Wednesday

January 18th, 2017

Insight

New Face of the Republican Party

Mona Charen

By Mona Charen

Published Oct. 28, 2016

New Face of the Republican Party

Something quite startling happened in a close House race in northern Virginia this year. The Washington Post endorsed the incumbent Republican, Barbara Comstock. Comstock has been a familiar figure in the region for decades, but not in a way that would typically earn the Post's admiration. In the 1990s, as chief counsel to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, she made the Clintons sweat with investigations into their hydra-headed scandals. She served three terms in the Virginia House of Delegates, winning each time in a district that leaned Democrat. In 2014, she ran for and won seat she now holds by a 16-point margin.

In a year when the two major-party presidential nominees are dismaying and demoralizing, it's a relief to pay tribute to a politician who is honorable, able and worthy.

Comstock knocked on 10,000 doors in each of her races for the House of Delegates, and was dogged and diligent about constituent service. From transportation to cyber security to snow emergencies, she filled her district's inboxes with helpful information and offers of assistance.

Virginia's sprawling 10th congressional district extends from the close-in suburbs of Washington, D.C., all the way to the Shenandoah Valley bordering West Virginia. It's a great district for a fearful flyer (not that Comstock is, just saying). But accessibility is double-edged sword. Most of the district lies within a couple of hours' drive from the capital (some parts much closer), but that means the representative is expected at pretty much every event. A scroll through Comstock's Facebook page shows that she almost never begs off. She is like Zelig — everywhere. I once asked her how many nights per week she attends events. She allowed as how it's usually seven: an Indian-American meet and greet; a Korean barbeque night; a high-tech conference (the Dulles corridor is the Washington area's Silicon Valley); a high school homecoming; a veterans' event; a film festival; a maternity home; a firefighters open house; a breast cancer awareness event; a Columbus Day parade (in the rain).

For 34 years, the district was represented by Republican Frank Wolf, whose particular passion was human rights. Since leaving Congress, he has worked with the Wilberforce Initiative, defending victims of religious persecution. Comstock has upheld the tradition, cosponsoring two pieces of legislation on human trafficking, demanding that the Obama administration devise plans to defeat ISIS, and initiating legislation to label ISIS' crimes against Christians and others as "genocide."

The 10th district was happy with Wolf, but that doesn't make it a safe Republican seat. It went for Romney by a margin of just 1 percent in 2012 and for Ken Cuccinelli by just one point in the 2013 governor's race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted Comstock in 2015, hoping to make her a "one-term wonder." They got a huge assist — not from Democrats, who had trouble drafting a challenger, but from Republicans. Trump is trailing by about 10 points in Virginia, and is loathed in suburban communities like Fairfax County. GOP consultant Tucker Martin tweeted, "He's at 29 percent in VA. Which is what you would get if you got nominated, burnt down Monticello, and then went on vacation until November." (Actually, RCP puts Trump at 39 percent in Virginia, but the point stands.)

LuAnn Bennett, a real estate executive whose own domicile has raised questions (the Washington Free Beacon reports that Bennett lived at the Ritz-Carlton in the District of Columbia and only acquired a rental in the district eight days before declaring her candidacy), offers the usual Democratic Party talking points: equal pay for women (which has been law since 1963), a minimum-wage increase to $15 per hour, universal pre-K and paid family leave. She unintentionally provoked laughter at a Loudoun Chamber of Commerce appearance when she praised the ACA for "making health care more affordable."

Through constituent service, opposition to Obamacare, support for defense, outreach to minorities and hostility to grandstanding government shutdowns, Comstock earned the endorsements of every major newspaper in her district. Bennett is struggling to hang Trump around Comstock's neck. But Comstock never endorsed Trump, and in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape's release, condemned his statements as "vile, disgusting and disqualifying."

If the Republican Party is going to survive post-2016, Barbara Comstock is exactly the sort of leader to help it rise from the rubble. She could be, she should be, the new face of the party.

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