Wittman Departure Narrows Governor’s Race

Wittman Departure Narrows Governor’s Race

After the surprise announcement last week suspending his campaign for the 2017 Republican nomination for governor of Virginia, 1st District Congressman Rob Wittman leaves the race to be battled by four remaining candidates.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie with a big lead over his two remaining GOP opponents, Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and State Sen. Frank Wagner (R-22nd).  Gillespie has 24 percent of the vote to four percent each for both Stewart and Wagner.

Wittman garnered 10 percent of the vote in that same poll, which was conducted before he dropped out. The results also showed that 57 percent of Republican voters surveyed were undecided, and that all three remaining Republican candidates were trailing in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup with Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

The Republican side of the race could evolve quickly with Wittman out.  Shortly after Wittman’s departure, Gillespie’s campaign announced endorsements from more than a dozen elected officials in the 1st District, which stretches along the eastern part of Virginia from Prince William County down near the northern part of Hampton Roads.

Gillespie already counted nearly two-thirds of Republicans in the state General Assembly as supporters, including Sen. Dick Black (R-33rd), who represents parts of Loudoun County and Prince William County. Gillespie also has the endorsement of former 10th District congressman Frank Wolf.

“Rob Wittman has an important opportunity to work with a Trump Administration and our Republican majorities in Congress to advance Virginia’s priorities at a critical time for us. He is a good friend and a good man, and like countless other Virginians I am grateful for his continued leadership in and service to our Commonwealth.” Gillespie said in a statement.

Democrats were not so laudatory toward Wittman or the remaining candidates.

“The anti-establishment electorate that voted for Donald Trump in the primary sent Wittman running for the hills. In fact, this race is so toxic that he refuses to endorse any of the candidates. By the time the primary rolls around, the Republican nominee will emerge a damaged candidate with empty pockets,” said the Democratic Party of Virginia in a statement.

“Even though Virginia voters rejected Donald Trump at the polls by a five point margin in 2016, gubernatorial candidates Ed Gillespie, Frank Wagner, and Corey Stewart are fighting to be the most pro-Trump in order to court Republican primary voters for the opportunity to carry out his dangerous agenda in the Commonwealth,” the statement continued.

While Gillespie endorsed Trump and campaigned along side vice presidential nominee Mike Pence at events in Harrisonburg and Fairfax, unlike the remaining GOP gubernatorial candidates he did not take a leadership role in the campaign.

Wagner, who represents the Virginia Beach area, originally supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president but later joined the Trump campaign. Speaking to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, Wagner said he was happy to be a Trump co-chair and that Trump’s election was the “the biggest positive economic development thing in the past 30 days.”

“I’m so glad for this country that the conclusion of this election is the way it turned out,” Wagner said.

Corey Stewart has been the most vocal Trump supporter of the three.  He was Trump’s Virginia chairman before he was terminated for leading an insurrection attempt at GOP headquarters for what he considered a insufficient support for Trump.  He has stayed to Gillespie’s political right, recently attacking him through social media for not being conservative enough.

Stewart recently made national headlines with a raffle to give away an AR-15, a popular assault weapon that has been the target of many Democrats advocating for gun control reforms.

Wittman Remains in Congress

Now out of the race, Wittman turns his sights from Richmond toward Washington, where he is poised to have a larger role in Congress.

Wittman, a member on the House Armed Services Committee, is in consideration for the chairmanship of the Subcomittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. The chair position is being vacated by Virginia’s 4th Congressional District Representative Randy Forbes, who lost in the Republican primary earlier this year.

Speaking at a roundtable meeting with other members of the Virginia congressional delegation on Dec. 12, Wittman said he has spoken with Pence, Secretary of Defense Nominee James Mattis, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry about the chairmanship.

“I feel that I will be very competitive for that (position),” Wittman said. “The conversations I’ve had have been very fruitful.”

The Seapower Committee has oversight over the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Navy Reserve and other maritime programs. Wittman is an outspoken proponent of the Navy and was previously awarded the U.S. Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award, the branch’s highest civilian honor.  He currently chairs the Subcommittee on Readiness, which oversees military training, logistical and other maintenance issues pertaining to the military.

10th District Rep. Barbara Comstock, a fellow Republican, also voiced her support for Wittman at the roundtable. So did Democrat Gerry Connolly of the 11th District.

“I should mention all of us, the whole (Virginia) delegation, all 11 of us historically have always been one voice when it comes to the military footprint here, whether it be contracting, whether it be direct facilities, whether it be military basis,” Connolly said “I except it will continue.”