Energized Virginia Republicans roar back to life

Turns out that the widely reported demise of the Grand Old Party in Virginia last November was a tad premature.

Buoyed by gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell’s double-digit lead in the polls and the White House’s public spanking of Democrat Creigh Deeds, Republican strategists predict they will retain all their seats in the House of Delegates, where all 100 members are up for reelection. And they might even pick off a few Democrats in Northern Virginia, which just last year was written off as a virtually impenetrable Democratic stronghold.

What a difference a year makes. Especially if that year includes skyrocketing unemployment, record foreclosures, bank and auto company bailouts and the worst recession since the 1930s. Economic calamities tend to focus one’s attention on what government can take away from you.

This message appears to be resonating in the 34th District, which President Barack Obama won in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote, but where conservative Republican Congressman Frank Wolf also clobbered his Democratic opponent by 20 percent.

Barbara Comstock, a former Wolf staffer and Justice Department attorney, is mounting a formidable challenge to first-term Delegate Margi Vanderhye, D-McLean. Comstock doesn’t sugarcoat what will happen to residents of her swing district if Democrats take control of the Virginia House as well as the state Senate.

“Our zip codes are the target,” Comstock told The Examiner. “We already pay more for transportation and education, and are getting less” than the rest of the state. “My opponent ignores what’s going on in Washington, even when threatened with unfunded mandates.”

Many panicky small business owners, Comstock said, tell her they will be forced to lay off employees if the Democrats’ health care and carbon cap and trade bills pass on Capitol Hill.

Vanderhye is not the only Democratic incumbent in trouble less than a year after pundits proclaimed that their first presidential victory since 1964 had permanently tinted Virginia blue. So are Delegates Chuck Caputo (D-Chantilly), David Poisson (D-Sterling) and Paul Nichols (D-Prince William), who are facing unexpectedly stiff opposition from Republican challengers Jim LeMunyon, Tag Greason and Richard Anderson, respectively.

Likewise, Democratic hopes to knock off incumbent Delegates Dave Albo (R-Springfield), Tom Rust (R-Herndon) and Bob Marshall (R-Manassas), or even to retain open seats vacated by Steve Shannon (the Democratic candidate for attorney general who recently called upon his fellow party members to split their tickets) and Bob Hull (who lost in the primary) have diminished.

The Virginia governor’s race is one of just two in the nation this year and is widely perceived as the first referendum on Obama’s first 10 months in office. But there’s another reason Republicans are excited about their prospects on Nov. 3.

The door-to-door battle for the House of Delegates has received scant media attention, but it’s critical to the future viability of the Virginia GOP.

Democrats currently control the state Senate. A McDonnell victory, coupled with an increased Republican majority in the House of Delegates, will give Republicans the upper hand when it comes time to redistrict the commonwealth following the 2010 Census, giving the GOP its best shot at staging a political comeback in 2012.

Republicanism dead in Virginia? Not by a long shot.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Washington Examiner’s local opinion editor. She can be reached by e-mail at bhollingsworth@washingtonexaminer.com.

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