Retirements Open Door for New Virginia Candidates

Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:03pm

Virginia’s proximity to Capitol Hill makes a seat in Congress a desirable landing spot for politicians in the Old Dominion State. As a result, many of Virginia’s members of Congress stick around for a long time.

But prime northern Virginia House seats came open this cycle when two of the longest-serving members of the delegation — Reps. James P. Moran, a Democrat, and Frank R. Wolf, a Republican — announced their retirements.

The rest of the delegation is either entrenched in leadership or only a few terms into their tenures, making congressional dreams seem distant for hopefuls from the commonwealth.

The next opportunities in Virginia now hinge on freshman Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine’s future plans.

Kaine is not up for re-election until 2018. Republicans say a number of GOP candidates with statewide appeal could look to run against him that year.

“We have a big bench, it’s just a question of who steps forward,” said Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for the state Senate Republican Caucus.

Potential candidates include:

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, who lost a race for Virginia attorney general in 2013 by a few hundred votes after a recount.

State Del. Benjamin Cline, who considered a bid against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner this cycle but decided against it when former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie entered the race.

State Sen. Jeff McWaters, whose district includes part of Virginia Beach. McWaters founded the health insurance company Amerigroup, and has the ability to self-fund a campaign.

State Del. Barbara Comstock, the current front-runner in the race to replace Wolf in Virginia’s 10th District. Republicans say if Comstock wins in November, she would have a strong profile to run for Senate in 2018. She helped with Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign in the state, though he lost Virginia to President Barack Obama by nearly 4 points.

State Sen. Bryce Reeves, a legislator from the Fredericksburg area, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Members of the congressional delegation could also look to run statewide. They include GOP Reps. Scott Rigell in the 2nd District and J. Randy Forbes in the 4th District. If either runs for Senate, it would open up their House seats.

In that case, McWaters could run for Rigell’s seat, Republicans say. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Lynwood Lewis, a longtime House delegate who won his state Senate seat in a razor-thin 2013 contest after a recount, could also look to run in an open 2nd District contest.

Potential Forbes successors from the Republican bench include state Del. M. Kirkland Cox, who currently serves as majority leader, and state Sen. John Cosgrove.

For Democratic hopefuls, opportunities will be slim. Moran’s retirement provided a prime opportunity to ascend the political ranks, with many local politicians jumping at the chance.

Looking forward, Democrats have to hope Kaine gets another job to create an opening.

In 2008, Obama considered Kaine as a potential vice presidential running mate before choosing Joseph R. Biden Jr. for the ticket. Democrats say Kaine could appear as a 2016 vice presidential candidate, or be selected for a Cabinet position if Democrats keep the White House in 2016.

In that case, Democrats listed a number of candidates who could run to try and succeed Kaine in the Senate. They include:

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who was elected to that office in 2013.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who defeated Obenshain by a few hundred votes in 2013.

Anne Holton, who serves as Virginia’s secretary of Education under Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Holton is Kaine’s wife and also the daughter of former Gov. Linwood Holton, a Republican.

Former ambassador and ex-Lt. Gov. Don Beyer, currently seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Moran in the 8th District.

Former state Del. Ward Armstrong, who served as minority leader in the state House before being defeated for re-election in 2011.

Former Rep. Tom Perriello, who lost his seat in 2010 to current Republican Rep. Robert Hurt, who came from the state Senate.

“With the statewide sweep last year we do have a bench, which is something we didn’t have before,” said Democratic state Del. Bob Brink. “So it’s a nice luxury to have.”

Farm Team is a weekly, state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.