Why Republicans Want a Right-Wing Star to Lose in Virginia

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 16 2014 11:02 AM

Why Republicans Want a Right-Wing Star to Lose in Virginia

It seems to come earlier every year—the time for generally liberal news sites to inform their readers of the scariest Republican candidates. This week's lucky contest winner is Dick Black, a Northern Virginia conservative who's been notorious for years among local activists but never really broken through to the mainstream media. (Had he speculated about Barack Obama's birthplace in 2009 or 2010, that might have done it.) From Molly Redden's lede at Mother Jones:

[I]n a congressional district in Northern Virginia, one of the state's main instigators of culture warfare, state Sen. Richard H. "Dick" Black, is running in the Republican primary to replace longtime GOP moderate Rep. Frank Wolf, who is retiring. And he's guaranteed to ignite wedge-issue passion. Exhibit A: As a state legislator, Black opposed making spousal rape a crime, citing the impossibility of convicting a husband accused of raping his wife "when they're living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie, and so forth."
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This profile has been shared on Facebook more than 14,000 times; a HuffPo write-around has been shared once for every 10 clicks of the MoJo share widget. But the sub rosa story is that Republicans really don't mind watching Black get ritually shamed. It was nearly one month ago that the Weekly Standard reacted to the Black-for-Congress story with video dynamite: "When Black was a state delegate, he made a speech saying he 'did not know how on earth you could validly get a conviction of a husband-wife rape...' "

What's happening here? The center-right has its own candidate in the Wolf seat: Barbara Comstock. The longtime Republican lawyer and fixer, veteran of the Bush and Romney campaigns, fixture in many a green room, rode the 2009 GOP wave to a seat in Virginia's House of Delegates. She won again in 2011, and managed to hold off the 2013 mini-wave for Democrats in Northern Virginia. Comstock's victory was profiled by Mona Charen, in National Review, as a "primer" on how to outflank Democrats on "women's issues."

Comstock is not furtive about her opposition to abortion. At a debate the week before the election, she spoke affectionately of her son-in-law’s birthmother and of her “courageous and loving” decision to place him for adoption. She also took a page from Governor Bobby Jindal’s book and endorsed making birth-control pills available over the counter, as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends. It’s hard to paint her as someone who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant when she advocates making birth-control pills easier to obtain. Her opponent opposed this.

A Black primary win over Comstock would be a small disaster for the GOP establishment, a loss for one of their own to someone who's practically rented a sandwich board reading "I AM A KOOK" and walked in front of the Richmond Times-Dispatch's newsroom. There's a warm, No Labels-y harmony here: The left can beat up Black for six months, and Comstock can come out of the primary looking like a troll-slayer.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.