Republican Infighting to Define Virginia House Election

With Republican U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-10) retiring, the battle over who will take up his seat in Congress for Virginia’s northern 10th Congressional District has shown signs that it may divide mainstream and tea party conservatives.

Ahead of their April 26 firehouse primary, the already-crowded Republican field features 9 contenders, who were required to formally file last week.

Of these, analysts say Del. Barbara Comstock emerges as the Republican establishment favorite, with the Virginia state delegate leading other candidates with choice endorsements and capturing media attention just across the Beltway.

Writing for the New Republic, a right-leaning publication, Mona Charen dubbed Comstock a “conservative winner” from which other conservative candidates could learn as women’s issues remain on the radar for the 2014 midterm election.

“If conservatives want to win elections and not just preen about their ideological purity, they should study Comstock,” she wrote, going on to call the state delegate a “conservative… any right-winger could desire – pro-free enterprise, pro-life, and pro-second amendment.”

The New Republic fanfare helped raise Comstock’s profile, but may have done little to sway the 10th district’s tea party base, which — like its national constituency — remains bitterly opposed to Obama administration initiatives and skeptical of the more mainstream elements in the Republican Party.

One Washington Post story quoted several attendees from a Winchester Tea Party meeting with Comstock in February as calling the state delegate a “moderate” who “claimed to be a conservative.”

If Comstock or another candidate fails to win over social conservatives, it could mean more litmus tests, which critics say have only served to alienate independent voters and lose usually winnable elections for the Republican Party in recent years.

The divide is one that Democrats will likely use to bill the election as one more referendum on the rift between establishment Republicans and their grassroots base.

Their own field is smaller for the same congressional district that switched to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, but already boasts an early edge in fundraising prowess.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Democrat John Foust, a Fairfax county supervisor, reported raising $217,487 in December last year, with more than $200,000 in cash on hand. His rival, attorney Richard Bolger, another Democratic challenger, emerged with $105,945 from the last quarter.

That could put both of the Democrats on track to raise as much by November as the retiring congressman, a seventeen-term incumbent who brought in more than $1 million to fend off challenges in 2012.

Even so, the congressional district could still favor a Republican candidate in 2014. Redistricting from the 2010 census stood to add more conservative-leaning districts to VA-10, and Wolf captured nearly 60 percent of the general election vote two years ago.

Both parties will officially nominate their candidates in April, with Democrats set to choose theirs at a convention. The filing deadline for Democratic candidates is March 11.

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