PAC in the wake of his party’s Novem­ber losses that “will ad­voc­ate for statewide can­did­ates who he says will be less ex­treme on such is­sues as abor­tion rights and more elect­able.”

Dav­is says the PAC will be “com­pletely Vir­gin­ia cent­ric,” but will be more of a “three-year pro­ject” in­spired by his can­did­ate re­cruit­ment days as chair­man of the NR­CC, with an eye to­ward re­cruit­ing good can­did­ates for state Sen­ate seats up for elec­tion in 2015. Such can­did­ates could then feas­ibly use their spot as a step­ping stone to high­er of­fice come 2017.

Dav­is didn’t ar­tic­u­late any spe­cif­ic plans to get in­volved in next year’s U.S. Sen­ate race or oth­ers in the com­ing cycle, but he doesn’t think there’s a quick fix on the ho­ri­zon. “My guess is yes, they’re in trouble for a while,” he said. “Giv­en the cur­rent lead­er­ship of the state party, it’s dif­fi­cult to see how this ends quickly.”

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