The Corner

Comstock and Her Critics

The race for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s tenth congressional district is widely regarded as Barbara Comstock’s to lose. The conservative state legislator has won three times in the part of the swing district that is hardest for Republicans, and she has won an impressive list of endorsements.

She does, however, have some competition. One is Rob Wasinger, a longtime Republican politico. He worked for the presidential campaign of Sam Brownback in 2008 and that of Jon Huntsman in 2012; in between he ran for a House seat in Kansas, coming in fourth in the primary. Another competitor is Comstock’s fellow delegate Bob Marshall, who is mainly known for a social conservatism that is sometimes expressed in incendiary ways. In 2010, for example, he got national attention for saying, “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.”

The main line of attack on Comstock from Marshall and Wasinger is that she is insufficiently socially conservative. She has consistently opposed same-sex marriage and abortion, and among her supporters are such undoubted social conservatives as Mary Ellen Bork, Eugene Scalia, and Rick Santorum. Some flawed reporting by Deal Hudson has created confusion on this issue. (You may recall Hudson for having been a bridge between the George W. Bush administration and conservative Catholics before being brought down by scandal.)

Hudson posted a column arguing that Comstock is not pro-life. His chief evidence: She had voted against an amendment that would have kept plans offered in Virginia’s Obamacare exchange from covering abortion. What Hudson did not comprehend is the peculiar structure of Virginia’s “veto sessions,” which are unlike its regular sessions. If the legislature approves the governor’s recommended amendments to a vetoed bill during those sessions, the amended legislation becomes law. Comstock opposed the amendment because she opposed the underlying bill: She opposes Obamacare and its exchanges. Before the vote she explained her thinking to the Family Foundation, the group pushing for the amendment. The foundation has said that Comstock’s vote should not be taken as detracting from her record of supporting the right to life.

After hearing that he had gotten the story wrong, Hudson, to his credit, took it down. He then sent out an e-mail seeking information about the question — an email that further asserted, without evidence, that Comstock “is also bad on marriage, by the way” (and also falsely claimed the foundation had posted its explanation for Comstock’s vote after his article appeared; the timestamps say otherwise). He then posted a new version of his article. It has a better handle on the facts, but no expression of regret for not having done his research beforehand.

Now that he knows how a veto session works, Hudson concludes that Comstock’s explanation for her vote is “not only inadequate but a sad reminder of the kind of explanation used by Rep. Bart Stupak when he backed down on his opposition to abortion funding in the health care bill.” The comparison is inapt: Stupak voted for the underlying bill and Comstock did not. All in all, Hudson’s conclusions-first approach makes me wonder whether he would be attacking Comstock for having supported Obamacare if she had cast the opposite vote.

Wasinger allies have sent out “opposition research” involving this and other similarly weak attacks on Comstock, and started a fake organization to promote these attacks.

Marshall, by the way, voted present on the same amendment for his own reasons.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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