- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2011

In 2004, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, pushed a historic $1.4 billion tax-increase package through the General Assembly with help from such moderate Republicans as Sens. John H. Chichester and Kenneth W. Stolle.

But Mr. Chichester, a Fredericksburg Republican who backed Mr. Warner’s successful 2008 U.S. Senate bid, has since retired. Mr. Stolle is now the Virginia Beach sheriff. And Sens. William C. Wampler Jr., Bristol Republican, and Frederick M. Quayle, Suffolk Republican, announced their retirements this year, leaving fewer and fewer moderate GOPers in the General Assembly’s typically more deliberative upper chamber.

“The vast majority are conservative to very conservative, and that’s the way the Republican electorate wants it,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Mr. Sabato cited Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. as a moderate but added “he’s one of the few.”

Mr. Norment, James City Republican, disputed the notion of a conservative vetting process for Republican candidates as the party attempts to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats, who hold a 22-18 majority.

“There is no ideological litmus test that I have offered,” he said. “I don’t see it as a distraction that there is a sort of ideological diversity among the candidates. I actually see it as a strength.”

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling disagrees with the notion of a perceived shift, arguing that Republicans aren’t “monolithic thinkers.”

“We’ve got conservative Republicans, we’ve got tea party Republicans, we’ve got some Republicans that are social conservatives and some that are economic conservatives,” he said. “You’ve got some moderate Republicans. One of the things that I think has made our party successful over the past few years is our ability to energize the conservative base while still reaching out to moderate and independent voters.”

But Mr. Sabato said the state GOP simply has followed the conservative-trending path of the national party, which has faced increased pressure from the tea party to say ‘no’ to more spending and taxes.

“The standard statement is that Nixon, Ford and maybe even Reagan couldn’t be nominated today,” he said. “The same has happened in Virginia. But that’s because the Republican electorate has gotten more conservative over time.”

For example, Rep. Robert Hurt, Virginia Republican, took heat from tea partyers during his 2010 congressional campaign because, as a member of the Virginia House in 2004, he supported Mr. Warner’s tax package.

“That’s the last time Robert Hurt will ever vote for a tax increase,” Mr. Sabato said. “I’m certain of that.”

Indeed, Mr. Hurt is now one of six Virginia GOP congressmen, along with Reps. E. Scott Rigell, J. Randy Forbes, Bob Goodlatte, Eric Cantor and H. Morgan Griffith who have signed the Americans for Tax Reform group’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Reps. Robert J. Wittman and Frank R. Wolf have not, according to group.

“I think the makeup of the Republicans is going to be a bit more conservative than it has been in the past - or at least they’re going to proclaim themselves more conservative,” Mr. Stolle said. “The political scheme swings on a pendulum, and it’ll swing back and forth based on how people govern.”

Jeffrey M. Frederick, considered among the most fiscally and socially conservative Virginia lawmakers when he was in the state House, said he welcomes support from all sides of the political spectrum in his bid to defeat state Democratic incumbent Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller in their 36th District race this year.

“We are not closing the door on anybody,” he said. “We don’t care if you’re black, white, orange, red or green.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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