Robert Hurt announced this morning that he is retiring from Congress after three terms. The father of three and former member of both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate said that he plans to return to private life after completing his term in 2016.
First made public yesterday by Larry Sabato, news of Hurt’s retirement unleashed a torrent of behind-the-scenes activity among Virginia Republicans eager to know who would replace him.
Although several names have been floated as potential successors, two Virginia Senators have emerged as the most likely candidates. Sources in the 5th District have indicated both Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) and Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Buckingham) are maneuvering to secure support for bids for the Republican nomination. Sen. Garrett, last seen leading the effort to challenge consolidation of power in the Virginia Senate, has indicated to The Bull Elephant that he will be making a run and publicly announcing his intentions soon. Sen. Stanley’s office confirmed that the Senator is actively exploring a bid.
Another potential candidate being discussed by GOP leaders in the district is retired U.S. Army General Jerry Boykin, who is currently serving as Executive Vice President of the Family Research Council. Also in the mix is Ralph Smith, a former member of the Virginia Senate known as a stalwart friend of grassroots conservatives.
It is still too early to tell if other candidates will step forward in the 5th District. Under Virginia law, a candidate need not be a resident of the district in order to run for the Congressional seat, meaning other candidates may emerge from outside the district.
A key consideration for candidates and grassroots activists interested in the race will be the method by which the Republican nominee will be chosen. A crowded field in a state-run open primary will benefit a candidate who can self-fund or otherwise raise significant amounts of cash. In such a race, with a fractured vote, a nominee can be chosen by a small minority of voters, as the winner is whoever has more votes than the others–not necessarily a majority. A party-run convention, on the other hand, forces a consensus candidate, as this is the only means by which a majority can be required in order to win. The epic 2007 1st District Convention to replace Rep. JoAnn Davis, who tragically died in office, is an excellent illustration of how this works.
So how are conservatives going to know whom to support? One way is to watch the parallel battle emerge behind the scenes between the candidate with the most “establishment” support, and everyone else. The establishment candidate will push for a primary (a race that can be bought) and everyone else will be pushing for a convention (a race that must be won).
Stay tuned. TBE will provide continuing coverage of this most interesting race, in a most interesting year.