The Republicans will choose their nominee to succeed Congressman Frank Wolf through a party canvass, or more commonly referred to as a firehouse primary.
The 10th Congressional District Republican Committee voted Thursday night to hold a firehouse primary April 26. The primary will be held at 10 locations throughout the district, two in both Loudoun and Fairfax counties and one in each of the other jurisdictions included in the district: Prince William County, Frederick County, Clarke County, Winchester, Manassas City and Manassas Park.
A firehouse primary is open to all voters who live in the 10th District. To be eligible to vote, a resident must be a registered voter and sign a certificate declaring to be a Republican. Voters in Virginia do not register by political party.
Comments made by the 17 committee members before the vote indicated most supported a convention over an open primary—one that would be conducted by state election officials—to select their candidate. But John Whitbeck, chairman of the committee, proposed holding a firehouse primary as a compromise among the voting members—it’s a party-run process that does not spend taxpayer dollars but it is more open than a convention—and, he said, it also is logistically easier. A convention would require space for as many as 10,000 people.
“I don’t know where we can hold a convention and I’m not going to turn anyone away,” he said. “Let’s find a process we can all agree on, come out of here united and win this election.”
The committee’s vote comes on the heels of the 33rd District state Senate race that made the local Republican party appeared splintered. Whitbeck ran as the Republican nominee for the seat to succeed newly sworn-in Attorney General Mark Herring, and Joe May, a 20-year Republican delegate, ran as an Independent after Republican party chose to select their candidate through a mass meeting instead of a firehouse primary.
In Tuesday’s special election, Republican votes were split between Whitbeck and May, and Democrat Jennifer Wexton won the seat with close to 53 percent of the vote.
Several attending Thursday’s committee meeting cited that loss as a learning opportunity.
“John’s defeat can be traced back to what we did wrong in the state Senate race,” Greg Stone said, advocating an open primary to fill Wolf’s seat. “We have a situation here where a convention is probably not the way to go. We need to be smart enough and nimble enough to look at what’s happening and come together to win this election.”
Wolf is not seeking re-election this year after representing the district since 1981.
Four candidates vying for the GOP nomination to replace the Republican attended the committee meeting, including Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34), who is seen as the early front-runner after state Sen. Dick Black (R-13) dropped out of the race Thursday.
In an interview with Leesburg Today before the meeting, Comstock said she only wanted a process that the entire party could agree on. “No matter what process they choose, we’re in,” she said. “I’ve raised my kids in this district, started my business here and worked for Congressman Wolf on behalf of the district. I’m all in.”
In a short speech, Comstock gently reminded the committee members and the roughly 40 others who sat in the audience that she can win in historically blue districts. “I’m the only elected Republican inside the beltway,” she said, and she told them it was Wolf who encouraged her to run for the House of Delegates four years ago “when everyone said we couldn’t possibly win. And we did…Now we need to bring that same commonsense conservatism that has worked in Virginia to Congress.”
Stephen Hollingshead, a Leesburg resident who was a senior advisor in the Bush Administration, told the committee he is entering the race, as did National Association of Independent Housing Professionals President Marc Savitt, of Frederick County, and Brent Anderson, of Chantilly.
Three Democrats are seeking their party's nomination: attorney Richard Bolger, Fairfax Supervisor John Foust, and architect and author Sam Kubba. The 10th District Democrats will vote on how to select their nominee Feb. 8.