Cuccinelli Could Vie for Wolf's House Seat

Image: Cuccinelli Could Vie for Wolf's House Seat

Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 07:44 AM

By John Gizzi

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Both Democrats and tea party Republicans see an opening with the stunning news Tuesday afternoon that Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia would not seek re-election after 33 years in Congress.

The suburban Washington, D.C., district could well elect a conservative with ties to national conservative organizations and the tea party. Or it might elect a Democrat for the first time since 1978, two years before Wolf came to Washington on the tide that swept Ronald Reagan into the presidency.

Aware of a budding Republican slugfest for nomination to succeed Wolf, many national Democrats are already putting Virginia's 10th Congressional District on their list of the "magic 17" — one of the 17 Republican-held House seats they need to capture control of the House and again make Nancy Pelosi speaker.

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In contrast to the quiet establishment Republican Wolf, those immediately mentioned as his possible GOP heir in the district are all noted conservative swashbucklers.

The best-known of the congressional possibilities is Ken Cuccinelli, outgoing state attorney general and narrow loser in the 2013 race for governor of Virginia.

Cuccinelli, a favorite of the tea party and of social conservatives, carried the 10th District 48 percent to 47 percent in the race he lost in November to Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe.

Other potential contenders on the right include state Delegate Barbara Comstock, formerly the top congressional investigator in the Whitewater probe during Bill Clinton's presidency, and former Prince William County Supervisor John Stirrup, a hero to conservatives for sponsoring legislation to stem the rise of illegal immigration.

Although Cuccinelli's plans are unclear, sources close to Comstock say that the 54-year-old lawyer has long been "salivating" at the prospect of succeeding Wolf in Congress. The same sources pointed out that Comstock began her career in Washington as an aide to Wolf and that the timing of the congressman's retirement announcement could be to give her an early start.

Stirrup, who lost a close race for the state Senate in 2011, nevertheless retains a fervent following among conservative activists in Northern Virginia. The former Reagan administration official told Newsmax he was surprised by the timing of Wolf's announcement "like everyone else" and that he "will make a decision soon."

"I'm very encouraged by the number of people, party leaders as well as rank and file Republicans, who have already contacted me and urged me to run," Stirrup said.

The odds on a strong conservative being picked to run for Wolf's seat are enhanced by the GOP nomination rules in the 10th District. The nominee will be selected by the district's Republican Committee, where conservatives have strong numbers.

Other Republicans mentioned for Congress include Prince William County Chairman Corey Stewart, who lost a bid for nomination as lieutenant governor this year (and lives outside the 10th District), businessman Keith Fimian, and Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity, both of whom are strong conservatives.

Fimian and Herrity competed against one another for the Republican nomination in the neighboring 11th District in 2010. Fimian defeated Herrity but went on to lose to Democratic Rep. Gerry Connelly in one of the closest races for Congress that year. Now redistricting has placed both Republicans in the 10th District.

State Sen. Dick Black of Loudon County, a prominent cultural conservative, announced last night he was setting up an exploratory committee for Congress.

The scenario of a crowded and potentially divisive Republican "battle royal" has state and national Democrats salivating.

Although four Democrats are in the race, Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust is already being touted as a heavyweight contender by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

For years, Wolf's re-election was barely noticed by national pundits and his continued tenure in Congress was jokingly referred to by local Republicans as "the nearest thing to eternal life on earth." All of that changed dramatically on Tuesday with his announcement and now the question is which way the district will swing.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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