Open Primary

Republican Congressional Candidate's Awkward Obama Vote

Longtime Republican operative Barbara Comstock is a frontrunner to win the GOP nomination for Congress in a Northern Virginia district. However, she may be hurt by a 2008 vote for Barack Obama.

Harry E. Walker/MCT/Zuma

Virginia State Delegate Barbara Comstock is the ur-Republican.

Comstock, who is the frontrunner for her party’s nomination in the open seat in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, made a career as a party apparatchik before seeking elected office. She investigated Whitewater in the 1990s, before moving on to digging up dirt on Al Gore in 2000 and becoming a zealous defender of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay while he was under criminal investigation in 2005. She has endorsements from political figures ranging from Mitt Romney to Sean Hannity. While in the Virginia House of Delegates, she has supported legislation that would require women seeking an abortion to have a transvaginal ultrasound first, voted against Medicaid expansion and to further loosen the Old Dominion’s already lenient gun laws. So why would anyone attack her as a moderate? Well, she voted for Barack Obama.

In 2008’s presidential primary, Comstock cast her ballot in Virginia’s presidential primary for Barack Obama. In a statement, her campaign initially claimed that it was part of Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” in order to insure Democrats nominated a weak candidate against John McCain. The problem for Comstock is that Operation Chaos started after Virginia’s February 12 primary and its goal was to prop up Clinton and keep Democrats battling each other as long as possible. As Limbaugh described it at the time:

Operation Chaos was born primarily for the purpose assuming Obama was going to be the nominee at the get go of this. He needs to be bloodied up politically since McCain is not going to do it . . . The only person that can do it is Hillary, and she can't do it if she's not in the race -- and so the purpose was Operation Chaos was to keep her in the race and to have her bloody up Obama in the process of staying in the race.

Comstock has since backtracked, telling the Washington Post “her ‘recollection’ was flawed, and that her vote had nothing to do with Mr. Limbaugh.” Instead, she said it was simply because she thought Obama would be the weakest Democrat to run against McCain.

This has all fueled attacks against Comstock by her opponents in the primary, who include arch conservative Del. Bob Marshall, former Hill staffer Rob Wasinger and former Defense Department official Howie Lind. Wasinger has even gone so far as to call on Comstock to drop out and run as a Democrat instead.

The irony, of course, is that this stretch of Washington DC suburbs and exurbs and Northern Virginia is a quintessential swing district. Barack Obama won it 51-48 in 2008 but just barely lost it 50-49 in 2012 and it’s one of the most competitive House seats in the country. In order for the eventual Republican nominee to hold on to the district for the GOP, a key target will be those traditionally Republican leaning swing voters in this well-to-do district who may crossed over to vote for Obama once or even twice. And this debate won’t exactly win them over.

The Republican primary for the seat will be held on April 26.