As in New York, Republican leaders in Virginia are backing a moderate state lawmaker, Sen. Robert Hurt, whose record enrages many conservatives, including a disparate band of Tea Party activists. To them, Hurt is not a real conservative because of his past support for tax increases, and they're promising a third-party challenge if he wins the nomination. And lurking on the sidelines is Virgil H. Goode Jr., the former GOP congressman who lost to Perriello by 727 votes and has hinted at running as an independent.
"We want a conservative, not a situational Republican," said Laurence Verga, a business owner from the Charlottesville area and one of five Tea Party candidates in the Republican primary. "I really believe the 5th District congressional election is about the soul of American politics." (My emphasis)
But that's nothing compared to this:
Wow. Robert Hurt = the establishment. I never would have thought I'd hear conservatives throwing around that meme. Far be it from me to tell the righties how to run their primary, but I'd be embarrassed if 5th District Dems had this kind of discord.
It started when national and state Republican leaders began urging Hurt, an affable lawyer from rural Pittsylvania County, to get into the race. Hurt had name recognition and a political base. And his moderate views -- he voted for a $1 billion tax package in 2004 and for smaller tax increases in a roads plan in 2007 -- might play well with independent-minded voters.
But many conservatives were angered not just because they oppose Hurt's moderation but also because they are deeply resentful of being told who their candidate will be by party leaders in Richmond and Washington. Their anger grew when Hurt's supporters successfully pushed for a primary over a convention, giving him a more inclusive format that tends to favor moderates. Hurt also received $7,000 from U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip, confirming Tea Party suspicions that the GOP was fully involved.
"The fact of the matter is that Robert Hurt is the establishment candidate, and it appears that the GOP is doing everything it can to make sure he is the nominee," said Bill Hay, who leads the Jefferson Area Tea Party organization in the Charlottesville area. "That's causing a whole lot of bad blood right now between some of the Tea Party people."
But this is the most beautiful quote of all:
Sure thing, buddy, we'll do that. We'll be happy to take you on with two more years of incumbency under our belt. Who is giving these guys their advice? I'm starting to think the activists have reached a saturation point where nobody's really sure what the right move is anymore. I can kind of respect the idea of demanding some sort of ideological commitment from a nominee, but their comes a point when it's just too much too ask of a general electorate. I never thought I'd see the day when Robert Hurt would be vulnerable from his own right--it will certainly be an interesting one to watch.
One option is to unite behind a single candidate. But they also discussed the possibility of recruiting Goode, who has not ruled out an independent bid. That would almost certainly split the Republican vote and deliver the victory to Perriello, which doesn't bother some.
"If Robert Hurt wins, then we have an ideologically inconsistent congressman for a couple of decades," said Bradley S. Rees, a conservative blogger and talk-radio host in Bedford. "I would rather we had an ideologically consistent Democrat who we can hammer on their records. We'll get Perriello in 2012 -- with a stronger, more consistent candidate."