He had originally been elevated to Congress from the House of Delegates in a nomination contest that was hard-fought and left scars. His District Republican Committee had seen the insurgents take control. He faced a primary challenger on June 10 with national connections…
There, the similarities between Rob Wittman and Eric Cantor ended, but from one angle, that made things worse. Wittman’s First District is more spread out than the 7th, yet it also has the two media markets larger than Richmond (NoVa and Hampton Roads). While Cantor spent $3 million on his renomination battle, Wittman had roughly $1 million. Cantor faced a professor from a local college; Wittman was confronted with a lawyer for National Right to Work, a group with national appeal and – in theory – national connections for challenger Anthony Riedel.
If this were January, one could argue that Wittman appeared more vulnerable. Yet today, as the seven-term Congressman ponders life after Washington, seven-year Congressional veteran Wittman is savoring a 3-1 nomination victory.
How did this happen? Well, forgive me for bringing it up again, but Wittman and Cantor took very different paths on TARP (a.k.a. the bank bailout). Cantor not only voted for it, but as Deputy Minority Whip he tried to convince his fellow Republicans to join him. He even tried blaming Nancy Pelosi for turning Republicans off to the idea, which earned him howls of ridicule.
By contrast, Rob Wittman – seeing his president, his nominee for president, his speaker, his whip, and his Congressional neighbor on one side while his voters took the other – went with his voters and opposed TARP.
Now, there are some who will insist that there’s more to it than that, and I don’t necessarily disagree. Eve Barnes explains this view best:
While Wittman’s votes also do not completely please the most conservative Republicans in his district, he is always willing to engage constituents. I’ve been at more than a few meetings where Wittman has stayed for an extended period of time just to talk with the grassroots. He’s accessible and he never comes across as arrogant – at least in my experience. Just this past weekend, one of Wittman’s constituents was telling me that her Congressman always respects your position and genuinely listens even when he doesn’t end up agreeing with you.
That said, I’m beginning to think these two issues are linked. We don’t know how many of said grassroots folks would be so willing to spend time with Wittman had he voted Aye on the bailout. I’ll admit few would change their view on him as dramatically as I did, but I still think that vote counted for something.
In short, Rob Wittman has done quite a lot to maintain his bridge to the base over the years, but I believe his No and TARP built that bridge.