In Virginia, establishment candidates have the lead

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010

VIRGINIA BEACH -- The story of the 2010 election so far has been the challenge to the Republican establishment by the party's angry and impassioned grass roots.

In Virginia, the establishment is winning.

Here in the 2nd Congressional District, car dealer Scott Rigell has ridden a wave of big-name endorsements and a hefty bank account into the lead position before Tuesday's Republican primary, even as five other candidates snipe that he is not conservative enough to deserve the nomination.

The dynamic is similar in the 5th District, where state Sen. Robert Hurt has the cash, the name recognition and the tacit blessing of Washington and Richmond luminaries in the crowded contest to face Rep. Tom Perriello (D). In the 1st District, Republican Rep. Robert J. Wittman's "tea party"-backed opponent appears not to have raised the $5,000 necessary to trigger federal reporting requirements.

Republicans in the 9th District did not bother with a primary, and the establishment favorite to oppose Rep. Rick Boucher (D) -- state House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith -- easily snagged the nomination over two opponents at a convention last month.

Only in Northern Virginia's 11th District does the self-described "outsider" Republican candidate, Oakton businessman Keith Fimian, appear to have a good shot at the party nod. And even Fimian has the experience of being the 2008 nominee and the backing of state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) to smooth his path.

In Kentucky, the site of the tea party's best-known success of the cycle, Rand Paul consolidated grass-roots fervor behind his GOP Senate primary contest against the establishment-backed Trey Grayson. Virginia does not lack for similarly passionate insurgent candidates. Rather, it has too many.

"Scott Rigell is well-positioned and he benefits, just like Robert Hurt, from the fact that his opposition is split," said David Wasserman, the House editor at the Cook Political Report. "If there were one identifiable, no-exceptions conservative in the race against Rigell or Hurt, we could have real contests on our hands."

The go-getters

In Hampton Roads, where Republicans are eager to oust Rep. Glenn Nye (D) from office after just one term, multiple Davids are flinging rocks at the Goliath in the race: Rigell.

"It's the establishment candidate versus the tea party candidate," said Ben Loyola, who considers himself the latter.

Loyola, a Navy veteran and owner of a defense contracting firm, got the endorsement of the Hampton Roads Tea Party last month. While others in the race suggested that the endorsement did not mean the group's membership was really unified behind any one candidate, Loyola said he believed the move was a "campaign changer."

"The tea party has shown [winning] is not about money, it's about votes," he said.

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