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Bob Goodlatte to step down: What does it mean in the Sixth District heading into 2018?

bob goodlatteIs Bob Goodlatte running scared in the wake of the Republican disaster in the 2017 Virginia elections?

Highly doubtful.

Goodlatte, the Sixth District congressman, announced on Thursday that he will not seek re-election in 2018, citing, basically, a lack of fire in the belly after 25 years in Congress.

Which is understandable. Goodlatte will be 66 on Election Day in 2018, and the grind of serving in Congress, and constantly running for re-election, with the two-year cycles requiring almost perpetual fundraising, even in a safe GOP district, has to wear one thin after a while.

That said, Goodlatte was not vulnerable heading into 2018. He won his most recent re-election by a two-to-one margin, and even in this week’s elections, again, a disaster for Republicans statewide, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie, racked up more than 60 percent of the vote in the Sixth District.

As long as Goodlatte would be in the running, Democrats would be hard-pressed to field a candidate like a, say, Creigh Deeds, the long-time Bath County state senator and 2009 Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee, whose name has to be on the wish list of Democrats in the early hours following the Goodlatte retirement announcement.


Goodlatte has long been essentially congressman-for-life in the Sixth District, with a sizable campaign warchest to go with solid name recognition and brand name in the district that work together to scare off all serious challengers.

Now, could Goodlatte be reading different political tea leaves, looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, and foreseeing a Democratic wave that would throw the GOP back to minority-party status that, at age 66, he wouldn’t want to be a part of?

That very well could be the case. Goodlatte, for instance, did cite in his retirement letter that his term as House Judiciary Committee chair would come to an end in December 2018, due to House term limits, so he was already acknowledging a sense of comedown in that respect.

Goodlatte’s tenure has included time spent on both sides of the majority/minority aisle, with Republicans seizing control of the House in the 1994 midterms with the Newt Gingrich revolution, losing control in the 2006 midterms at the depths of the fallout from the failed invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, then regaining the majority in 2010 with the rise of the Tea Party.

Which is to say, he’s seen the political winds swirl back and forth and back again, and no one would fault him for not wanting to stick out another shift in the winds, at an advancing age.

His retirement doesn’t make the Sixth anything near a toss-up race heading into the 2018 cycle. It’s still a district that gave north of 60 percent of the vote to Gillespie this week and a couple of ticks below 60 percent for Donald Trump last year.

It would be assumed that Goodlatte would still have influence in the 2018 election. A former protégée, Ben Cline, has already announced his intention to run for the GOP nomination, on the heels of his own re-election this week to the House of Delegates.

Cline, 45, has served in the House since 2002, after serving as chief of staff under Goodlatte.

Cline’s entrée into the race might be enough to keep a potential heavyweight Democrat like Deeds, who turns 60 in January, from throwing his hat into the ring.

Another possibility for the Ds is Roanoke Del. Sam Rasoul, who challenged Goodlatte in 2008, receiving 36 percent of the vote in his first run for public office, six years before winning a special election for the 11th House District seat, the first of three election wins for the 36-year-old Democrat.

Former Harrisonburg mayor Kai Degner, 37, who received 33.1 percent of the vote in his challenge to Goodlatte in 2016, could re-emerge heading into 2018, but the list of Democratic challengers is short after that.

Whether any other Republicans enter the race remains to be seen. There is certainly no shortage of successful candidates on the deep, deep R bench in the district, including another Goodlatte protégée, Del. Steve Landes, State Sen. Mark Obenshain, the 2013 GOP attorney general nominee, and long-time State Sen. Emmett Hanger to name just a few of those with solid track records who could mount a challenge.

Whoever emerges on the Republican side is likely to run with Goodlatte’s endorsement, and even as Democrats will want to target as many races as they can with their eyes on the prize of seizing back control of the House of Representatives in 2018, don’t expect them to put too much effort into the Sixth.

You want to run as many candidates as you can to give voters a choice, sure, but the money, time and effort would honestly be best spent elsewhere.

Column by Chris Graham