It’s not every day that three long-serving House members announce their retirements within hours of each other. It’s rarer still that two of those seats have a distinct possibility of being filled by a black Republican after next year’s election.
But that’s what happened Tuesday when Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Jim Matheson, D-Utah, both said they wouldn’t seek re-election in 2014. Their announcements quickly fueled speculation that two prominent conservative African-Americans — Mia Love of Utah and Artur Davis, a recent resident of Virginia and a former Alabama congressman — could be beneficiaries of the newly open seats.
Iowa Republican Rep. Tom Latham also announced Tuesday that he’s not seeking another term, but no likely candidates for his seat are African-American.
Both Love and Davis are seasoned candidates who would represent a step toward fulfilling some of the mission outlined in the Republican National Committee’s “autopsy” report earlier this year, which called for diversifying the party and expanding its reach to young, female and minority voters and candidates.
The GOP can’t afford to wait. The 2012 election was none too kind to the GOP, with President Obama winning 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and capturing more than 90 percent of the African-American vote. Black Republican candidates didn’t fare well either — Love, former Florida Rep. Allen West and Vernon Parker, a candidate in Arizona’s newly created 9th District, all lost by narrow margins in 2012.
The only African-American Republican to win was then-Rep.Tim Scott of South Carolina, who later won appointment to the state’s vacant Senate seat.
Love, the mayor of Utah’s Saratoga Springs, has the clearer path to victory. A prolific fundraiser, she nearly defeated Matheson in 2012, losing by just 768 votes. In March, Love declared her intention to run again in the state’s strongly conservative 4th District.
In Virginia, Davis faces a steeper, though not insurmountable, challenge if he chooses to run. While he hasn’t said he’s running, Davis has signaled an interest in the seat.
The former Alabama Democratic congressman moved to Virginia and switched his party affiliation after a bitter 2010 Democratic primary defeat in the Alabama governor’s race.
Unlike Love, Davis will need to overcome a lack of name recognition within his newly adopted state and avoid being labeled a carpetbagger or a political opportunist.
The election of either Republican — or both — would make history. Davis would be the first African-American Republican to represent Virginia since Reconstruction. Love would be the first black female Republican ever elected to Congress.