2014 Offers Va. GOP Opportunities After 2013 Setbacks

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

Former Rep. Tom Davis speaks at a committee hearing on October 23, 2008.
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
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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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