What was shaping up as an internal Republican battle for a rare open Northern Virginia congressional seat may be turning into a coronation.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf’s (R) decision to retire after 17 terms in Congress was expected to attract a horde of candidates into the race to replace him, particularly on the GOP side.
It was not welcome news to establishment Republicans hoping to avoid another ugly fight. It would put on full display, they feared, the divide between party moderates and a socially conservative wing with a recent history of picking nominees who have not done well in general elections.
Instead, the field has winnowed quickly, with two recent developments boosting the chances of the GOP front-runner, Del. Barbara J. Comstock (R-Fairfax).
On Wednesday, state Sen. Richard H. Black (Loudoun) made the surprise announcement that he was dropping out of the race for Wolf’s seat, just two days after he officially launched his campaign. Black said he made the decision after meeting with fellow Republican senators in Richmond and hearing concerns that the party could lose his seat if he were elected to Congress.
Black is an outspoken conservative, particularly on social issues, with a loyal band of supporters and a history of inflammatory comments that made GOP leaders wary of his candidacy.
His decision removed Comstock’s most formidable foe and the person most likely to pull her to the right during a nomination fight in a race where the nominee will need to reach out to moderates and independents in the general election.
More good news for Comstock came Thursday, when the 10th Congressional District Republican Committee decided to hold a party canvass on April 26 — otherwise known as a “firehouse primary” — to select the GOP nominee.
The decision was welcomed by the sector of the Virginia GOP that believes conventions are a bad way to pick nominees for any office because they limit the number of people who can participate and tend to favor the most conservative candidates — who aren’t typically the strongest candidates in general elections.
Comstock’s allies had pushed to avoid a convention, as her fundraising strength and her potential appeal beyond Republican activists made her a better fit for a primary.
A party canvass functions like a regular primary, except with far fewer polling places. This one will take place several weeks before Virginia’s statewide primary date of June 10, giving the Republican nominee a few extra weeks to raise money and organize a campaign.
“There was significant discussion regarding a state-run primary, but doing an earlier process before the Democrats gives our candidate a significant advantage in terms of fundraising and organizing for the General Election,” John Whitbeck, chairman of the 10th District GOP committee, said in a statement. “A state-run primary also would be a much larger drain on the nominee’s resources.”
Whitbeck added that a party canvass would “produce a candidate with the best chance to hold this Congressional seat.”
Richard C. Shickle, chairman of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, is also running for the Republican nod, and some conservatives are hoping another candidate jumps in. But for the moment, a Republican civil war between an establishment-backed candidate and one supported by tea party groups appears less likely than it did a week ago.
A peaceful nomination process would be welcome news to the GOP because Wolf’s district — which stretches from McLean to the West Virginia border — is considered tossup territory for both parties.
Comstock, a former Wolf aide, has released a list of more than a dozen ex-staffers for the longtime congressman who have endorsed her campaign.
The Democratic field, meanwhile, may not be settled.
John W. Foust, a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, is considered the front-runner and has been endorsed by several current elected officials. Three lesser-known candidates are also running: Fairfax lawyer Richard Bolger, Leesburg architect Sam Kubba and Marine Corps veteran David R. Wroblewski.
Karen Schultz, a Shenandoah University professor who lost a 2007 campaign for state Senate, is considering a congressional bid. She has been encouraged to run by Emily’s List, the group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, and she hails from the opposite end of the district as Foust.
If Schultz enters the race, Foust will have a financial head start. Foust entered the race Dec. 11, and in 20 days of fundraising, he raised $217,000. He had $210,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission reports.