Democrats face steep odds if they hope to pick up any U.S. House seats in Virginia next year, but the party believes it has at least one bright spot down in the Hampton Roads region — the possible candidacy of Paul Hirschbiel.
Hirschbiel, a wealthy Virginia Beach businessman, is exploring a bid for the Democratic nomination to take on freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R) in the 2nd congressional district. President Obama won in that district in 2008, and Democrats are hopeful it will be competitive with Obama on the ballot again in 2012.
But while he faces no declared primary opposition yet, Hirschbiel will have to address at least one issue before he is assured of winning the Democratic nod — his past donations to Republicans, including George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1999 and Mitt Romney’s in 2007.
Last week, a commenter on Hirschbiel’s Facebook page framed the question this way: “Whats with all the donations to republicans? How can u stop them if u r one of them.”
Hirschbiel gave an unusually long response.
“While the vast majority (over 90%) of my donations over the years have been to Democrats (and 100% of my wife’s), there are important issues that I have worked on that have required me to donate across the aisle in order to bring about a stronger, bi-partisan consensus,” Hirschbiel wrote.
“The biggest example of this is what I have devoted much of my last 5 years to...early childhood...making sure that all of our children arrive at kindergarten healthy and ready to succeed. As Chair of the statewide initiative (which needs to be a bi-partisan initiative if we are going to be successful in our vision), I felt it was important to show a level of bi-partisanship, and we have had great success moving this issue forward. I understand your concern, but I hope u 2 will understand that on issues of great importance to me like early childhood and more broadly education, I am going to find the best way to achieve the greatest good for those who cannot speak for themselves. I believe that is what we need more of in Congress, less finger-pointing and more working for the greater good of our citizens.”
Hirschbiel’s statement wasn’t completely accurate — his wife, Susan, donated to Bush in 1999 at the same time he did. He previously told the Virginian-Pilot that he had made the donations to gain access to decisionmakers on education issues.
“I’m pragmatic. I understand what you need to do to have a voice on certain issues,” he said.
Republicans were quick to pounce on Hirschbiel’s latest comments .
“Not only does Paul Hirschbiel believe that elected officials should sell access to the highest bidder, but he also can’t seem to keep straight where he’s donated money,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tory Mazzola. “He may be dressing up as a Democrat now, but it’s clear that he’s willing to toss aside principle at any cost if it helps him personally.”
Hirschbiel responded that he is “proud to be a Democrat and I think Republicans in Congress are taking us in the wrong direction. But I also believe we need to work together to start solving problems. And that’s why I’m running for Congress.”
Hirschbiel spokesman John Lapp called the GOP’s criticism “just more of the same, sad game playing by the Washington crowd.”
If Republicans choose to focus on Hirschbiel’s donation history, the tactic could shed some unwelcome light on their own incumbent — Rigell. During a crowded 2nd district primary contest in 2010, Rigell was accused by other GOP candidates of being a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) because he donated to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and Mark Warner’s 2005 gubernatorial bid.