Some species eat their young. Virginia Republicans are eating their elders.
Del. Scott W. Taylor’s upset of Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-4th, in Tuesday’s 2nd District Republican primary is another anti-establishment thunderclap in Virginia politics, two years after Dave Brat ousted U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 7th District GOP primary.
“Ultimately, what it shows is the voters’ overall disgust with Congress,” said Robert D. Holsworth, a veteran political commentator, formerly at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“It shows that the traditional value of seniority means very little to the Republican base right now.”
Taylor will compete against Democratic activist Shaun D. Brown in the Republican-leaning district in November.
Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says there is a distinction between Brat’s ouster of Cantor and Taylor’s upset of Forbes on Tuesday night.
“The Cantor defeat was a scream from the Republican base,” Sabato said. “The rejection of Forbes by 2nd District Republicans is more like — ‘Huh. Who do you think you are?’ ”
Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, successfully argued that the people of the 2nd District, based in Virginia Beach, wanted a fresh start. He rebuked Forbes for abandoning his 4th District in a quest for safer political turf.
“Taylor projected a very good image,” Sabato said. “He also had a non-ideological argument: ‘I’m from this district and the other guy isn’t.’ ”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a partisan Democrat, had said in July 2014 that he was “devastated” by Cantor’s primary defeat because of the effect on Virginia’s influence in Congress.
Now Forbes is out, and with him Virginia loses the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
Forbes had said his seniority was vital for defense-rich Hampton Roads, but 2nd District voters did not buy the argument. Taylor crushed Forbes by nearly 5,800 votes in Virginia Beach, the heart of the 2nd District.
McAuliffe did not release a statement Wednesday about Forbes’ defeat. But former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a veteran of the Virginia Republican establishment, tweeted Tuesday night that he was sorry to see Forbes lose.
“This is another huge loss of leadership and influence for Virginia in Washington. Strange times,” he wrote.
Between retirements and primary defeats, Virginia will have turned over at least six of its 11 House seats between Cantor’s resignation in August 2014, and January 2017, when the next Congress is sworn in.
The turnover, while bringing fresh blood to Washington, has had an enormous effect on the Virginia delegation’s seniority in Washington.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-10th, chose not to seek re-election in 2014, retiring after 17 terms in Congress. He had been one of the powerful so-called “cardinals,” chairmen of House Appropriations subcommittees in charge of federal spending.
Wolf was succeeded by Rep. Barbara J. Comstock, R-10th, a former state legislator. Comstock now is trying to fend off Democrat LuAnn Bennett in November. The race bears watching because Comstock has distanced herself from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the ethnically diverse district.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-8th, another senior member of House Appropriations, also chose not to seek re-election in 2014 after representing his Northern Virginia district since January 1991. He was succeeded by Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, a former lieutenant governor.
In June 2014, Brat knocked off Cantor, who had represented the 7th District since 2001 and who might have been in line to succeed then-Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
This year, Reps. Scott Rigell, R-2nd, and Robert Hurt, R-5th, are not seeking re-election.
Forbes’ departure to run in the seemingly more favorable 2nd District means the 4th District also will have a new congressman in January — either state Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, or Republican Mike Wade, the Henrico County sheriff.
Rep. Robert J. Wittman, R-1st, will be a heavy re-election favorite in November, but he, too, hopes to leave the Virginia delegation. Wittman plans to seek the GOP nomination for governor next year.
The most senior remaining members of Virginia’s U.S. House delegation are Reps. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-6th, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-3rd, ranking Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Both have represented their districts since January 1993.
“Other states are cheering,” Sabato said. “Some of their members of the House today are more influential than they were yesterday — or last year.”
Ultimately, “it’s the people’s choice,” he added. Some voters might prefer more frequent turnover in the state’s U.S. House delegation, as a protection against potential arrogance or corruption.
The downside, he said, is that “the state loses clout.”