WASHINGTON — A congressional race in Northern Virginia suddenly may have become a bellwether for the entire country, after a surprise announcement.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., rode into office with the troops of the Reagan Revolution in 1980, quickly earning his stripes as a fierce cold warrior and staunch defender of human rights, and has represented his district in Northern Virginia in Congress ever since.
Wolf persuaded President Ronald Reagan to switch to a hardline policy toward the brutal regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who President Jimmy Carter had considered a reformer, as recounted in the WND Books bestseller “Disinformation” by Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa.
Wolf even lived to tell the tale of his own cloak-and-dagger escapade behind the Iron Curtain, chased by secret police while helping smuggle Pacepa’s daughter, Dana, from Romania.
During his three decades in Washington, Wolf has earned a well-deserved reputation among many as the “conscience of the Congress” for his tireless defense of human rights around the world. The Washington Post called the 74-year-old “a vocal and sometimes lonely advocate for oppressed religious minorities, particularly Christians in Egypt, Syria and Pakistan.”
To the astonishment of nearly everyone in Washington, even his staff, Wolf announced Tuesday that he will not seek an 18th term in 2014. Instead, he will pursue his humanitarian work full time.
And, just as suddenly, a “safe” GOP seat in Congress was up for grabs.
Microcosm of the nation
But it is also a seat that may represent a microcosm of a nation in transition.
Wolf’s career has straddled two distinctly opposite eras, entering office as Reagan began dismantling big government and departing as President Obama has been rebuilding it.
A key question now is, which direction will the Virginian’s successor go?
That could provide a major clue as to which way the country will go, in the congressional elections of 2014 and the presidential election of 2016.
Wolf’s 10th district in Virginia has similarities to the nation at large. Traditionally center-right, a significant part of it has moved leftward in recent years.
While Mitt Romney did best Obama by 1 percent in Wolf’s 10th district in 2012, the demographics have been steadily moving in the Democrats’ favor as young and affluent newcomers have migrated into the Northern Virginia suburbs across the Potomac from the nation’s capital.
Another bellwether race?
Actually, the region just had what political observers considered a bellwether election during the gubernatorial race, but the results turned out to be a snapshot of a moving picture that is still changing rapidly.
The Northern Virginia suburbs had become so left-leaning, even scandal-plagued Democrat Terry McAuliffe was able to use his overwhelming strength in the area to overcome a huge late surge by his opponent, Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and eke out a victory in the gubernatorial race by two percentage points.
But the reason Cuccinelli was able to quickly close the gap in late October may be a game-changer for years to come: The Obamacare disaster.
The election was held on Nov. 4, and during the final weeks of the race it suddenly became apparent to Virginia and the nation that Obamacare was becoming so unpopular it could be a huge political liability for Democrats.
The Democrat who runs to replace Wolf will have a considerable, built-in base of support in Northern Virginia. But, the question now in the state’s 10th district, as in the rest of the nation, is whether any Democrat, even with the party in power, can overcome the political damage done by Obamacare, damage that only seems to worsen over time.
The contender favored by Democratic Party leaders appears to be Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member John W. Foust, who announced his candidacy just last week, before the Wolf announcement.
According to the Washington Post, Foust was expected to give Wolf his toughest challenge in years. But now that the congressman is retiring, more well-known Democrats may join the race.
Before Wolf’s announcement, Foust had been hoping to use voter disenchantment with the 16-day government shutdown as a bludgeon against the incumbent. He was also hoping to tout his credentials as a bipartisan deal-maker, although Wolf also has that reputation.
Foust’s Democratic challengers, so far, are Fairfax lawyer Richard Bolger and Leesburg architect Sam Kubba.
Bolger called Wolf’s announcement that he will retire “great news for the 10th District,” adding, “It is time for a real leader and problem-solver in Congress.”
Kubba is running on what conservatives might consider a standard-issue Democratic platform of “well-paying jobs, with quality health care and good schools for all.”
The prospective Republican field features more-experienced politicians, including one previously endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Dirty tricks already?
One potential candidate is already getting bad press and, strangely, it’s coming from fellow Republicans.
State Sen. Richard Black has announced he is forming an exploratory committee to determine whether he should run for the 10th district seat vacated by Wolf.
The Weekly Standard has posted a story calling Black a defender of spousal rape.
It’s not clear why the website felt compelled to run an attack ad against the Virginia Republican, distributed by his opponent before November’s election.
Defenders point out that Black was not taking a position for or against marital rape, but as a former JAG officer and prosecutor, he was noting the proposed law was unworkable as a means of gaining convictions.
Christopher Lore, a legislative assistant to the senator, said, “I’d also like to point out that he’s the only person in the General Assembly who’s successfully prosecuted a case of spousal rape during his career as JAG attorney.”
Lore said the bill made it easier to prosecute these cases, and Black was worried about the weakening of the burden of proof and had fears about innocent people being prosecuted. When those fears were assuaged, he then voted for the bill.
“Attacks against him on this issue are purposeful twists of the truth,” added Lore.
The aide told WND that Black’s positions are solidly conservative and that he:
- Opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants
- Favors the rights of the unborn
- Is anti-Obamacare
- Supports Second Amendment rights
Lore also noted that Black has a strong interest in foreign affairs, opposes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and has been in contact with the country’s current ruler, Minister of Defense Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, whom he supports.
On thing that might distinguish the senator from other conservatives, Lore said, was that as a Vietnam veteran, he is staunchly opposed to U.S. military intervention and did not support the wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Another GOP conservative
Del. Timothy D. Hugo, R-Fairfax, has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2003 and has been mentioned often as a likely candidate, should Wolf retire.
He was chief of staff to Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and legislative director to Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wa.
During the administration of President George H. W. Bush, Hugo was the special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs.
He received a Kodak fellowship for the Senior Managers in Government Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Hugo favors low taxes, limited regulation and litigation, and says he has worked to eliminate wasteful spending and to hold state government departments accountable for their budgets.
He is pro-gun rights and pro-life.
Upon learning of Wolf’s intention to retire, Hugo released the following statement, “To me, Congressman Wolf has been that ‘shining city on the hill’ for all those seeking freedom from religious persecution and human bondage. When he leaves office, Congress, Virginia, and the nation will miss a giant of a man who sought and will continue to seek to make a difference.”
The GOP moderate
While Hugo and Black appear to be unabashedly conservative, the GOP establishment may favor the better-known and more middle-of-the-road option, Artur Davis.
In fact, Davis is so “middle of the road,” he used to be on the other side of the road.
He was a Democrat when he served in Congress and represented the Seventh District of Alabama from 2003 to 2010.
Davis even served as co-chairman on Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.
He became a Republican in February and after losing in the Democratic primary in the Georgia gubernatorial race in 2010. According to his own website, it was a “shocking upset.”
The former four-term congressman, former federal prosecutor and Harvard Law School alumnus is currently a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and writes occasionally for National Review Online and Politico.
Davis told the Washington Post in February that he would be interested in running should Wolf retire. On Tuesday, he told the paper that he will “monitor the field that develops in the next several weeks in the hope that a responsible center-right candidate will emerge.”
As a Democrat, Davis voted against Obamacare. He attributed his switch to the GOP to what he called Obama’s transition to the far left, while becoming what CNN called a top surrogate for the Romney campaign.
Four years after seconding Obama’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, he delivered a primetime speech supporting Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in 2012.
His speech attacked Obamacare, the lack of an economic recovery, high unemployment and the president’s negative politics.
While he says he practices the “center-right brand that has more creativity to offer our politics than does the left,” it proved difficult to discover where Davis stands on such important issues as amnesty for illegal aliens, abortion, gun rights and taxes.
And, what moderates might consider nuanced and balanced positions, conservatives might see as inconsistent.
Remarks Davis made in 2012 appeared to support amnesty, saying the GOP stance against it was hurting the party with Latinos, Asians and young people.
He voted to build a fence along the Mexican border in 2006, but voted for so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” or amnesty, in 2005.
He voted against reporting illegal aliens who receive hospital treatment.
It is also difficult to pin down Davis’ position on abortion, where his record is mixed.
Davis appeared to be pro-life, based on an essay he wrote in 2012 referring to the “violence” of abortion.
But, in 2007, Davis voted in favor of expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. In 2005, he voted in favor of allowing human embryonic stem cell research.
However, he voted to restrict the interstate transport of minors to get abortions in 2005 and voted to ban partial-birth abortions in 2003.
In 2003, he received a 30 percent rating from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, or NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record.
However, in 2006, he was given a 20 percent by the National Right to Life Committee, or NRLC, indicating a pro-abortion record.
Continuing a theme, Davis also has a mixed record on gun rights.
In a December 2012 essay, he called himself “a defender of the Second Amendment who thinks that the right to own guns is privileged by some of the most explicit words contained in the Constitution.”
But, he also argued, following a spate of mass shootings over two years, the gun debate had “turned a corner.” He called for more regulations and said “conservatives ought to be reassessing a hard-line defense of Second Amendment rights.”
In 2011, he was given only a 34 percent rating by the National Taxpayers Union, indicating a less-than-vigilant stance against tax increases.
Davis opposes same-sex marriage and rejects the civil rights comparison.
He wanted former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., to run for president in 2012 and opposed the effort of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to defund Obamacare earlier this year.
Another conservative option?
Conservatives also may be tempted to consider a woman who entered politics in 1990 by serving as a senior aide to Rep. Wolf, should she choose to run.
State delegate Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, will begin her third term in January and represents a significant portion of Washington commuters living in Northern Virginia.
Comstock said that while working for Wolf she focused on health care, telework and business issues, appropriations for the district and tax relief for Virginia families.
The Virginian said she was then was recruited to serve on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, where she became chief counsel on hearings and oversight of investigations into waste, fraud and abuse.
Comstock also served as director of the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice from 2002 through 2003.
Judging by her voting record, she appears to be pro-life and pro-gun rights.
Comstock voted for:
- Defining life as beginning at conception
- Requiring an ultrasound prior to an abortion
- Repealing a purchase limit for handguns
- Authorizing physical force against intruders
- Requiring voter identification for voting
- Repealing the HPV vaccine reqirement
A website that calls businessman Keith Fimian a stalwart conservative claims he has already decided to run for the seat in the 10th district.
Fimian unsuccessfully ran for Virginia’s 11th district seat in 2008 and 2010.
Not much in the way of public records could be found about about his positions on the issues, but Fimian must be rather conservative, given that he was endorsed in 2010 by Sarah Palin.
“Keith Fimian will be an important check on Congress for residents of the Commonwealth. The differences in this campaign are clear: His opponent supports job-killing cap-and-tax, wasteful stimulus spending, and the massive federal overreach on our health care system. Keith Fimian is not a career politician and has actually created private-sector jobs.”
State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel had also been widely mentioned as a possible candidate should Wolf step aside, but she told the Washington Post Tuesday, “I am absolutely not running for Congress.”
Also according to the paper, Tareq Salahi, who ran for Virginia governor as a write-in candidate this year but is best known as the “White House gate-crasher,” is running for the seat.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth