Odd Dominion: A surprise legislative retirement opens up a battlefield

ODD DOMINION

Who will Virginia Republicans pick to run for Frank Wolf’s soon-to-be-empty seat? Photo: Douglas Graham Who will Virginia Republicans pick to run for Frank Wolf’s soon-to-be-empty seat? Photo: Douglas Graham

Well, it looks like Virginia’s status as the most schizophrenic political state in the nation continues apace. With Republican Mark Obenshain finally conceding the Attorney General’s race to Mark Herring, Old Dominion Democrats now control all five of Virginia’s statewide elected positions for the first time in over 40 years. And yet, at the same time, Republicans outweigh Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives by an 8-3 margin, enjoy a crushing 67-33 majority in Virginia’s House of Delegates, and control exactly half of the State Senate.

Now, with the AG question settled, the race to fill the senate seats of both Herring and newly elected Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam is on, which will ultimately determine who controls the chamber. (If the donkeys can hold both seats, then Northam would be able to act as a tiebreaking vote. If either or both seats flip to the elephants, then Republicans would effectively own the Assembly.)

There’s general consensus that Northram’s left-leaning Norfolk district will remain blue, but until recently most considered Herring’s district more of a tossup. Luckily for the Dems, the selection of the ultra-conservative John Whitbeck as the Republican nominee (and subsequent decision by 33rd District Delegate Joe May to run for the seat as an independent) increases the Democrats’ chances considerably.

All of which brings us to the Commonwealth’s other recent blockbuster political news: the retirement of longtime U.S. Representative Frank Wolf, who has represented Virginia’s 10th District for an impressive 17 terms. Wolf’s Loudoun County district, which also includes chunks of Fairfax and Prince William counties, leans right (it went for Mitt Romney over President Obama by around 1 percent in 2012), but it is by no means a lock for Team Red.

The question is whether or not the Republicans, after a string of high-profile losses, will be able to get their act together and nominate a winning candidate. Incredibly, even after witnessing multiple nominating convention catastrophes over the past year (Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson, and now John Whitbeck), it still seems probable that the Virginia GOP will once again eschew a primary and select its nominee for Wolf’s seat via convention.

The likely beneficiary of this increasingly fruitless strategy? State Senator Dick Black, who has already announced an exploratory committee to pave the way for his entry into the race. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Black has a long history of incendiary statements and actions that make Bishop Jackson seem like a model of pragmatic restraint. (He has, in his long and deranged history, likened abortion to the Holocaust, questioned the entire concept of marital rape, introduced a bill to ban gays from adopting children, and sent pink plastic fetus dolls to his fellow lawmakers as they prepared to vote on an abortion bill.)

If Black is indeed the nominee, then we feel very comfortable predicting that he will go down in flames, just as his extremist brethren did before him. But if the Virginia GOP finally wises up and decides to allow an actual popular-vote primary? Well then, maybe—just maybe—they might win a truly competitive race for a change.

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

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