Dick Black is back.
Mr. Black, a staunchly conservative former state delegate who notably irked colleagues in 2003 by passing out plastic fetuses before a crucial abortion vote, has moved — again — to run in the Aug. 23 Republican primary race for an open Virginia Senate seat in Prince William and Loudoun counties.
But it remains to be seen whether Mr. Black, who was voted out of office in 2005, is a good fit for the burgeoning exurb he once represented and a constituency that has become increasingly diverse since its districts were last drawn 10 years ago.
After winning a House seat in 1998, Mr. Black unsuccessfully pushed for a measure that would have required doctors to administer anesthesia to fetuses prior to later-term abortions and another that tried to effectively ban gay people from adopting children in Virginia.
He did manage to shepherd through legislation requiring parental consent for abortions performed on minors before he lost his seat to Democrat David E. Poisson in 2005.
Mr. Black’s political career faltered when he moved to Fredericksburg in an unsuccessful bid for the 1st Congressional District seat in a special election in 2007, yet he maintains support from the more conservative wing of his party.
So why run again now?
“The country is facing the greatest economic challenges of our lifetime,” he said. “Clearly, we’re moving in a direction that emphasizes more European socialism and less free enterprise, and I’m opposed to that.”
Mr. Black’s critics, in addition to slamming his far-right views on social issues, have also dinged him for moving into the district in order to run for the newly relocated seat.
The Senate seat was moved north from southeast Virginia, where it was reliably in Republican hands, during this year’s once-a-decade redistricting process to accommodate population shifts in Northern Virginia’s booming outer suburbs.
Mr. Black had previously lived in a neighboring district represented by Sen. Mark Herring, Loudoun Democrat.
“Dick Black was in [a] district that seemed to be a challenge, and so he moved into this one,” said Bob FitzSimmonds, a businessman and chief deputy clerk of the Prince William County Circuit Court who is running against him in the Republican primary.
Mr. FitzSimmonds narrowly lost to longtime incumbent Charles J. Colgan, Prince William Democrat, in 2007. He also lost to Mr. Colgan, who toyed with retiring this year before deciding to seek a 10th term, in 1999.
Mr. Black, though, brushed off the charges.
“We were planning to move anyway,” he said. “This is going on all over the state.
“But even though the district is still Republican-leaning, Mr. Black’s pitch may not resonate anymore with residents in one of the fastest growing areas in the country.
“It seems to me that Dick Black is rather more conservative than the district as a whole,” said retiring Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat and chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “His appeal, I think, would be to a smaller portion of the electorate, and obviously that would benefit our candidate.”
Indeed, Mr. Black’s notoriety has not translated to dollars thus far. He raised just over $22,000 in the second quarter of this year, while another of his opponents, Prince William County Supervisor John T. Stirrup, raised more than $100,000. Mr. Stirrup also enjoys the endorsements of Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, for whom he served as chief of staff during Mr. Coburn’s days in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the national conservative group Citizens United, among others.
Mr. Stirrup was instrumental in helping draft — and pass — Prince William County’s controversial 2007 crackdown on illegal immigration, which remains a provocative issue in the district. The county last week sued the Department of Homeland Security demanding the dispositions of the more than 4,000 illegal immigrants it has turned over to the federal government since 2008.
“It’s a consistent top three or so” with voters, Mr. Stirrup said of the issue. “Definitely, illegal immigration is a hot-button item, particularly in Loudoun County,” he said. “I think people are certainly focused on the economy, but it’s resonated with voters that I took a very proactive stance on illegal immigration when a lot of other folks stood back.”
The only Democratic candidate to have stepped forward is Shawn Mitchell, a combat veteran who owns and operates an Ashburn, Va.-based small business. “Really for me, as a small business owner and a homeowner, I’m invested in my community,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I just felt that [my opponents] would not provide the strong leadership and business background that we need in Richmond.”
While the new district skews Republican, Mrs. Whipple said the race was winnable with the right candidate, “and that’s one of the reasons we’re excited about Shawn Mitchell. He’s just a good fit for that district.”
“Keep an eye on that 13th District,” she said. “I think it’s going to be real interesting.”