House rules: Republicans fight to hold on to a bellwether seat

Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo. Virginia’s Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo.

Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, bi-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.

By now it is generally accepted wisdom that Democrats are not going to do well in this year’s midterm elections. There are myriad reasons for this, but what it basically boils down to is this: A sizeable chunk of the 2014 Senate elections are being held in right-leaning states, and many of the 435 House of Representatives districts have been so effectively gerrymandered by Republicans that even if Democratic candidates receive a majority of votes nationwide (as they did in 2012) they still have little chance of recapturing the House. Add to that the rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the historically lackluster turnout of Dems during non-presidential elections, and a flood of negative ads being funded by conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch (among others), and you have a recipe for Democratic disaster.

But still, nothing is ever set in stone until the last vote is counted, and what looks like a sure thing on paper can often dissolve in the messiness of an actual election. At least that’s what Democrats across the country are telling themselves as they fight the prevailing headwinds in pursuit of political victory.

For Dems to have any chance at all of retaking the House, they’re going to have to win every conceivable swing district, and a number of deep red ones, as well. And if there’s one congressional district in America that the donkeys have a decent chance of flipping, it’s Virginia’s 10th, which was put into play when long-serving U.S. Representative Frank Wolf decided to retire earlier this year.

So far, the Democrats are executing as well as could be expected. Their candidate, Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, has been in the race since before Wolf announced his retirement, and is a relatively well-known and well-liked figure in the district. More importantly, he is unopposed for the nomination, and thus can focus exclusively on raising money and campaigning for the general election.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are currently in the middle of a fractious, six-person primary race, with state Delegate Barbara Comstock trying to maintain her frontrunner status while fending off attacks from her more conservative challengers. Nipping at her heels is fellow Delegate Bob Marshall, who has pursued (and lost) the GOP U.S. Senate nomination twice before, and now has his eyes set on the House.

Marshall is a polarizing figure, to say the least, with a long history of incendiary and offensive statements. (Among other things, he has said that some disabled children are God’s punishment for women who have abortions, that incest is sometimes voluntary, and that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy may be “a homosexual.”) There’s little doubt that the Virginia GOP establishment is terrified that Marshall might actually win the April 26 “firehouse primary,” which is specifically designed to attract the most conservative elements of the party. (Only eight polling sites will be open, and voters must sign a loyalty oath promising to vote for the Republican nominee in the general.)

Muddying the waters even further, it was recently revealed that Comstock actually voted for Barack Obama in Virginia’s 2008 Democratic primary. Although she has claimed that she did so as part of Rush Limbaugh’s so-called “Operation Chaos,” that explanation makes little sense, as the point of “Chaos” was for Rush’s listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton, thus keeping her in the race and bloodying Obama in advance of the general election.

But whomever wins the Republican nomination, one thing is certain: Donkeys nationwide will be watching Virginia’s 10th district election with very nervous eyes, knowing that if they can’t win there, any dreams of a Democratic House are toast.