VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes is an elder statesman in the Virginia GOP who has supporters across the Republican spectrum, from establishment figures to tea party activists. Scott Taylor is the ambitious up-and-comer, a former Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and is a member of the state House of Delegates.
Were it not for a Democratic legal challenge to the state’s congressional district boundaries, the two Republicans could have easily been congressional colleagues. Instead, they are facing off in an increasingly nasty contest for 2nd Congressional District, which includes much of the Hampton Roads area and the Eastern Shore.
Taylor has accused Forbes of acting “cowardly” and “abandoning” his fellow Republicans by choosing the run in the 2nd District, instead of the 4th Congressional District, the district where Forbes lives and has long represented. Forbes has countered that Taylor’s history of speeding tickets and troubled business ventures make him a habitual “rule breaker” who is “unfit” for office.
The tone of the attacks leading up to the June 14 primary is turning off voters like Ned Lowery.
“I just abhor the negativity,” the 84-year-old retired Navy aviator said as he worked on his lawn earlier this week.
Lowery said he’s currently undecided. He said he likes Forbes’ strong advocacy for military issues, but isn’t sure about Forbes’ decision to run in a district where he doesn’t live. Lowery said he doesn’t know as much about Taylor or Pat Cardwell, an attorney who is also running.
Forbes is a former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and state lawmaker who hasn’t faced a tough election fight since he was first elected to Congress in 2001. But his once smooth trajectory has been upended by a series of court decisions — finalized this year — that redrew his once GOP-friendly congressional district into a Democratic-leaning district.
So Forbes has opted to run in a district next door, which is being vacated by retiring Rep. Scott Rigell.
Forbes has said that it is important he represent the Hampton Roads area because of his seniority directing federal defense spending. He said his budget pen would be invaluable to a district with a heavy military presence, including the Norfolk Naval Base, the largest naval base in the world.
But Taylor and other critics have accused Forbes of putting political expediency above all else.
“People are livid that he abandoned people in the 4th,” said Waverly Woods, a tea party activist who supports Cardwell.
Taylor, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and Fox News guest, was exploring a potential run for lieutenant governor before switching to a congressional race right after Rigell’s unexpected retirement announcement.
Forbes and Taylor differ little on issues — both are conservative and pledge to be strong advocates of the military. But whereas Forbes is highlighting his seniority in Congress, Taylor is pitching himself as a political outsider who can help fix a “broken” Washington, D.C.
Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, said billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s success among Republican primary voters highlights the fact that it is a good year for people running as outsiders. But he also notes that Forbes has a huge cash advantage over Taylor, enabling Forbes to get his message across to a lot more voters in what are typically low-turnout elections.
Kidd said he believes the race will be close, with the attacks likely to continue.
“These candidates are willing to get dirty,” Kidd said.
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