John Whitbeck, a Virginia Republican Party official, was chosen Monday night as the party’s nominee to fill the state Senate seat of Democrat Mark R. Herring if Herring becomes the state attorney general.
Whitbeck, chairman of the state’s 10th Congressional District Republican Committee, would face Democrat Jennifer Wexton and state Del. Joe T. May, a longtime GOP legislator who is running as an independent candidate, in a 33rd Senate District special election.
Herring (Loudoun), who was certified as the winner of the attorney general’s race by just 165 votes, appeared to widen his lead over Republican opponent state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (Harrisonburg) in the first two days of a recount, Monday and Tuesday.
Should Herring remain the winner, the race for his Senate seat would be closely watched. A Republican victory would shift control of the state Senate to the GOP, which already dominates the House of Delegates.
Whitbeck secured his party’s nomination Monday night at a mass meeting in Sterling conducted by the 33rd Senate Republican Legislative District Committee, defeating challenger Ron Meyer, a 24-year-old conservative pundit. More than 500 people attended the meeting, according to a statement by the committee.
“John is a father, a small-business owner and an active member of the community and just the kind of person residents of the 33rd Senate District need representing their interests in Richmond,” Mark Sell, chairman of the district’s Republican Committee, said in the statement.
Whitbeck, a Loudoun County lawyer, ran in 2011 for the 10th District seat in the state House of Delegates but lost the primary to the incumbent, J. Randall Minchew (R-Loudoun.)
In September, Whitbeck received widespread criticism after he told an anti-Semitic joke at a rally for GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II. Whitbeck later apologized for the joke, saying that it was told in a moment of poor judgment and was not intended to offend anyone.
In a prepared statement Tuesday, Whitbeck said his nomination would give voters in the 33rd Senate District a clear choice, and he assailed Wexton for what he called her “loyalty to anti-business special interests.”
Wexton “would allow Big Labor to run roughshod over local business and force workers to join unions,” Whitbeck alleged in the statement. “Make no mistake: Jennifer Wexton’s extreme agenda would damage our economy, leave less money for public education and hurt families.”
Whitbeck’s statement made no mention of May. May has represented the state House’s 33rd District as a Republican for more than two decades, but he was defeated in the June primary by newcomer Dave LaRock. May severed his ties to the GOP after the party announced that it would select a state Senate nominee through a mass meeting rather than a firehouse primary, a method May favored because he said it would allow more voters to participate.
In a prepared response, Wexton said Whitbeck’s Senate nomination was “no more than a continuation of the Tea Party extremist takeover” of the state GOP.
“I look forward to focusing on the issues that matter most to the people of the 33rd District, strengthening our education system, creating a sustainable transportation infrastructure, bringing new businesses to the district and fighting the backward social agenda,” she said.
May, meanwhile, said he was “overwhelmed” by the support he has received from voters “across the political spectrum,” and he touted his experience in government and as an engineer and businessman.
“I have not run into one Northern Virginia voter who says we need more lawyers in Richmond, but there have been quite a few who say we could use more engineers and businessmen,” he said in an e-mail. “ My opponents are both lawyers who represent partisan interests. In this critical Special Election, I want to give Virginia voters the opportunity to reject Washington-style politics and vote for one candidate who will put them and Virginia first.”