Politics

With Wolf Retirement, GOP Fears Nominating Convention Woes in Virginia

Wolf's retirement gives Democrats a shot at picking up his seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There's a deep bench of Republican candidates in Virginia's newly open 10th District, but the threat of a nominating convention picking an unpalatable general-election candidate looms large over the GOP.

Longtime GOP Rep. Frank R. Wolf's retirement announcement on Tuesday blew open the field for this Northern Virginia-based House seat, creating a competitive contest for the first time in decades. Immediately, GOP operatives rattled off several local Republicans who would fit the district, for example state Dels. Barbara Comstock and Tim Hugo.

But if Virginia Republicans hold a nominating convention instead of a primary, the party might have some problems, operatives said. Nominating conventions typically turn out the party's most conservative activists who tend to pick highly partisan candidates. That could be an issue in this competitive district, which President Barack Obama narrowly lost with 49 percent.

"A primary is a better way to get it out, but I doubt they’ll do a primary," said Davis, who added he is not considering a comeback bid in the 10th District, where he currently lives. "There are less hard feelings, and it’s a fairer shot."

A governing body of the Republican Party of Virginia ultimately votes whether to have a convention or a primary.

In 2013, Republicans nominated tea party firebrand E.W. Jackson to be their candidate for lieutenant governor via convention. Jackson later caused a sideshow during the contested governor's race earlier this year.

"You can't expect the Republicans in Virginia to have learned any lessons from that," said a Virginia GOP operative of Jackson's candidacy.

In the 10th District, a convention could produce a nominee like state Sen. Dick Black, whose ultra-conservative beliefs could cause problems for the party to keep a competitive seat, Republicans said. Earlier this year, for example, Black likened abortion clinics to the Holocaust.

Black told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday that he is forming an exploratory committee to determine whether he will run for the seat.

Republicans added that other GOP candidates — electable or not — could come out of the woodwork in the coming days as well. Republicans have also mentioned GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, a 10th District resident, and former 11th District GOP nominee Keith Fimian, as potential candidates.

"There is no leviathan here," one Virginia Republican operative said. "I don’t know of a single board of supervisors up in that district that doesn't have at least one member that thinks they would be a perfect fit for that seat."

On the Democratic side, attorney Richard Bolger and Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust are currently in the contest. Democratic operatives said Foust is likely the stronger candidate but caution that the open seat could draw more Democrats into the race soon.

No matter the nominee, this will be an expensive race for both parties because the district includes the expensive Washington, D.C., media market. Operatives for both parties predict the race will cost $5 million to $10 million.

Virginia's 10th District is rated a Lean Republican seat by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.